In Iowa City, it's never too cold to bike

Winter riding challenge runs through Dec. 20

Mark Pooley of Iowa City gears up to ride his bike from the University of Iowa Public Health Building in Iowa City on Mo
Mark Pooley of Iowa City gears up to ride his bike from the University of Iowa Public Health Building in Iowa City on Monday. Pooley is one of more than 150 people participating in the UI Office of Sustainability's Winter Warrior Bike Challenge. (Adam Wesly/The Gazette)

Just because Iowa City is sitting under a fresh dusting of snow, the temperatures hover around 20 degrees, and the wind bites at the face, doesn't mean it's not a good day for a bike ride.

For Mark Pooley, that's how he gets around between home and classes on University of Iowa campus in summer or winter.

"Most of the time it means riding a little slower and applying the same prudence you would when driving in the winter," said Pooley, a UI graduate student in urban and regional planning.

Pooley has biked through the winter for the past five or six years, and this year helped push a test of endurance at the university called the Winter Warrior Bike Challenge.

The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability and the Bicycle Advisory Committee are putting on the challenge, which began Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 20. The ultimate warrior will be awarded for the person who bikes the most miles and makes the most number of trips.

The goal is to encourage biking as a sustainable form of transportation, even when temperatures drop.

The winner gets token incentives such as a taillight, free bike rental from World of Bikes or a $10 Active Endeavors girt card, said Sara Cooper, in the Office of Sustainability, who helped organize the challenge.

"The purpose is mostly to recognize there is a bike community that bikes in the winter here in Iowa City, Cooper said. "Even though it's below 30 degrees it's not that hard."

Pooley agrees that it's not as hard as it sounds.

He bundles with the normal winter gear, including a thick hat, warm gloves, boots, and perhaps ski goggles on an especially blustery day. Other than his Surly Pugsley — an all-terrain bike with three-inch tires  — it's pretty standard equipment.

More than 220 people have registered for the winter challenge, which is a surprisingly strong turnout, Cooper said. In the more temperate days of spring, University of Iowa held a similar challenge, which drew 229 participants.

Pooley hopes documenting the numbers cyclists will help substantiate cases for bike resources on campus and in Iowa City.

"We want to get more empirical data to see how many people are potentially riding and how we can plan for that a little better," Pooley said. "Numbers provide a starting point for policy."

A survey in December 2012 by the Parking and Transportation estimates 4.3 percent of faculty and staff commute by bike at least 50 percent of the time, according to Michelle Ribble, UI's commuter program manager.

A survey conducted by the Office of the Provost in spring 2013 estimates that 3.3 percent of students commute by bike, she said. Ribble said surveys done by the Parking and Transportation department show bike commuting has increased about 5 percent in the last 10 years.

Ribble's job focuses on finding alternatives to people driving alone to campus, finding bike storage and promoting the bus pass program and van pools. Space for parking on campus is already squeezed, which is why she is pushing for more cycling, along with busing and carpools.

She said a lack of bike infrastructure, such as bike lanes and bike trails, could be a barrier to getting more cyclists on the road.

"Maybe as we get more of those things in place we might see more of a rise of biking on campus," she said.

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