Cycling In The Cities: It May Be Time To End This

Four months. I’ve been at this four months but today it took just five short blocks to make me seriously consider calling it quits. Turns out I’ve been worried about this challenge for all the wrong reasons. And I’ve been asking the “experts” all the wrong questions. This morning I put on my snow pants, a new winter ski jacket and my cozy Sorel boots. I was so afraid of getting cold that I didn’t think about the slippery snow and the good chance that I may fall on my face. I was two feet from my garage when I nearly bit it on a patch of ice. It took that slip up to convince me to lay off the front wheel brake and opt for the back brake first. Then I lowered my seat so I could catch myself on the next slip. I was scared to death. A slight hill I usually don’t notice was suddenly a menacing, white-knuckle ride I was sure would end in a wipe out. It didn’t. But the point is it easily could’ve.

A little background on my health may help you understand: I have bad hips and shoulders. I need all four joints replaced. I often joke that I’m a 38-year-old woman living in an 80-year-old body. It feels that way. And it looks that way on the x-rays as well. I’ve told the story many times but the short version is this: when I was pregnant with my first son I caught a bad virus. I thought I had a cold. But this bug nearly killed me. It attacked my blood platelets. My blood wouldn’t clot. It was seeping into my skin. The only treatment was massive, crazy amounts of steroids. It took months but I finally got better. Then about a year after that scare I suffered terrible back pain, or so I thought. Several doctors and experts and MRIs later I had my diagnosis: osteonecrosis of the femoral heads. It’s a fancy way of saying my hip-joint bones are dead. I need both replaced and it’s pretty painful. The “bone death” was a rare side effect from the steroids which can cut off blood flow to the tiny veins that send blood to your joints. A year after that diagnosis we discovered the condition in my shoulders as well. I’ve been putting off surgeries and pushing through the pain every day since. It seems counterintuitive but the doctors back then told me to stay active. They said moving the joints would prevent them from locking up. They suggested I ride a bike. I went out and bought the bike I currently ride though it sat in the garage until this summer. I took up running instead and completed two marathons on those dead hips. Those races and this blog may be my way of telling my body who’s boss. In case you haven’t caught on, I’m a little stubborn. But time is catching up with me and I fear the next scans will show major progression of the arthritis and bone brittleness. I can feel it. And that brings me to my point: the last thing I need to do is fall on my hip on the ice. For me, “You’ll break a hip” is not just an expression. It’s a real fear.

Back to this morning: I made it five blocks from my house before I turned around and swapped my bike for my car. My tires and my nerves were not ready for the ice. When I got to work some fellow commuters who have years of winter riding on their resumes confirmed my fears. “Oh yeah, it can be scary. And remember when you are slipping on the icy roads, the cars may as well.” Greeeeat. That makes me feel better. They suggested I start by deflating my tires to make them squishy, a tip I’d received before but forgotten. I’ll try that this week. But I need to think long and hard about whether it’s a smart idea for a woman as damaged as I to ride on the ice. I may have to put my first-person experiences on the back burner until spring. It would be a sad, defeating end to the blog and the journey. But I need to think hard on this decision. Like many parts of this experience this fear of falling has come as a big, sobering surprise. Until now the surprises that came with commuting on a bike have been positive. But this one may break me.

Angela Keegan Benson is the Assistant News Director at WCCO-TV and a mother of two. On August 1, 2011 she began her quest to live one full year as a bike commuter. Follow along as she figures out how to mesh the cycling culture with the demands of parenthood and an affinity for 4-inch heels. And yes, she’s committed to sticking it out through February storms. For more Cycling In The Cities, follow @Angela_Keegan on Twitter.

  • Jon Zimmer

    Try some studded bike tires. I picked up a pair last winter at the Bicycle Chain in Roseville. They are awesome.

  • Paul Smith

    Angela, Jon is correct! Studded tires can help to tame icy conditions. I’ve been commuting to work on bicycles for over 35 years. I grew up in Florida and moved to Minnesota in ’86 and for many years handled the snow and icy conditions but an incident a couple of years ago convinced me to switch to studded tires. I was riding in an icy bike lane in downtown Minneapolis when a sudden gust of wind blew me sideways across the road and the adjacent bus lane. Luckily, there wasn’t a bus moving in the bus lane at that time. Then and there I realized that no amount of skills could help me to deal with all that mother nature can throw at us and decided I needed to use studded tires. Since then, I have greatly benefited from control studded tires provide. Not only do they keep me from falling down but they also provide me with the control to keep out of the way of all the cars that are slipping and sliding. Please email me and I would be happy to help you find some studded tires that will enable you to ride through our Minnesota winters

  • Russ

    +1 on studded tires

  • Jason Goray

    Studded tires will definitely help you. I bike commute year round including taking my daughter to daycare by bike trailer.

    If I put off switching to the studded tires, I inevitably wipe out. If I have them on (and ride a bit more sedately when it comes to corners), I’ve no problem all winter.

    There are two general routes on them – steel studs and carbide studs. The steel studs will be much cheaper but you’ll likely only get one season out of them. The carbide studs will last much longer.

    Lots of local bike shops can help you out on this – Hiawatha Cyclery hooked me up with my equipment.

    Peter White Cycles ( has a nice overview of some of the options.

    Don’t wait too long though, they always seem to get scarce as the winter goes on.

  • Luci

    + a lot on the studded tires. I have the Schwalbe marathon’s on my winter bike and have never had a fall since putting them on. I got mine from HIawatha Cyclery.

  • Megan

    Hi Angela,
    I love your blog! I’m a 25 year old that had major knee surgery two winters ago – I’m not at risk for breaking a hip, but I fear a fall off my bike on the ice undoing months and months of really unpleasant rehab. I didn’t ride for the last two winters, but this year I’m giving it a try – I switched from my road bike to a more upgright mountain bike, with wide, studded tires, and switched my clip-in pedals for platforms so I can easily put a foot down if I start sliding. I’m still nervous about a bike fall, but for me, so far, the pros of bike commuting (not waiting for the bus, not sitting in traffic, free & easy parking) outweigh the risk. I’m a ‘crazy bike lady,’ but I can totally see it from your perspective. Good luck with your decision!

  • Bob


    Don’t give up yet. As mentioned above, studded tires are the way to go. There is a group of women who ride all year and wrench on their bikes together. Your blog prevents me from leaving a link but if you google greaserag minneapolis you will find them.

  • Jean-Paul Dangerbunny Beaulieu

    I’m just gonna jump in on this and agree with everyone else. I am the delivery manager for Chiang Mai Thai and we offer a year round bicycle delivery service. The first year, I thought I would be fine with thicker mountain bike tires. Nope, I broke my hand, rather severely. I tried a studded tire last year on my front wheel, better, but still fell a few times. This year I have studded tires on both wheels and it’s like ice isn’t slippery. Now it’s just fun.

  • Michael Hartford

    Studded tires make all the difference! And don’t over dress–dress for the middle of your ride, not the start: it will be chilly for a few minutes, but once you warm up from pedaling you’ll be glad that you’re not wearing the extra layers.

  • tim

    A good rule that I use for dressing for winter riding is to add 15 or 20 degrees to the actual temp and dress like you’re going for a walk. I.e. if its 20F, wear clothing like you’d normally wear at 40F. You might be chilly for the first 5 or 10 minutes, but after that you’ll feel better. No cotton against your skin! Sweat / moisture is your worst enemy (leads to hypothermia).

  • anon

    Ride on shorter gears as if you are going up a hill when trying to get through thick snow. It is here where reasonably thinnish tires do well. When it comes to ice, you want studded tires.

    In the end, it is just safer to do studded tires. Riding in winter may require more coasting and balancing than pedalling, at least until you get used to the idea of feeling your tires cresting lumps of snow and crushing it or sliding left and right under your feet.

    For graceful falls, it may help to coast with one foot down, and then when you fall to shift weight to the foot that is down and let the bike slide away from under you. It is harder to explain in practice, but the intent is to not lose control and go down with the bike if the bike is not co-operative.

    Again, good studded tires. Innovas if you wish to replace steel studs every season, Schwalbes or Nokians if you wish to keep them for a while (and re-sell them). I ride with x34 winter marathons, though Nokian makes much wider tires. It’s a tradeoff between stud coverage and rolling resistance, and choosing between a tire wide enough to lower ground pressure to roll over snow and one that is thinner and cuts through it.

    Or you could buy a very expensive Pugsley, Mukluk or Moonlander.

  • Bob

    Come on! We’ve had a month of the best weather imaginable. Please tell me you’ve been out riding. I haven’t even been able to wear my winter stuff yet because I get over heated.

  • Becky

    Electric Bikes are the way to go, especially if you have sore joints! I have bad knees and I got a new KleenSpeed E-Bike – it’s made biking fun again! It’s easier on my knees and I still get exercise. Check ’em out at the RV show Feb. 9-12 at the convention center. They will have demo rides and you can try it for yourself.

  • anon

    Agreed. Why’d you stop the column? If you’re not riding now, then…

  • John


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