Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tips for winter cycling

I have always prided myself in riding outside both inside and outside through the winter months. Here are some of the things that I have learned from personal experience.

1) Temperature is an excuse. Precipitation is a reason:

As long as you have the correct equipment, you can bike outside almost regardless of how cold it is. When I find myself thinking that it is too cold outside to go for a spin, I remember that there is a woman who, until recently lived in Alaska, doesn't let the weather phase her. (blog link) There is a reason why her blog is called ArticGlass. As long as you have the base layers and correct hats and gloves you are all set.

However, I consider snow, rain and ice to be valid reasons to stay indoors. I have one bike and one bike only. It has skinny tires without treads. If there is ice/snow on the road, I won't risk it. If it is really cold outside and raining, I tend to stay indoor simply because I don't know if it will turn to ice or give me hypothermia.

2) Maintenance is more important during the winter

Just because you can bike outside in relative comfort when it is really cold, does not mean that you can do roadside repairs comfortably. Gloves only work when they are on your hands, and you aren't going to be able to do a whole lot of repairing anything with gloves on your hands.

For this reason, during the winter I pay special attention to my tires prior to the ride. I also carry compressed air over a mini-pump to save time. In the most extreme temps, you just don't want to spend extra time out in that wind.

Since it is winter, I wear a hat with ear flaps. This drastically cuts down on what you can hear. When you add in the winter wind, it's like standing behind a jet engine (I assume, since I've never been behind a jet engine) All those small clicks and noises that can indicate that something is about to go wrong are impossible to hear.

There are these monsters things called salt trucks. It seems that they don't pay attention to weather and just drive around dumping salt all day every day for the whole winter. If not cleaned off is will mess with your chain, derailleur, cables, and more.

All these reasons come together to make routine maintenance that much more important.

3) Bike with a phone buddy

Even the most meticulous maintenance won't prevent everything. If you bike outside during the winter, you still might get a flat or break a spoke or something else. Because of this I only bike outside in the cold when I know that Liz has her phone turned on and will be able to pick me up.

If that isn't possible to have someone keep their phone on for an emergency, and I just have to get outside, I stay close to home. Then if something breaks I'm at least within an 45 minute walk. No one said you can't get a work out out of very small loops around the block.

4) Use ski goggles.

Think about it.... going down a snowy hill really fast is pretty similar to biking outside in the winter. getting a pair with exchangeable lenses has been a great experience. When it's not cloudy, it is so bright outside. when it is cloudy, it can feel like night time. Having the different shade options is always nice.

5) Drink water even when it isn't convenient.

It's cold. It's windy. It's hard to breath. You are wearing a face mask. It doesn't feel like you are sweating. All these things make drinking your water more difficult, but you have to do it. If you are working hard, it is just as important to keep drinking that water so you don't get dehydrated.

I usually make a timed schedule of when I have to take in water. If it is really cold, I drink lots of water every 20 minutes. If it isn't so bad outside, I drink once every 10 minutes.

6) Don't compare your ride to summer time rides

Your route may be the same, but Guess what... Biking in the winter is not even close to biking in the summer. You are wearing tons of layers, you have less mobility, your legs don't get as warm, there is more wind. Let your self go slower and give yourself a break. If you are biking outside in the winter you are likely to be ahead of the training curve. Enjoy the solitude and the weird looks from the passing cars.

7) Schedule an extra half hour to get dressed

Remember that ton of clothes from number 6? Yeah it takes a ton of time putting it all on adn taking it all off. Plus, I always get half way and remember that I didn't put on my Heartrate strap or arm warmers. I guess if you are very organized it won't be as much of a problem, but don't ever see myself not taking at least 30 minutes just to get dressed.

8) Have escape routes

Winter is fickle. I like to make sure that I have some options along the way for shortening my ride if I need too. I usually don't shorten it, but all it takes is one ride when you missed a layer or your toes are going numb to make me very thankful to chop off those last 3 miles of the planned ride.

9) Be aware of limited vision and cars not expecting you.

Car don't always clear off their whole windshields, and they certainly don't expect to share the road in the dead of winter. Plus, lots of my winter gear makes it harder to see cars out of the periphery of my vision and it is harder to hear them coming. I like to give an extra look behind me whenever making a turn.

Oddly enough, I also ride further out in the road. While at first read it might seem to be more dangerous, it is actually safer in the winter. Stray ice chunks, gravel, and black ice in the gutters and shoulder make it more likely that I would have to do something unexpected when a car is approaching me, and that leads to a higher likelihood of getting into an accident. If I'm a little farther out in the road, cars can see me. If they try to pass, I still have some room to move over without having to ride on the gravel and ice.

10) Be careful in intersections.

This is one of the places where you may have no choice but to go over gravel and ice. It pays off to slow down and not get in an accident. I usually safe the dare devil turns for the summer.

11) Enjoy the ride

Winter is beautiful!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Winter is evil, but this is a good post with great tips.

: )