Winter biking can be a daunting proposition in Denver and other cities along the Front Range, even for many otherwise enthusiastic cyclists. But there's at least one thing you probably don't need to worry about, city bike planners say: There's no need to spring for that $1,500 specialized winter bike with premium disc brakes and studded snow tires.
"Honestly, the bike that people have already, it's going to work 95 percent of the time," says David Pulsipher, bicycle planning supervisor for the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI). "Especially if you have fenders and lights. Sometimes having a set of winter tires and stuff like that helps, but you don't really need special equipment."
Today, February 14, Pulsipher and other cycling advocates braved the 20-degree morning weather to hold the city's fourth annual Winter Bike to Work Day, one of more than 500 similar events happening in cities all over the world. Riders who took part were treated to a free breakfast served by staff from the City of Denver and the Denver Regional Council of Governments outside of the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building.
More than 300 Denverites had taken part in the challenge as of 9 a.m., according to a leaderboard on the International Bike to Work Day website. That's more than any other participating U.S. city except Boulder, which saw over 400 riders.
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Laurie Merrick regularly rides her bike to work in the summer, but Friday was the first time she'd tried a winter bike commute. Her ten-mile trek from Lakewood to Civic Center Park was cold but "refreshing," she says, and she plans to try more winter rides in the future.
"You just have to be prepared," Merrick says. "It's just knowing how to handle it in the snow, just like with a car. It's a little colder, but layers and ski helmets and goggles work great."
Getting more people to bike to work — and to do so year-round — will be a critical step for Denver as it seeks to lower the share of Denver residents commuting in single-occupant vehicles (SOVs) to under 50 percent by 2030. Mayor Michael Hancock has announced plans to build 125 miles of new bike lanes by 2023, and officials at the recently rebranded DOTI, formerly the Department of Public Works, are pushing ahead with a new implementation strategy that they say will speed up the buildout.
"I'm super-excited about where Denver is right now," Pulsipher says. "We're focusing on not just building out the network for people who are already riding, but building out a network for people who feel comfortable riding but aren't riding right now. We're focusing on infrastructure that really appeals to those people."