It's been suggested to me that I should "re-print" some of the columns I wrote as the Vienna Pedaler on the Vienna Patch, so I thought I'd start out with one from a few winters ago, with thoughts about riding in winter. Timely, given the snow falling as I write this... not that I'm urging everyone to leap on their bikes in the snow... but give winter riding some thought... you might like it more than you think!
The photo below was taken of my Miyata commuter bike, shortly after arriving at the shop... in December of 2009, after the first of those big snows that year. My Patch column from December of 2010 follows.
About this time of year, most folks have parked their bike in their garage or shed for the winter, waiting for the warm days of Spring to ride again. But I'm here to tell you that you don't have to give up enjoying your bike just because it is winter. There's still fun to be had, errands to be run. I know, because I've done it every one of the eight winters I've lived here.
To begin with, stop and think about it... how many truly wintry days do we get here? Sure, we're having a heck of a cold snap right now, but let's be honest, it's not going to last that long, and what follows probably won't be all that brutal. And it's very likely that we'll have days of relative warmth and sunshine sprinkled through the entire winter season. So if you pick and choose your days, you can at least get in a few nice rides.
But that's not all... with a little forethought, preparation, and yes, determination, you can ride in truly cold weather, even in snow. And it can actually be fun, with the right attitude.
First and foremost, you need to dress appropriately. Any number of people will tell you what that means, so to some extent you have to find out what works best for you, through trial and error. Take some shorter rides first, testing out different clothing options. For me, I've learned that thin layers of wool and/or silk work best on my upper body, with a cycling specific rain jacket on top if it's wet. For my lower body, depending on the nature of the ride, I will wear cycling tights or regular wool pants, most often from a surplus store. On my hands, I like thick wool gloves down to about 40 degrees, and “lobster claw” gloves (available at bike stores) for colder weather. Likewise, to about 40 I generally just rely on my helmet for a warm head, but use a silk balaclava under it when it's colder.
But what about the bike? Well, any bike can be ridden year round, but if you're planning to ride a lot in all conditions, you might consider setting up a bike specifically for winter. Lights are absolutely essential, as the days are shorter, and often cloudy, and visibility is reduced. There are a wide variety of lights available in bike shops, including simple ones powered by disposable batteries, more elaborate rechargeable systems, and generator systems that use the rotation of your wheel to produce electricity. Whichever you choose, make sure you have multiple lights, just in case one should fail, and to increase your chances of being seen.
Fenders are your friend in wet weather, and really don't make any significant impact on your speed. They protect both you and your bike from the water picked up by your wheels as you ride. You'll be surprised what a difference they make to your enjoyment and the condition of your bike. In fact, I'm such a fan of fenders that of the many bikes I own, the majority wear fenders year-round. I'd rather be ready for anything, any time, than be stuck out on a ride getting soaking wet.
Finally, for the truly dedicated winter rider, consider studded tires for your bike. These have anywhere from 100 to 300 metal studs embedded in the tread to provide traction on ice and snow, and it's amazing what a difference they make. On smoother frozen surfaces it's almost like riding clear pavement. However, when you are riding on a bumpy, rough surface, such as that created by tires or footsteps in snow frozen over, you have to be a bit careful, as your front wheel may get knocked around by ruts and such. Even so, you'd be amazed just how “stuck” to the surface a studded tire is. And it's good practice for your bike-handling skills. Just try not to tense up, relax and be attentive and enjoy the ride.
Which brings me to riding technique. While it's lots of fun to ride in winter, once you get out there you do have to be a bit more cautious than in warmer weather. It's always possible to be surprised by a patch of ice, and if you ride on roads, motorists are a lot less likely to be expecting you out there this time of year. In addition, the angle of sunlight is shallower, so it's more likely you and those you share the road with have the sun in your eyes. So take it a bit slower, be alert and just enjoy being out there. You'll find it's nice to have the trails to yourself, and that your familiar rides are now new and different with the faded colors and cooler light and sharper air of winter.
I'll see you out there!