"Just go outside," says Alex Baca, managing director of UH Bikes, Cleveland's bikeshare program that launched in September. "I think Clevelanders need to do a better job, in general, of getting outside in winter."
The thinking is that once you're outside more often, riding your bike in the cold might not seem like such an insurmountable hurdle. That's what it seems like now for a lot of Clevelanders, who dash from heated home to heated vehicles to heated offices with as little time in the elements as possible. It's no secret that a driving culture pervades Northeast Ohio. But come late autumn, one sees its psychological effects in action. The kvetching begins in earnest: complaints about the cold, about the wind, about the lake effect snow. It's an ironic fragility, Baca contends, given the ballyhooed Cleveland self-image of being ultra gritty and Rust Belt Tough.
And for the record: Baca is not what you'd call a disinterested party on this topic. She has elected to keep UH Bikes open through the winter months. And though it won't be running at full capacity, she tells Scene it's important for people to recognize that it exists. Plus the decision made sense weather-wise.
"We have really inconsistent winters," she says. "It's not like Minnesota, where there's a predictable frozen tundra. We have a lot of nicer days, and we have days where it might be 20 degrees in the morning, but 40 degrees and beautiful in the afternoon."
Given the day-by-day, hour-by-hour fluctuations, one objective Baca has this winter is encouraging more one-way trips: biking to work, say, and then catching the bus or a ride home. (Or vice versa.)
Baca's a native of Maryland, and she arrived in Cleveland by way of San Francisco. Here, more than elsewhere, biking in winter is thought to be something that only diehards do. It's an activity for maniacs or radicals. But assuming one owns a winter jacket, a warm pair of gloves and a hat, it's really not all that extreme.
Take a look at Baca herself. She rode her bike to meet Scene at Gypsy Beans & Bakery in Detroit-Shoreway on the coldest day of the year. This is not something she brags about; it's just a lifestyle choice.
She drops the fact that most of your body heat is lost through your head, so covering one's head is important, as is "appropriate layering."
"The rookie mistake is to wear like four sweaters," Baca says. (A better option? Maybe a waterproof jacket over a base layer, like a long-sleeved jersey.)
And though psychologically it may still be intimidating, Baca says the first five or 10 minutes are the worst. After that, your body warms up.
"Alternately," she advises, "go ride up a hill. Then you'll be warmed up."