UW News

January 25, 2007

Ride in the rain? Try snow, wind, hail . . .

UW News

This year’s Ride in the Rain program has coincided with some of the worst weather in years. But many of the dedicated cyclists just kept on commuting through the worst of it, despite snow, ice and blustery winds.

Now in its fourth year, the UW Ride in the Rain program challenges bike-riders, whether regular commuters or not, to cycle to work at the UW Seattle campus every day throughout January — glorying in rather than grumbling about what is usually the most inhospitable weather month of the year.

The riders count their trips and mileage for the month, noting how many rides they took in the rain. Though most ride alone, they compete in Ride in the Rain in teams based mostly on their work location. After the month, prizes are given out for the most commute trips, the most total miles ridden commuting and the most trips ridden during the rain.

Elena Fox, public information specialist for the UW Transportation Office, home of Commuter Services, which oversees the Ride in the Rain program and tracks its numbers each year, said rides are down this year, likely due to the bad weather, but overall participation in the program is growing.

And she provides a shower of numbers to prove it: In the first two weeks of January this year there were 867 Ride in the Rain participants, she said — some logging multiple commutes a day due to split shifts — who took a total of 7,598 rides, 2,652 of which were on rainy days. Last year there only 805 participants, but the better conditions, presumably, allowed them to ride for an impressive collective totals of 8,594 rides and 5,624 in the rain.

“The lower rides have everything to do with the weather,” said Fox. “Ice is dangerous, and we fully support the people who decide to leave their bike at home when it’s icy.”

Still, she said, many are so committed to bike riding that they ride in anyway. “We have a solid core of about 400 riders who have done this at least one year, and some of them I know have done it all four years,” Fox said.

Michael Rosenfeld, a professor of pathobiology, is just such a devoted rider. He said he and his wife, who live about a mile north of campus, have biked to work for the last 15 years, through nearly all weather. And if it’s icy out, he said, they walk their bikes past the worst spots and keep on riding.

But even so, Rosenfeld called one of his encounters with severe weather “one of the most frightening things I have experienced.” He was biking along the trail leading off campus near 55th Street, near a care facility he said he only hopes didn’t get flooded, when he turned a corner and confronted a rush of water “so deep I actually rode through water up to my waist — I have never seen anything like it before.”

He added that in the terrible weather, the bike riders were probably making better time than the drivers.

Josh Larios, a consultant with Computing & Communications, commutes by bike each day from his home about three miles north of campus. A dedicated bike rider, he said he recently got rid of his own car in favor of a Flexcar account. “I’m pretty lucky,” he said of his daily bike trip. “I have a straight shot down 20th, and there was only one day when it was slippery on that street.”

Larios said he rides a modified mountain bike that has fairly wide tires, which he lets a bit of air out of to increase his grip on the road. Through the worst of the recent weather, he came and went to the UW by bike.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” he said. “It was cold but I have some pretty good weather gear.”

The Ride in the Rain program seems to be holding its popularity from year to year, Fox said. She said there have never been fewer than 700 people in each of the first four annual contests. About 300 come new to the competition each year, she said, which is convenient, because that’s about the attrition rate from year to year, too.

Because after all, even the best of riders can only take so much. Or, as Fox said she heard one frosted Ride in the Rain participant say, “‘Rain is one thing but I draw the line at hail.'”