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!


What’s Not to Love About Winter?

By Mona Malacane

Ok, ok, I know that there are quite a few things that make winter a rather … difficult time of year. We all remember the horrendous potholes, the -40 degree three days long nightmare, and that time it snowed in March. And yes, it is less than enjoyable when any bit of exposed skin goes numb within 2 minutes while walking to class and that shaded sidewalks become slippery (and embarrassing) death traps. I will even concede that having to put on ten pounds of clothing just to let my dog out multiple times a day gets pretty tiring quickly.

Sidewalk of death

Sidewalk of death.

But how about starting this season on a more positive (and jingly) note and thinking about all of the wonderful things that make winter special! For example, I greatly enjoy sweaters and any/all occasions to don knitwear. Other things I like about winter include: tacky sweater parties, drinking hot apple cider (oftentimes with a dash of whiskey) without breaking out into a sweat, knitting/crocheting scarves, condensation that makes us look like fire breathing dragons, seeing my dog hop around in the snow, and heated blankets (they change your life, I swear).

Homemade tacky sweaters

Homemade tacky sweaters

Now you’re thinking, “Ok those things are nice and all Mona, but I’m still not sold on this whole ‘winter can be a great time of year thing.’” Well here is a list that may induce some warmer winter feelings, courtesy of some of my fellow forward-thing graduate students.

Christmas movies and fattening foods.”– Ashley Kraus

 “The spontaneous snowball fights.”– Keith Orgain

I hate winter. Ice skating, skiing, sledding, and the holiday season make it tolerable. Having to practice discus throwing indoors makes it worse.” – Kelsey Prena, See exhibit A:

 “Justified hibernation. Often in virtual worlds.”– Ryland Sherman

It never gets cold here or snows.” – Mark Bell (Denial is not just a river in Egypt Mark … I should know.)

 “My favorite thing is yelling SNOW-POCALYPSE while playing four days worth of DC heroes and cards with snowed-in friends.”– Dustin Ritchea

I love spontaneous snow angles in Dunn Meadow. Also hot cocoa. Also hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps because I’m an old man.”– Niki Fritz

Photo courtesy of Niki Fritz

Photo courtesy of Niki Fritz.

Getting snowed-in in Manhattan.” – Daphna Yeshua-Katz

I’ll second Dustin Ritchea and Ryland Sherman ‘s comments about thoroughly enjoying being trapped in virtual worlds (Skyrim!) and other gaming with snowed-in friends!” – Stevie Stewart

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– This gem of a video from Stephen Myers

Hot pots and holiday spirit!”– Yijie Wu

Hot chocolate, sledding, Christmas, and being snowed in with friends.” – Whitney Eklof

Hunting. Sitting in an ice fishing shack while enjoying Snow Shoe Grog. Listening to southerners complain about the weather.” – Gabe Persons

I know I don’t get to vote anymore … but snowmen!!!” – Rachel Bailey

My favorite thing is Seasonal Affective Disorder.” – Josh Sites

Hiking in the snow!” – Glenna Read

The eerie quiet a heavy snow storm causes.” – Nic Matthews

Fire crackers! It’s a Chinese tradition to set off firecrackers to celebrate new year and to scare off the evils. So … it’s always associated with the image of winter for me. Plus, I love the sound firecrackers make!” – Xiaodan Hu

One of my favorite things about winter is walking around on campus when it’s snowed!” – Teresa Lynch


Photo courtesy of Teresa Lynch.