CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — For some hardy souls in McHenry County, it's never too cold to ride a bicycle.
"Cold is when I grow icicles in my beard," Eberhard Veit said. "When the breath freezes in my beard, then it's cold. But I still ride."
Veit, 52, uses his bike for the 4.5-mile commute to work in all kinds of weather from his home in unincorporated McHenry County near Crystal Lake.
"Personally, I'm not that much into gear or anything. I don't have any fancy spandex," he said. "I basically ride with whatever clothes I'm going to wear where I'm going. I would say if it's just a half-hour of riding, just some long underwear and some good gloves, a headband, a bicycle helmet, and that's it.
"The only thing I don't do, and that's just a safety thing, is (ride) when there's ice and snow on the street," Veit continued. "I don't want to fall in front of a car and get run over. Other than that, I ride almost independently of temperature."
Veit, a founder of the McHenry County Bicycle Advocates, said he uses his bicycle for transportation.
"In 2011, I rode about 2,700 miles, and I would say 90 percent of that was utilitarian trips - going to work, going to the store, going to band practice, going to meetings," he said.
"I ride my bicycle within a 20-mile radius. If I have to take the car, I take the car."
Jay Marshall of Richmond is riding his bike less this winter because he's training for his first Boston Marathon. But he's very familiar with cold-weather pedaling.
"It is a challenge to ride in the winter because there is so much less daylight," said Marshall, a science teacher at Antioch Upper Grade School. "I really have to make sure that I have on lots of reflective gear and lights on my bicycle. It definitely takes awhile to get dressed and ready to ride in the cold.
"With the proper gear, it is not cold," Marshall added. "In fact, the challenge is to find the right gear that allows you to be warm, but not overheat and sweat too much. The toughest things to keep warm are the hands and the nose. I wear glasses, so my face mask would often cause my glasses to fog up if I did not have good air circulation keeping everything clear
"Riding in the winter when it is dry gives you a very secure feeling because of all the clothing you have on," Marshall said. "You are just bundled up, and you feel very comfortable."
In 2009, Marshall completed the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association's Year-Rounder Challenge: A 100-mile ride in one day at least once each month of the year.
"January, February, November and December were quite cold, but it was lots of fun," Marshall said.
Marshall has been a member of the McHenry County Bicycle Club since 2004.
"That gave me the impetus to get me out and start riding again," he said. "I was turning 40 and decided to get back to exercising. Since then, I've lost 50 pounds."
MCBC member Chuck Gruetzmacher of Walworth, Wis., bicycled 7,500 miles in 2011.
"My first priority is safety," said Gruetzmacher, who is retired from Dean Foods. "I stay on clean roads and hopefully avoid headwinds that exceed 15 mph."
What Gruetzmacher wears while on the bike depends on the temperature.
"I handle 30-degree temperatures by layering two light- and two medium-weight merino wool shirts under a biker's wind jacket," he said. "I wear a balaclava under my helmet, which serves as a hood and prevents cold air from entering around my neck. I use lined leather gloves to protect my hands and prevent cold air entering at my wrists."
Gruetzmacher said winter biking pants are effective for keeping the legs warm.
"In fact, they are too warm if the temperature is above 35 (degrees)," he said. "I also wear knee-high snowboarding socks to help keep my feet and lower legs warm. Between 25 and 30 degrees, I have to add chemical toe warmers and one or two more light shirts."
Gruetzmacher usually doesn't go out when the thermometer dips below 25.
"I cannot keep my feet warm enough without investing in winter riding shoes," he said.
Gruetzmacher is looking forward to summer rides with the McHenry County Bicycle Club, he added.
Until then, he'll keep riding.
"One of my goals is to ride at least one ride of 30 miles in each of the coldest months of the year," Gruetzmacher said.
Information from: The Northwest Herald, http://www.nwherald.com