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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Dedicated cyclist gears up to coast through winter

Winter isn’t an offseason for dedicated bicyclists.

While recreational riders might be training for spring indoors on rollers, delivery and messenger service riders are still finding two wheels the most cost-effective, healthy and efficient way to get the job done. They merge with traffic and save time by avoiding the search for parking.

Some messengers in town switch to fat bikes in extreme snow conditions for more traction and stability. Switching to a motor vehicle would be a last resort.

Commuting to work and meetings during winter can be challenging in vehicles with four wheels, but ice and snow doesn’t necessarily deter well-equipped bike commuters.

“I was able to get my head around biking through winter when I realized that in certain conditions I’ll just have to get off and walk,” said Erik Solberg, who works at The Spokesman-Review. “Once I accepted that, winter was no problem.”

Mariah Rose McKay was undaunted by 10-degree temperatures last week as she biked from the South Hill to her office at the Spokane Regional Health District building.

McKay, 33, practices what she preaches as the district’s public health educator specializing in promoting active transportation, safe routes to schools for kids and the Walk Bike Bus program for adults.

On Wednesday, she avoided the treacherous city roads in the morning by working at home, but she donned rain gear and headed out to an afternoon meeting on her bike after the roadways improved.

“My car battery actually died and I haven’t bothered to fix it yet because I have the bike,” she said.

In the worst weather, she bundles with ski goggles over her eye glasses, mittens and a parka with a hood that slips over her helmet.

Two additions to her basic Giant commuting bicycle have made a dramatic difference in the number of days she can commute by bike each year as well as in her range.

“My husband, father, mother and brother all chipped in for my birthday and Christmas gifts – studded bike tires and a Copenhagen Wheel,” she said. “Best gifts ever.”

The Copenhagen Wheel is an innovative electric propulsion device integrated into the rear wheel of a bike. Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and marketed for $1,200 by Superpedestrian bike shop in Boston, the wheel amplifies pedaling power to a degree the rider sets on a smartphone application.

It has no wires or connection to the drive chain, yet it can power a bike up the South Hill.

“I can leave my bike in a high gear at a stoplight and then with pressure on the pedals the bike takes off and I’m immediately in the flow of traffic without holding cars up,” McKay said.

“It allows me to wear warm clothing in winter and reduces my exertion if I choose so I can arrive at work without being sweaty. Same in summer. It also lets me set my sights on biking to meetings in the valley.”

The wheel transmits data such as mileage and effort to McKay’s iPhone. The added weight is a benefit in winter conditions, adding traction. It’s batteries are recharged with an AC plug-in as well as by braking or backpedaling while on the go.

Before she had the Copenhagen Wheel and studded tires on her bike, McKay said she would have to walk, take the bus or drive to work a total of about two weeks per year.

“Now it’s only a few days that I can’t ride my bike,” she said. “I’m scoping out bicycle trailers and seriously considering getting rid of my car (and being a one-vehicle family).”

Studded tires are especially effective on roadways of packed snow and ice, she said.

“Pulverized frozen snow is the trickiest to ride in,” she said. “Slush snow is no problem, but when it’s freezing cold and the snow is the consistency of silica and sand it can cover black ice and ice chunks that can throw your tire sideways a little and cause problems.”

Even in winter, the Copenhagen Wheel allows McKay to flow better with traffic for a safer ride, she says.

“I haven’t had any bad encounters with drivers since I got the wheel,” she said. “In fact, it’s contributed to some of my most positive experiences in the nine years I’ve been bicycle commuting in Spokane.

“One time there was a guy on a BMX bike stuck in the snow on the sidewalk as I went barreling up the lane getting a boost from the wheel. He looked up at me with surprised admiration, held a fist up to the sky and yelled, ‘Hell, yes!’ ”

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