Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Frozen Snot Century

[Originally published 2/22/07 in Time Out Chicago:]

By John Greenfield

Cycling a “century” (100 miles in a day) is daunting for most bicyclists, but try doing two of them, back to back, in the middle of winter in the heart of the frozen tundra.

Since 2004, dozens of cold-weather biking nuts from Chicago and Milwaukee have been doing just that, rendezvousing each February for Bike Winter’s Frozen Snot Century ride. Speaking from firsthand experience, it’s a lot of fun—the combo of physical challenge, camaraderie and sightseeing is the perfect cure for cabin fever. The tradition continues Saturday 24.

The Bike Winter organization—with chapters in Chicago; Milwaukee; Madison, Wisconsin; and Ann Arbor, Michigan—promotes all-season cycling with how-to workshops, rides and arts events. A few years ago when I was working for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, I met Dave “Schlabo” Schlabowske, the City of Milwaukee’s bicycle coordinator, at a conference in St. Paul. Over a few pints, we hatched a scheme to unite Chi-town and Milwaukee’s fledgling Bike Winter scenes with a tag-team tour.

The FIBs (fucking Illinois bastards) spun up the coast of Lake Michigan about a hundred miles to party with the Cheeseheads and crash on their floors or couches. The next day, the whole group pedaled back to the Windy City for a reception at the Critical Mass Art Show, a display of probike, anticar artworks. The following morning the Badgers rode home and the flatlanders slept in. Schlabo christened the event after the crystallized mucus that resulted.

Amazingly, it proved that the most important advice for the would-be winter cyclist is “Just do it!” Over the years, FSC riders have dealt with icy temperatures, stiff headwinds and horizontal rain, but as the Irish say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing.

To adjust to changing conditions, I dress for the FSC with lots of layers: wool socks, polypropylene long johns, polyester work pants, a T-shirt, a wool shirt, a sweater, a jacket, a raincoat in my saddle bag, warm mittens, a fleece skullcap under my helmet and neoprene booties over my bike shoes. My skinny-tired road bike is winterized with lights and fenders. And I’m off.

You can make the ride almost entirely on off-street trails, but due to limited daylight and the muddy conditions of said trails in winter, we mostly ride on Sheridan Road in the Land of Lincoln and Route 32 in America’s Dairyland.

The scenery ranges from the high-rises that line Chicago’s lakefront trail, to the posh North Shore, to the working-class Wisconsin cities of Kenosha and Racine, to a wooded bike path on the south side of Milwaukee from which we emerge to see the less-than-awe-inspiring Brew City skyline. Along the way, a hearty group of riders stop for a shot of antifreeze at a friendly tavern like Cruiser’s in Beach Park, Illinois.

All are welcome to join the Chicago-Milwaukee-Chicago ride on Sat 24. It’s free—but keep in mind that it’s an unsupported, ride-at-your-own-pace-and-risk event, and don’t forget to R.S.V.P. so organizers can make sure there’s sufficient floor space for everybody in Milwaukee. Be sure to strap on a sleeping bag and ground pad to your rack unless you like sleeping on hardwood.

The mileage and the cold of the FSC might intimidate you, but when you reach the 20-foot-tall, wooden Wisconsin-shaped sign just south of Kenosha—the one that says, the people of wisconsin welcome you—you’ll know it was worth it.

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