It’s very cold right now. I had to state the obvious. But what does that mean for bicycling in Chicago, Illinois, and other Midwestern cities?

A bicyclist rides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Read more about winter biking in the coldest of the Bike Friendly Cities: iciclebicycle, or MnBicycleCommuter.

You may have heard that the bike commuting rate in Copenhagen during the winter only decreases by 30%, and that 400,000 Copenhageners ride each day. Except it’s 35°F there now, and will be in February, too (when Chicago experiences some of its coldest, harshest days). We’re having the kind of weather that demands you cover your face. Thankfully, this conversation has already been had, twice.

So if you biked today, I salute you. I cycled today to my last class of graduate school on my slowly deteriorating cargo bike. That means I’ve mostly graduated – I deferred my final project by one semester but my goal is to submit it by New Year’s Day (although I have until May, 2010).

If you’re interested in biking through the winter, I have developed a simple message. The key to winter biking is held in a four-letter acronym: SARF. Continues after the jump.

SARF means to ride Slow, Avoid snow and ice, use the Rear brake, and attach Fenders.

  1. Slow. Ride slow so that you can notice obstacles and react safely. You should ride slow especially when turning so that you’re less likely to lose traction and balance.
  2. Avoid. Carry and shine your headlights at the ground so you can watch for snow and ice on the ground. Avoid these!
  3. Rear. Only use your rear brake when conditions are wet. If you use your front brake on snow or ice you will not slow or stop but instead lose balance. This is because your bicycle has no friction but is now sliding.
  4. Fenders. Fenders keep your bike and clothes clean(er)!

The Midtown Greenway multi-use trail is covered in snow in December 2008. Remember I visited here in September 2009.