The key ingredient to winter biking: Layers, confidence and a touch of crazy

By: Niki Fritz

The reason Julien Mailland decided to bike through were fairly rational.

“I walked last winter and I was very very cold. I figured if I was going to be very very cold I would rather be very cold for 5 minutes (biking) instead of 25 minutes (walking),” Julien explained.

A rational thought but during an Indiana winter, rationality has a way of slipping away and splattering into a million nonsensical pieces on the icy Bloomington roads.

When I probed Julien a bit more about his possible motivations for taking on something as possibly treacherous as biking on black-iced glazed roads filled with clueless students on their phones haphazardly crossing the street, his tone got a bit more serious.

Julien ready to take on the winter roads with his new mountain bike

Julien, ready to take on the winter roads, with his new mountain bike.

“You have to be a little crazy,” Julien admits. “[Biking in the winter] is a little bit of a challenge. You are competing against the elements. You see a hill and you think okay am I going to take that hill or a spill. There is only one way to find out.”

Julien is speaking from experience on that. He took several spills on his road bike this fall before he decided to invest in a quite massive and impressive mountain bike, which so far, as allowed him to make it to work unscathed.

Of course Julien, a native of France, isn’t new to this whole biking thing. He vividly remembers watching the Tour de France every year on T.V., an event he calls the “world’s greatest free sporting event.” After his childhood days of watching biking, he became a daily bike commuter to his job in Paris, an activity that was considered normal by Parisian standards. After moving to Bloomington it seemed natural to bike, especially considering the walk from the parking lot would take him longer than simply biking from home.

While Julien finds Bloomington a fairly friendly bike town, he hasn’t gotten totally swept away in the biking culture … except for Little 500 which he went to last year and loved.

“You’re a participant observer [at Little 500.] It is really intense. 200 laps on fixed bikes. Dirt in the eyes.  It was very fun. It’s a good race,” Julien said, half trying to convince me that Little 500 was more than just an excuse for the undergrads to binge drink.” [Little 500] is a great IU tradition where the community comes together to celebrate the alma mater. I’m a French dude who felt like part of the community that day.”

Although competitive biking like the Tour de France or Little 500 isn’t really in Julien’s future, he is determined to continue to bike all winter. He insists that more of his collegues should try it. According to Julien all you need is a good bike, layers and of course confidence.

“If you are afraid, you spill. If you lack confidence that is where you fail,” Julien said matter-of-factly. “That is true of everything.”


Julien’s Top 6 Winter Biking Tips

  • Get a bike with wide tires for better grip. Keep them a little deflated to maximize surface area of the tire on the road.
  • Skate helmets make you look cool.
  • Wear many many layers. “Obviously you need gloves otherwise your hands will freeze. You need a scarf to cover your face, otherwise you will die.”
  • Try to avoid Atwater or 10th and try to avoid hitting students.
  • Always have a front and back light otherwise you will die.
  • Don’t be an idiot and be safe always!