Friday, December 12, 2008

Conquering winter on two wheels

by Seth Bell

While a little extra technique and caution are needed for winter cycling, it's not limited to the expert, hardcore, or insane. Where there's a will, there's a way, and if you miss riding outdoors during the winter months, heading out in the snow and cold is easier than you think; here are a few suggestions for winter cycling glee.

First, the bike. Good news; it doesn't have to be fancy!
An old hybrid or mountain bike with mildly knobby tires make trusty winter companions without the worry of exposing a newer and nicer bike to the sometimes harsh road conditions. Old bikes with non-index shifters and fewer gears create less functional and maintenance problems caused by cold temperatures and road crud like snow, slush, sand, and salt. Many older bikes are easily converted to single speeds, which require very little maintenance. Lower tire pressure increases traction on ice and snow, and studded tires are also available in a variety of sizes. Fenders are a nice addition, keeping you and your bike much cleaner and drier. Maybe the most important item; bright lights! Remember, motorists aren't planning on seeing a cyclist out in the winter, especially outside of town.

Now, the rider. A good portion of the folks reading this are active outdoors during the winter already; walking, running, skiing, snowshoeing, etc., and probably have lots of clothing that will work for winter cycling. Dress in layers, but don't get yourself too bulky. A pair of cycling shorts with a chamois under a pair of tights on the bottom, and a couple temperature appropriate base/mid layers on top under a mid weight jacket. Your core will generally warm up quickly and stay that way as long as you keep moving. Your feet will be the hardest to keep warm; don't over-do it with socks, you want to be able to wiggle your toes inside your shoes. Winter shoe covers are available in many thicknesses and fit over most styles of cycling shoes, and dedicated winter cycling boots are also available, and a wonderful investment if you ride in the cold regularly. The little air-activated toe warmer packs work well; I usually take an extra pair along in case something gets too cold. A thin balaclava is very nice too; they fit nicely under helmets, and keep your head, ears, cheeks and neck warm. Warm gloves are a must, and there are lots out there to choose from. Lobster mitts are very nice if you frequently find your hands too chilly. Finally, get outta town! County and gravel roads are quieter and less sloppy than roads in town. Head out on a paved road and go explore some gravels; a 20 mile ride can seem like a grand adventure, especially in the dark. You'll experience a wonderful part of cycling that many people miss out on, and realize that winter cyclists aren't nuts after all, just hooked.
Seth Bell is a wrencher at Wayne's Ski and Cycle, a MTB Single Speeder and a bike commuter.

1 comment:

agegrouper said...

The fourth element needed - COURAGE!