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Marty Cormack keeps 2 wheels turning

He's bicycling every day in January. And he says you can, too.

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Marty Cormack, left, and Paul Claus ride along the Bear Creek Trail in December 2021. Both have fat bikes with studded tires and Barr mitts.
Contributed / Marty Cormack
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It’s common for biking groups to challenge to others to ride their two-wheelers every day for a month in the early spring, to make helmeting up and peddling out a habit.

Marty Cormack, a board member for We Bike Rochester, is undergoing his own 31-day biking challenge — in January.

Just to prove that it can be done.

Cormack, an avid winter cycler, will share his tips with the We Bike Rochester community over Zoom at 7 p.m., Feb. 3.
Interested bikers can sign up at https://forms.gle/ctYDYGLiBnwptePv6.

For now, though, he shared his top tips for winter biking here.

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Like getting studded tires and never, ever turning or stopping on ice.

Ever.

When did you start biking in the winter?

I got my first fat bike in 2015, and that's when I really started ramping up riding in winter. Right now, I've ridden every day since the 27th of December. So I haven't missed a day for the last 3 1/2 weeks. My goal is to ride every day in January. The bike folks have this thing — 30 days of biking in April to get people started riding for the season. And so my goal is to do 31 days of biking in January. Just to do it.

Is it dangerous? How do you even make up for the snow, ice, and wind? 

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The key thing is, if there's more than 3 inches of snow, and it hasn't been plowed, anybody on any bike is going to have difficulty. So if it's 3 inches or deeper, you’ve pretty much got to go on shoveled or plowed paths.

And then the next thing you’ve got to worry about is ice. If there's a lot of ice you pretty much got to have studded tires. When there's a lot of ice, if you don't have studded tires, you are going to go down.

When there's just patches of ice and you don't have studded tires, you maintain your direction and speed. You don't accelerate, you don't brake, you don't turn. You just basically ride through the patch. And that'll usually get you through the patch.

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As soon as you try to turn or try to accelerate or try to brake, you're going to go down because bicycle tires on ice don't work really well.

You’ve got to hope that the patch of ice is only several feet. If you're going to get 20, 30 yards of ice, it's gonna be hard (to stay) straight and keep your momentum for that long. If you're going to hit something like that, you might be better off to dismount and walk your bike around the ice if you can.

The problem with that is your boots may not be any better than your tires. (Laughs) I know some people who ride in real icy conditions will also have — I forget what they call them — the spike-like things you put on the bottom of your boots.

Like cleats?

There are certain devices that basically give you a cleat-like support on your boots and stuff. But if it’s really icy, studded tires and those on your boots are real handy.

How common are studded tires?

Most of the guys that I ride with in the winter have studded tires. If they're difficult to find, it might be pandemic-related supply chain issues.

How do you handle the cold?

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What I tell people is, we live in Minnesota. Almost everyone in Minnesota has cold-weather gear, one way or the other. So if you ski, a ski helmet and ski goggles, ski pants, ski gloves are really good. You want to wear insulated, waterproof boots. If money is no object, you can start getting stuff like battery-powered heated socks and battery-powered heated gloves.

One of the things that regular winter bike-riders get are called Barr mits or pogies. And what they are is that you basically have this neoprene-insulated outer shell that goes over your handlebars and over the brakes and over the gear shifters. And you slide your gloved hands into the pogies or into the Barr mitts. It’s double insulation for your hands.

They’re not cheap, because I just bought another set for my e-bike. They would go about 70 bucks for a pair.

What’s your normal route?

So I retired 2 1/2 years ago, but where I worked, I could take trails all the way there. I live south of Pinewood school, and I take the Bear Creek Trail. I'll go around Silver Lake. … Other days, I'll go all the way out to Cascade Lake or I'll go out to Mayowood. … This time of year, the Douglas Trail isn't plowed north of 55th Street.

For commuting, the city of Rochester has a map of what trails they will plow in the winter. And generally they've been doing a pretty good job. Within 24 to 36 hours of a snowstorm, they'll handle plowing.

You should know your routes and know what the city plows and what they don't. For example, they don't plow the trail that goes from Quarry Hill, up the hill to the No. 2 fire station.

How can bicyclists who have to use plowed roads account for the fact that cars are also working with slippery conditions?

You definitely give cars even more space and you pray that drivers are slowing down and giving bicycles more space. What I've seen in the last couple of years is more speed. Cars are speeding up lot more, they're running red lights a lot more, they're going to right turn on red without even slowing down. Since the pandemic started, those behaviors have just gotten worse.

What I would ask kindly of people who are driving is when they see a bike, slow down, give them plenty of room. Because if I'm riding on slippery conditions, and then there's a big chunk of ice, frozen things that come off bumpers or cars, I have to avoid those. I might have to have more maneuvering room than I would on a dry street.

What would you say is a particularly underrated winter biking spot in Rochester or in the surrounding area?

Well, Gamehaven and Chester Woods. I live right on the Bear Creek Trail. I love riding the Bear Creek Trail. If the weather's calm and sunny, you're going to see bald eagles in the morning. I saw trumpeter swans about three weeks ago. I've seen all sorts of wildlife — deer, red tail hawks, eagles, you won't see the herons in the winter. Lots of dogs, lots of geese. And then by spring you'll get put on spring wildflowers.

More winter biking tips from Cormack

  • Dress in layers to keep your core warm.
  • Don’t overdress – being soaked in sweat will not help you stay warm.
  • Storage bags or panniers can help you pack or remove additional layers if you miscalculate.
  • Clean and lubricate your bike after riding through salt and grit.
  • It gets dark early, and fewer drivers will expect bikers to be out and about – wear high-visibility colors and consider headlights or flashing lights on your gear.
Email: ahalliwell@rochestermagazine.com
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