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Bicyclists brave the cold on a chilly Pittsburgh day

| Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, 10:48 p.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Kate McLean carries her bike out into the cold on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, to start her 15-minute commute to her job on the South Side from her home in Shadyside. There was a wind chill advisory with the mercury hovering around the single-digit threshold.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Kate McLean adjusts her helmet over her cap Friday Feb. 12, 2016 before the start of her 15-minute commute to her job on the South Side from her home in Shadyside.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Kate McLean rolls down Emerson Street in Shadyside Friday Feb. 12, 2016 at the start of her 15-minute commute to her job on the South Side. There was a wind chill advisory with the mercury hovering around the single-digit threshold.

The first thing Kate McLean does every morning is check the weather.

She looks at the chance of rain or snow, and the forecast for the afternoon. She layers up, starting with a wool base and a long shirt. She adds a pair of gloves with a wind-resistant top, a neck scarf, and a flexible, waterproof outer layer for warmth without sacrificing shoulder mobility.

Then she packs her bag for the day — maybe including extra socks — and gathers the laptops, chargers and sketchbooks she'll need. She fastens the bag to the rack on the back of her bike and heads from her home in Pittsburgh's Shadyside neighborhood to Carnegie Mellon University, where she is a graduate student in the School of Design.

“It's all about getting your gear set up,” McLean, 26, said. “Making little changes here and there, testing it out.”

For bicycling commuters, winter offers challenges to getting around, whether there's biting wind or mounting snow. McLean opts to drive a car some days, but she has enjoyed the challenge of preparation and learning to ride in poor weather conditions.

“Dexterity is key,” she said.

The weather hasn't stopped Healthy Ride, Pittsburgh's bike share system, from operating, though crews removed half the bikes from the stations earlier this winter and scattered 250 at stations citywide.

Executive Director David White said up to 300 riders rented bikes on some of the warmer days in January. Ridership dips to 50 or fewer as the temperature approaches the freezing mark.

“We still see our customers and riders get out there on real cold days and even on days with light snow and rain,” White said. “It allows people to be more flexible in their choices.”

On snowy days, White and his crew shovel out the stations and ensure the solar-powered batteries are charged because below-freezing temperatures deplete them faster. They have an agreement with the city to clear stations, while the city is responsible for clearing bike lanes.

Greg Allan, 28, splits his commutes between public transit, cycling and driving. He works as a web developer in East Liberty, and his commute usually takes from 16 to 18 minutes.

Ice presents the most difficulty, Allan said. Sunlight can disguise ice patches on the road. The bottom of his pant legs might get wet, too, requiring a packed change of clothes. Still, he likes the idea of prepping to get on a bike and warming up on a morning ride.

“I would rather jump on my bicycle than get into a cold car and scrape off a car,” he said.

Sarah Pearman, 26, lives in the city's Uptown and rides her bicycle year-round. So far, this winter hasn't been bad, she said, though she uses thick winter bike tires to help steady her on her ride. When visibility drops during the day, she turns on her bike lights to be safe.

Overall, the built-in exercise of bike riding is a welcome addition.

“It helps with the cabin fever a bit,” she said.

Melissa Daniels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or

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