It’s January 22, 2014. I just spent over an hour and a half snowblowing and shoveling out from this last winter blast in New England. It is now 7 degrees F outside. For the next several days we will be in a polar vortex, so any ice on the road won’t have much chance of melting. There is also a chance for more snow in the coming week. I am just thankful that I got 119 miles of riding in this month. It sure beats last year when I only got in about 15 in January.
How do I cope with these cold days. Well I do have a stationary exercise bike in my basement. No, it is not one of my road bikes on a training stand. It is just a resistance trainer. I have a couple of Carmichael Training System DVDs as well as a few other more scenic ones where I don’t have to look at people sweating on their bikes in a gym like setting. I also am doing some kettlebell training and other core training for my abs. Next to your legs, I have been told your abs are most important for balance and power. I am body toning. This weight and resistance training won’t bulk me up but it will give me more tone and strength. I still can’t wait to ride outside again.
Riding outside in winter is not for the faint of heart. You have to be prepared. You should have a wicking underlayer as well as breathable top layers and the ability to vent the heat your body will build up during a strenous workout outside. If not, that sweat stays trapped and gets cold and may lower your body temperature leading to hypothermia. I highly recommend that you wear booties for your bike shoes, especially if you have the ventilated type of shoes. If you don’t have booties, your pedals will act like heat sinks and draw heat away from your feet, even in temperatures as low as 35 degrees F. Also, when riding a bike you are creating your own wind chill. So if it 30 degrees out on dry roads, check your wind chill chart for your average speed and the speed the wind is blowing to figure out how really cold it is going to be. As for my hand, I wear padded bicycle gloves underneath my three finger mittens. I have never had any problems with my hands.
Another issue to consider when riding in the winter is the road itself. Freezing and thawing will bring out potholes galore. You have to be vigilant. With the low sun of winter there is more glare on the road. This glare hides such dangers as black ice, sand and potholes. Any of these can put you down on the road with a hard fall, or at least give you a flat tire or damaged rim. Also beware of black ice if you go out when it was warm and the snow was melting but the return temperature is below freezing.
Other equipment you should have for winter are blinking lights front and rear and fenders. In winter it gets darker earlier, especially when the clouds move in. If your blinking front light can turn into a headlight, all the better. Hi visibility or reflective clothing will also help you be seen. Drivers don’t expect bicyclists out in the winter and when you ride near intersections you should go out more towards the middle of the road to be seen, especially if there are tall snow banks. Fenders are important in that they help keep the majority of road grime from your drive train. When I mean fenders I mean front and rear. They also keep the grime off your clothes and help to keep you dryer. After your ride, take the time to clean up your bike, clean your chain and drive train, and give it a nice wipe down. If you have caliper brakes take a soft cloth and get the sand a loose grime off the rims.
So is winter riding worth it? If you ask me, heck yes! You don’t have to put up with bugs that seem to want to bug you as you go up a steep hill, barely doing 6mph. There is more to see, since the leaves are all gone. You can sometime get the scent of a wood fire as you go past a house, and when you are done a cup of hot tea or chocolate really hits the spot. “Another added benefit is that winter rides can help get you lean by burning brown fat, which unlike regular fat is only triggered by cold weather and burns calories instead of storing them. Fully activiated brown fat can raise your restin metabolism by 20 percent…” (Source Bicycling Training Journal, Rodale Press page 8 (c) 2012). So if you can, get out and ride this winter. A.J.