Cycling in Winter Conditions

It won’t be long now before winter rears its head in these parts. Ogden averages anywhere from thirty to forty inches of snow per year and it can come at any time.  In fact, the only months that we’ve never had measurable snow here are July and August.  Most of the snow falls from December through early March, so we still have a few weeks to prepare.

Because Jan and I are using bicycles for transportation, we’ll be riding through the winter regardless (mostly) of conditions.  Many of my friends and colleagues think this is a bad idea, but it’s not.  Riding in the winter offers a special set of rewards.  Yes, additional care must be taken, but there’s no reason you can’t continue to bicycle when the weather turns cold and the rain turns to snow.  I rode all winter last year.  Here is what I learned.

Single Speeds Rule

We have a large garage and only one car, so that means we have plenty of room for bicycles.  I am always looking to upgrade and so when I find a good bike,  I buy it.  The less sophisticated the bike, the less I generally have to pay for it.

Slush that builds up and then freezes creates havoc with gears, derailleurs & cables.

Slush that builds up and then freezes creates havoc with gears, derailleurs & cables.

People will basically give away older single speed bicycles and these are the best deals of all for riding in the white stuff.  Single speeds are great for snow, ice and slush because derailleurs and other components tend to get ice crusted on messy days and then they don’t function very well.   Road salt tends to destroy them.  Most older single speeds will support wider wheels and tires which provides an additional level of safety on snow and ice.

Avoid Motor Vehicles as Much as Possible

Motorists generally tend to be more careful when it’s icy, so it’s not imperative that you avoid streets, per se, but it is important to choose the right streets.   Depending on where you live, multi-use trails may or may not be plowed.    Minneapolis plows theirs.  Indianapolis wouldn’t dream of it.  I don’t know if Ogden does or not, but I’m about to find out.

This black asphalt trail near our home in Indiana would heat up in the midday sun. Later it would refreeze into icy ruts that made travel treacherous.  Those are my tracks…out and back.

This black asphalt trail near our home in Indiana would heat up in the midday sun. Later it would refreeze into icy ruts that made travel treacherous. Those are my tracks…out and back.

Most roads, even those that are lightly traveled, get some sort of winter treatment. As a result, they are often a better choice than multi use trails.

Most roads, even those that are lightly traveled, get some sort of winter treatment. As a result, they are often a better choice than multi use trails.

Unplowed trails can be a nightmare, especially if the snow thaws and refreezes. Plan your routes so that you stay on lightly traveled streets with low speed limits.  Many communities will plow or sand and salt these streets.  Some motorists will put off trips until conditions improve so traffic may be lighter than normal.  Try different routes until you find the ones that work best for you.

Dress for Success

Winter requires a different cycling wardrobe, but this isn’t the Tour de France and you don’t have to spend a fortune to pull it off.  Dress in layers.  Your outer layer should be impervious to slop and easy to peel off when you get to wherever it is you’re going.  Extremities are always a challenge.  Toes and fingers get cold.  I prefer cycling in slightly large leather sneakers with two pairs of socks. The inner sock is thin nylon to wick away moisture.  The outer sock is a heavy wool ski or hunting sock.  I don’t use clipless pedals in the winter.  I can imagine my cleats freezing to the pedals.  That wouldn’t be good.

I’m going to try this split finger glove from Sweden’s Craft this year. They were a real bargain…$30 on Amazon.

I’m going to try this split finger glove from Sweden’s Craft this year. They were a real bargain…$30 on Amazon.

Gloves have been a real challenge.  My pinky fingers sometimes get dangerously cold.  There are all sorts of treatments to consider including bar mitts, but I’ve never used them.  For one thing, they’re pricey and I’m not.  For another, they’re attached to the bike and could be stolen.  I imagine they also get really messy on slushy days.  I’ve decided to go with a lobster claw glove this year.  It offers some of the comfort of a mitten but still gives the flexibility of a glove.  I’ll let you know how they work out.

Be Flexible and Plan Ahead

Recognize that as conditions change you may need to change your plans.  Maybe that means delaying a trip for a few hours.  Maybe it means choosing a different route.  It might even mean strapping on the snow shoes and walking instead of cycling.

Even when the snow is falling and the wind is howling you can still ride.

Even when the snow is falling and the wind is howling you can still ride.

You’ll want to keep your chain, brakes and other components clean. I’ve found that this stuff does the trick really well.

You’ll want to keep your chain, brakes and other components clean. I’ve found that this stuff does the trick really well.

It’s all good.  Even back when we had cars things didn’t always go according to plan.  Batteries die and roads drift over.  That’s life. When all is said and done, either this is something you want to do or it isn’t.  If it is, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else is doing or what they think of you.  You get to decide.  You get to go for it if that’s what you want.  If so, you won’t be alone.

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