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Rolling through Buffalo in the winter has its advantages

Brent Patterson, who lives in the University District and makes a 10-mile round trip workdays to his office at SUNY Buffalo State, admits that winter riding in Buffalo has its challenges. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Several avid bikers pretty much were involved with the same thing most of you reading this were doing as the Blizzard of ‘14 raged on Tuesday, Jan. 7.

They were huddled together indoors, watching TV, reading and hanging out as a family.

“We didn’t go out for a couple of days. Neither did anyone else,” said Brent Patterson, whose family is subject of today’s Life & Arts cover story on winter bikers.

He cruised some used car ads, but is under no illusions about the prospect of having a vehicle parked in his driveway, just in case it might be convenient to use, this winter season. His wife would like to see if the recent arrivals to Buffalo can make do without one.

When Patterson talks about two days spent indoors, he means Monday night, Jan. 6, and only part of the following Wednesday. That day, he drove his cargo bike to and from the supermarket, packing groceries into “panniers,” a kind of waterproof saddle bag that can carry groceries. He also uses the panniers to stow work gear and spare clothes.

During the teeth of the storm, he cruised online for a used vehicle, and a couple of days later, test drove the Volvo, which has more than 300,000 miles on it and has room for five – a disadvantage for a family of six, plus an exchange student with the family until the end of this school year.

It’s a limitation they already understand, because they occasionally use a nearby CarShare program that allows the family to use a five-passenger Toyota Yaris, for $8 an hour. Patterson had to make two trips each way to get the whole family to and from a New Year’s Eve party, for instance.

Patterson and his wife, Stacy Bisker, are among a growing number of winter bikers in Buffalo these days.

Also among them are Joe George, 52, of Allentown; Jesse Smith, 38, of North Buffalo; and Justin Booth, 35, of the Near West Side, the executive director of GObike Buffalo, who rides a 3-speed GT Slipstream through the city during the cold months.

I sat down the Bisker-Patterson family in one interview and the other trio in another last weekend.

Since the story focused on the family, I wanted to include in this blog entry some of the banter between the bike trio, who hadn’t been together in a while and who share a passion for their preferred means of transportation.

“It’s not always about the journey,” George said. “The journey is so invigorating.”

All three said they love to ride in the snow – and even push their bikes through the toughest spots – but don’t relish riding in 35 degree whether in heavy sleet.

What did they do during on blizzard?

“I like to tell people, ‘I might be crazy but I’m not stupid,’” George said. He stayed in Tuesday and much of Wednesday, but did ride his bike that day.

Booth’s office was closed Tuesday, “but I rode to work Wednesday,” he said. “I thought it was beautiful. Heavy, thick snowflakes. Riding in that freshly falling snow was absolutely beautiful.”

“I love it,” added George. “I would rather be part of my surroundings than a passive observer. I like to feel the snow on my face.”

“You feel the crisp air on your breath,” Booth added. “Everything’s very quiet.”

“But you’re not very cold,” said Smith. “It’s not a hardship of being cold in the snow because you’re generating heat inside, so the snow falls on you and then it melts.”

“My kids make fun of me,” Booth said with a laugh, “because when I’ve been riding hard and I get home ... the steam comes off of me.”

“I think everybody I know who rides a bike a lot doesn’t really do it because 'It’s good exercise for me, or ‘Oh, I’m going to save the planet by riding a bike,’” Smith said “Those things sort of peripherally fly around there – I mean, I certainly like minimizing my car use for certain environmental reasons – but ultimately, it really comes down to this is the most pleasurable way I’ve found to get around the city. It always feels good to get out on the bike.

“Most people don’t even think that after the first five minutes, you’re not cold anymore,” Smith added. That may be even quicker than it takes for the car to warm up.

“Look at some of the European countries. They’ve been doing this for generations in places like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin,” George said.

“They don’t even consider themselves cyclers,” Booth said. “That’s just the way they get around.”

Smith wondered how motorists might have to explain what they do in the winter to someone who didn’t quite seem to understand.

“I think someone who wasn’t used to driving in the winter might say, ‘Oh, it must be such a challenge to get out of the car and scrape off the ice and get all that snow off the car,” he said, “and then you have to shovel your driveway out so your car doesn’t get stuck in it. Most people who drive cars would say, ‘I don’t like it, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.’

“Certainly, biking is more mentally involving when you’re driving and there’s snow on the streets and you have  to look for the clearer parts of it, and get kind of tipped by a rut – and every so often you do fishtail a bit, and have to adjust your balance – but I don’t consider it a hardship or a challenge. These are the things that happen in any pursuit in life.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

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