Monday, January 27, 2014

More on Winter Riding from Tim's Patch Column

Here's the followup to the previous posting... a column from the Vienna Patch, January 2011 with some winter riding tips.

The photo below was taken of my Miyata commuter bike, out on the trail.

Getting Out on the Bike In Winter

At this time of year, even I'll admit it can be tough to work up the enthusiasm for a long ride in the cold “for the fun of it”. Some folks do it... I see hardy souls out on long rides in the coldest of weather. But for most of us, the thought of being out for a couple of hours on a bike in sub-freezing temperatures just isn't appealing.

What to do? Well, my last column told you how to prepare yourself and your bike for winter riding, now I'm going to give you some suggestions on how to simply work riding into your life in the cold.

The first tip is to not set big, unrealistic goals... don't tell yourself “tomorrow, I'm going to get on all my winter gear and ride out to Purcellville in the bracing weather!”  Chances are good you'll either look outside at the grey and cold and change your mind, or get out to Leesburg and be cursing your foolishness that put you so far from home in the freezing cold.

I find one good way to get out and ride in winter is to run errands on my bike. Stay within the town boundaries, and do some local shopping, banking, or visiting by bike. That way you can dress warmly without having to worry about special “technical fabrics” and cycling specific winter clothing.  If you're just tootling around town a mile or two here, a mile or two there, you really don't need to “suit up”... you can wear more or less “street” clothes as long as they are warm. And you still get some exercise and fresh air!

If you're visiting friends or banking or running to the post office by bike, there's no special equipment you need.  However, if you want to try doing some of your shopping by bike, like me, you'll probably need to come up with a way to carry things.  The simplest choice, for small loads, is to toss a small backpack on your back, but that can be limiting and tiring.  A better choice is some sort of carrying system on your bike. This can be as simple has having a rear rack mounted, with a milk crate bungeed on top, or you can buy special bags or baskets to hang on your bike. My “grocery getter” is set up with a smallish wire basket up front, which handles the minor shopping trips, and a rack with folding wire basket on the back, for when the front alone isn't enough.  I also have a Brompton folding bicycle, which allows me to bring the bike right into the store, partly folded, and roll it around as my shopping cart, putting items in the front bag as I shop.  Other options are special “grocery panniers”, cloth bags that hang on either side of the rear rack and are perfect for a bag of groceries each.  The truly dedicated bicycle shopper might consider something like a bicycle cargo trailer for the truly huge load of groceries, but the point is to just get out and give it a try. 

You might be surprised how running errands and visiting on your bike can be both practical AND fun. And your friends will smile when they realize you've come “all that way in this weather” by bike to see them!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winter Biking - from my old Vienna Patch column...

 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!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Closing for inventory 1/13 - 1/17.

ATTENTION!  We will be CLOSED for inventory from Monday, January 13th through Friday, January 17th.  We will re-open on the 18th and return to our regular "winter hours" at that time.  We apologize for any inconvenience.

You can see Daniel is getting ready... clipboard and pen in hand!