Cold and snowy weather does not stop these two-wheeled commuters

MIDDLEBURY — Despite sub-freezing temperatures this time of year, some Vermonters are bundling up extra warmly and making their way to work without the comfort of a heated car.

For myriad reasons that include health and fitness, environmental responsibility, and financial savings, many members of the Addison County community choose to rely on bicycles as their primary form of transportation.

“It’s the way we enjoy getting around,” said Middlebury resident Rebekah Irwin, of her family’s dedication to biking.

Middlebury residents have likely spotted Irwin and husband Blake Harrison, along with their daughters — five-year-old Ruby and eight-year-old Dahlia — cycling around town on a Yuba family bicycle. It’s a light, compact, larger-than-usual bike that can hold child seats and large grocery bags.

“The bike adapts to whatever I’m doing,” said Irwin.

She credits a business trip she took to Amsterdam with inspiring her family’s transition to bicycling. In Europe, Irwin noted, “everyone’s lives are oriented around getting places by foot or by bicycle.”

They chose to live in town in part to be able to live with only one car, which Harrison uses to get to work. For Irwin and the girls, the morning starts with a ride to Mary Hogan, after which Irwin cycles across the Cross Street bridge to get to work at Middlebury College, where she is head of Collections and Digital Initiatives. Mid-afternoon, Harrison returns with the car, gets on his own bike, and picks the girls up at school.

Getting her family where they need to go in Middlebury is easy enough, Irwin said.

“Middlebury was designed for walking and horses,” she said. “We should be able to exist without cars!”

Indeed, many members of the community do. One is Molly Costanza-Robinson, an avid cyclist who has lived in “biking meccas” throughout the country including Madison, Wis., and Tucson and Flagstaff, Ariz.

She judges that Middlebury’s cycling population falls into niches depending on families or groups of friends, but she is working on building up a cycling community.

For the past two summers, Costanza-Robinson, an environmental studies professor at the college, has organized a Wednesday Women’s Ride for the community.

“There are a lot of people, especially women, I found, that were very intimidated by biking,” said Costanza-Robinson. “(They think that) you have to wear certain clothes, and you have to be super fit, and you have to be a racer on a road bike. I wanted to encourage people who didn’t fit that mold to hop on a bike and try it out! I think it’s a healthy thing to do, and it’s fun and it can be very social.”

Costanza-Robinson commutes year-round herself.

“My colleagues used to look at what I was wearing and decide whether or not I’d ridden that day,” she recalled. “And very quickly, they realized that no matter what I was wearing I had still ridden.”

Commuting on a bike, she said, is not difficult if you make a few adjustments.

“Get your bike outfitted,” she advised. “And have a comfortable bike.”

Fancy gear is not required — Costanza-Robinson commutes on a bike that her husband assembled for under $50. Her fancy bikes are tucked away during the winter months so they aren’t damaged by weather conditions and salted roads.

Though biking instead of driving is a leap for most people, it is definitely doable with a few adjustments to a simple and comfortable bicycle. Costanza-Robinson suggests fenders, a bell, and lights for riding home in the dark.

“It’s easier than most people think,” she said.


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Addison County Independent