BY LORAINE ANDERSON
— TRAVERSE CITY — No one knows the exact number of winter bicyclists taking to Traverse City’s snowy roads this year.
Estimates by cyclists, bike stores and TART Trails staff range from 100 to 200.
“It’s really picked up over the past few years,” said Arianne Whittaker, who works for TART. “It used to be a diehard thing, but more people seem to be embracing it now as valid way to commute.”
For attorney Ross Hammersley, 36, it’s all about exercise, reducing his carbon footprint whenever he can, and exploring whether he, wife Kate Madigan and their sons Emerson, 6, and 3-year-old Charlie can live without a second car.
On days he doesn’t need his car for work, Hammersley travels by bike with Emerson in an attached child cart from their house on Boughey Street, down Veterans Drive hill to 14th Street to the Traverse City Montessori School at Glenn Loomis Elementary. From there, Hammersley heads off to work at Olson, Bzdok & Howard along East Front.
Andy Cuchetti, 27, who lives on Pine Street near Thirlby Field, got into winter bicycling literally by accident. A friend borrowed his car and had an accident that wrecked it. Cuchetti, also a skateboarder, couldn’t afford a new car at the time and needed to find a dependable way to get to his job at North Peak restaurant.
“Living without a car and bicycling is definitely a lifestyle,” he said. “You have to rely on the bus or yourself.
“At first I tried the bus because I never had ridden a bike in the winter. Then I realized I couldn’t count on the bus. I’d miss it or it didn’t show up on schedule, and it doesn’t run 24 hours.”
For Cuchetti, riding a bike in the winter is the quickest — and warmest — way to get to work in cold weather and also to travel to the nearest grocery. Bicycling creates body heat.
Amy Martin, 35, a development director for Eco SEEDS on Union Street, doesn’t classify herself as a winter bicyclist “mostly because I don’t have a bike I’m willing to ruin with the salt.” She does, however, ride in the winter when the roads are dry. She walks or cycles about three to six miles a day and uses the TART trails whenever possible.
“Almonds and dark chocolate are my fuel of choice these days,” she said. “I find that walking and biking feel like freedom, almonds taste better than gas and it’s all around a cheaper and more satisfying way to get around.”
Attorney Kate Redman, 31, another Olson & Bzdok attorney, likes the active-life health benefits of hopping on her old college bike and riding about a mile to work. She carries her briefcase in a crate strapped to the rack over her back tire.
Her car was totaled last year in an accident. She rents a car two weekends a month to visit her family downstate. It’s cheaper than owning a car, she said. She also invested in a pair of studded bicycle tires, which cost about $70 to $75 apiece.
“Studded tires help with balance and being able to stop,” she said. “It’s so hard to get through snow banks.”
All four said they generally try to ride on neighborhood streets and plowed alleys rather than busy thoroughfares like Eighth Street or Front Street.
TART trails are another avenue. Volunteers keep certain stretches open during the winter when accumulations reach three inches, including:
• From Bunker Hill Road along U.S. 31 to the Cherry Bend trailhead. TART and the city have an agreement that allows trained volunteers to use city snow-blowing equipment Mondays-Fridays.
• The city clears the Mall Trail from 14th Street to the Walgreen’s/Meijer traffic light on U.S. 31. Donated service from Johnson Outdoors keeps the trail open from there to S. Airport.
• Volunteers also shovel Murchie Bridge by the Holiday Inn, and the Boardman Lake Trail Bridge connection from the Traverse Area District Library to Oryana Natural Foods Market.