Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful, but the Ride is So Delightful
The conditions for today's ride: 14 degrees (F) and snowing, with 4-5" accumulation. Am I crazy? Nope. I just can't escape the grip of my bike love.
When I took up riding, I couldn't have imagined that I'd want to ride in the snow. But by the end of last summer, I knew that I wouldn't, couldn't, put away my bike when the weather turned. Even on the slushiest, muddiest days, there still comes a point on my ride when I take air deep into my lungs, and then sigh contentedly, happy to be fully in my body and in the moment.
Winter cycling definitely presents it's own set of challenges, but so far, I'm finding it to be far from impossible. In fact, there are some definite benefits to riding through the winter. I can push much harder without overheating, the trails are nearly empty (constantly slowing down and shouting "on your left" is such a drag), and there are endless opportunities to improve my handling skills. It's no secret that I'm monstrously uncoordinated. Even in ideal conditions, I've been known to fall off my bike when starting and stopping. It's embarrassing (why does it always happen when I have an audience?), but I don't let it stop me. Right now, the trails are covered in mud and slush and crunchy icy bits of snow. Some spots are like a mini-obstacle course, but I'm learning how to negotiate them, and I know that the skills I learn this winter will help me handle the rocks and tree branches I encounter next summer.
I had thought that the cold and snow would be the worst part of riding in the winter. As it turns out, I'm perfectly comfortable riding into the mid-20's (F), wearing just two thin layers. Even today, in temperatures well below 20, I was plenty warm in my ordinary winter coat (and I'm the type of person who wears a sweater around the house nine months out of the year). The heat created from the effort of cycling goes a long way. The only two parts of me that have gotten cold are my fingers and my ears. I don't yet have a perfect system for keeping my fingers warm, but for now, wearing a thin insulated pair of gloves under mittens is working pretty well. On warmer days, I use an ear band. On the super cold or windy days, I use a thin inexpensive balaclava. Having warm ears makes me much more comfortable overall.
A few inches of pure fresh snow are a piece of cake to ride in. It's the thawed and refrozen crunchy snow, slush, and long mud puddles which make cycling complicated. Wind is also a big obstacle. It's harder to push along in a stiff wind, and even a slight breeze can make the temperature icy cold.
It's possible to ride on the local trails most days, but I do have a backup plan for the days when they are impassable. Around here, the city is required to clear the sidewalks the day after a storm. If all else fails, I find my way to a city sidewalk, and ride there. It doesn't make for the most glamorous ride, but it beats sitting at home. And actually, one of my sidewalk routes makes a very good hills course.
Essentials - fill bottle with warm water, and take an extra bottle for cleaning chain and derailleur after mud swims. Even if it seems warm, pack an extra layer. Ride into the wind first, so that it's at your back on the way home.
I've found one of the biggest keys to winter cycling is just to accept that it's a different animal from riding in the summer. I accept that I won't be going on many half-day rides, or exploring many new trails. I accept that I will be falling more. I accept that many of my rides will focus on maneuvering obstacles, or perfecting technique. But I refuse to accept that having Old Man Winter breathing down my neck is a reason to hang up my bike. So, let is snow, let it snow, let it snow!