Commuting (by bike) during the winter and commuting during the other three seasons are two entirely different things. In Pittsburgh, anyway. For now, let's just talk about the commute in to work.
Commuting during Spring, Summer, or Fall is like a little vacation before arriving to work. You get ready for work, you get on the bike, you head out. In most cases, you're wearing shorts, and some form of shirt on top that might be sleeveless, short-sleeved, or long-sleeved. If it's really chilly, maybe you have knee warmers and an extra layer on top. Gloves with fingers, definitely. Oh, and a helmet, of course.
You (and by you, I mean me) fly down the Southside Trail at about 20-21 mph, zip over the Hot Metal Bridge, and continue down the Eliza Furnace (aka Jail) Trail, also somewhere above or near 20 mph. The entire 11.5 mile ride, including all of the various holdups as you make your way through town, takes 33 or 34 minutes, so you average close to 20 mph for the whole thing (thanks to the first few miles where you're flying down West Run Rd and Forest Ave between 25-33 mph).
33 minutes is probably pretty close to the amount of time it would take to drive in to work. Sure, you have to take a shower once you get there, but you'd have had to spend extra time taking the shower before you left for work anyway. It all evens out, at least in terms of time spent getting to work.
Winter commuting is a little bit different. You get ready for work. This is more of an involved process involving:
- neoprene shoe covers
- wind pants
- top base layer
- top long sleeve shirt
- top windproof shell
- glove liners
- helmet (with liner)
Once that's all taken care of, you hop on the bike (equipped with studded tires for icy/snowy conditions) and hit the road. The studs are great for handling the Southside Trail, which apparently doesn't get touched by any city crews, but man, that snow and ice sure do slow you down. Instead of moving at 20 mph, it's more like 15-16 mph.
The switchbacks on the Hot Metal Bridge are sheets of ice, too. I'm not sure why they can't send someone over to salt that bridge. It's pretty heavily travelled by pedestrian as well as bike traffic. The Jail Trail is in much better shape for some reason, but the resistance from the tires (and some nice wind) still helps to keep speeds down. By the time you get to work, you're looking at 44:37 in riding time. Altogether, with traffic stops and other slowdowns, it takes close to 50 minutes.
It's still better than driving. Driving might get you there a little more quickly, but then you have to sit on the road with everyone else, and hope that they know how to deal with a few snowflakes. You have to worry about what sort of construction someone will have started this morning. You have to wait for the car to warm up long enough for the heat to come on. You don't worry about heat on the bike. You just make your own.