Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Riding Through Winter (or Not)

We here in the E.V.L. household have already grown tired of snow. I realize we are undoubtedly in for more of it, and that compared to other parts of the US, we've had a snow-fortunate season, but I think locally we have become spoiled by our reality that generally the snow falls and then melts relatively quickly (at least on the north sides of roads that see sun more regularly).
Large snow piles abound this time of year... more frequently than I'd like to see in bike lanes too.
It is the time of year when we begin to wonder if we need fat bikes (we do not) and studded tires (we may) and sometimes spiral into dizzying thoughts believing that snow will be a part of our lives forever. At times, it is also the point in a year when we begin looking to warmer, drier states, wondering if we don't belong somewhere else. As Sam has stated many times over, "I don't know if I can imagine growing old with this year after year."

But, many people do just that, so I think we need to put on our big kid pants and figure out ways to survive and hopefully actually enjoy what is a decent chunk of the year.

To date, the way I get through winter is generally figuring out subsections of the cold season and splitting it up in my mind to make it to spring. For example, I tell myself that if we make it to January, it will be the new year and then it is almost February, which means spring is just around the corner.

The problem is, this doesn't always work. We have years when snow comes in early October and years that it doesn't leave until mid-May (It has snowed on Mother's Day, for instance). For the math challenged (like myself) that means we have 7-8 months of potential snow and more importantly for my purposes, ice to contend with on the roads.
Look at that icy sheet forming on the road... if only snow would just immediately melt and dry. 
When I finally wrap my head around the fact that I will have to deal with icy roads, I start to realize just how cold it is outside. After several years of experimentation with clothing, I have finally figured out appropriate layers to wear during the cold. Wool is my friend, while cotton (if it gets wet) is not. some man-made materials can work, but finding the right options seems to challenge me a bit more. More than anything, finding the right weight of layers can be challenging and varies depending on my own exertion and the temperature outside. I came to the conclusion long ago however that layers are the best way to go.

There's also a part of me that doesn't want to have the corrosion that comes from riding through snow on a bike that isn't immediately cleaned up upon return. Late in every year I always ponder the idea of picking up a very inexpensive mountain or wider-tire-capable bike on Craigslist, eBay or other related site just to beat up through the winter-like months, but have yet to actually do so. I'd prefer either a single speed or internally geared option as my trials with a derailleur in snow have been challenging - and disc brakes would be my preference as well. As someone who is rather klutzy, giving myself any added boost in confidence is beneficial when the elements are against me and my natural tendency to trip, slip, or fall.

Still, the hardest hurdle to overcome is a mental one.

It isn't that I don't or haven't ridden in the snow or the cold, so I can't use it as an excuse. However, finding the will to want to go out initially into 5F/-15C degree or colder weather is a bit more challenging. It's cold, and it doesn't matter how many layers I have on, there is some part of me still exposed to the briskness. Once I get moving, I do get a groove and realize it isn't bad at all, and generally temperatures do warm a bit, but that initial jump to force myself out the door seems to be the biggest obstacle.

Some people I know use early spring cycling events to motivate them to continue to ride through the winter, some choose only to ride indoors on a trainer and walk to destinations rather than ride, and still others find the challenge of getting out at all in the cold intolerable and choose simply to train or commute only when the seasons or intermittent days in winter are warmer. While I understand the reasons behind all the choices, I don't personally like the idea of giving up riding for several months of the year.

All in all, I really do think that it's entirely possible to keep riding through the snowy seasons, but I'd like to find a way to do so more frequently.

How do you get through winter months? Do you enjoy them and the challenges that can be presented, or have you found a way to mentally appreciate what the cold brings? Do you change bikes through winter or continue to ride the same bike? What sort of tips would you offer to others that have worked for you to keep riding when the weather isn't necessarily as cooperative as a person on a bike might prefer?

15 comments:

  1. This winter has been particularly frustrating. You can only add so many layers before you end up looking (and moving) like the Michelin man. And then there's the ice. I own studded tires but they are s-l-o-w. Might be time to actually invest in an indoor trainer...

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    1. I'm glad it's not just me that finds this particular year frustrating. I was so happy to have those few days of warmer weather and see all the ice melting away... and then this last round. Oh well. I agree that excessive layering gets to be a bit much.

      If you don't mind me asking (since I'm always searching, trying to find a set that may work well), which studded tires do you own? I've been looking at the Schwalbe Marathon Winter (I think it's HS 396), but it doesn't seem to matter which brand or type I start researching - there's always good and bad to take with any version it seems.

      We actually did get an indoor trainer this year, but we've yet to set it up. I think we keep hoping that things will clear up enough to get in longer rides. I, personally, don't mind missing out on longer rides (though Sam is trying to gain fitness for summer plans over the winter), but I do miss just getting around via bike more often when the weather gets like this.

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  2. Take a look at this: http://www.gravelbike.com/?p=1673

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    1. Luckily, I'm only confronted by snow and ice on the road a few days a year. However, I learned early on the main problem to overcome is the hazard a two-wheeled vehicle presents in keeping upright - especially on ice. Keeping warm and dry has never been a big problem for me. The studded tires you provided in your link would be a godsend to anyone trying to ride on a slippery surface. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. This post makes me incredibly grateful to live in the south! I have absolutely no thoughts on this matter, but I admire those of you who cycle through the winter in places where winter is real!

    Here's an interview with a guy I've become acquainted with through the commuter forum at bikejournal.com: https://www.loosescrews.com/bruce-wilbur-on-winter-commuting/. He's pretty amazing!

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    1. Well, you have your own weather to contend with... it's just in the opposite season. :) Humidity kills me. Even going to visit relatives in California, we get there and I say, "Man, it's so sticky!" and by comparison to the south, it is definitely not humid.

      Thank you for sharing the link. I agree with this thought: "The number one obstacle to winter cycling is psychology." I also think that necessity creates more of a can-do spirit in me (and often in others too). When we know it's possible to not ride because we have other means of getting around, it's often easier to make that choice, even though I know it's entirely possible to ride through winter. And, I have to admit that there are other states that have it far worse than we do in Colorado. We get a lot of sun, even through winter, and I am very grateful for that.

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  4. You've encountered the great dilemma: how many months can person go without riding a bike? Every winter is unique. And then there is riding for transportation vs. sport, all variables that will affect your personal tolerance. I classify myself as a fair weather winter rider: the cold doesn't bother me but the road conditions do. I wait for drier roads and ride my normal step through bike with regular 2" road tires. It's not a science, just be aware that should clean and lube the drive train more often, and using fenders helps in this department. I'll wait to see how bad you want to ride your bike...

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    1. I learned quickly that cleaning the bike/lubing the chain was very important when weather turns snowy. I haven't had the best luck with fenders though. It seems as though snow just continuously gets stuck between the tire and the fender, which means I'm stopping all the time, attempting to get the snow out. Do you have any tricks for dealing with this?

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    2. Like I said, I avoid riding in snow, so I'm not a good source of help with snow build up on tires. I would guess I'd have the same problem as you do. If you ride without fenders, I've heard that you can spray PAM on your frame to protect the metal plus the snow may not stick. I think riding in snow is an experiment!

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    3. Hmm... that could be interesting. I wonder what sort of mess that would be to clean up later? Maybe not as bad as I think, since it's supposed to be an anti-stick substance. Specifically, I find the snow gets stuck in the derailleur, which is why I object to using them in this type of weather, but then having a single speed or internally geared hub just for the snow seems unnecessary. Maybe I just need to enjoy the current sunshine and know that spring is on the way. :)

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  5. I ride year round in N. FL but we have our own problems. It's unbearably hot if you don't finish your ride by 9:30 - 10am in the summer. Even riding late in the day doesn't help because of heat buildup. I wear arm coolers with a loose short-sleeved seersucker shirt [puckered cotton]. Cotton works in the South if it's puckered so it doesn't cling. During this winter, it's been incredibly warm with only a few really cold days and nights. Dryness with hard rain every couple of weeks - maybe. Most of the area needs more rain right now. Derailleurs work well here unless there is a lot of rain and because of some 15+ degree hills, disc brakes are a good idea in the city. The weather is so unpredictable here I've learned to dash out when there is a break from heat, wind, moderate to storm rain, or cold. My comfort zone is 50-80 degrees but if I had your delimma, I'd expand my expectations to get to ride more. Studded tires, goggles and a balaclava sound like good options.

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    1. You have one of those opposite-season problems, much like Kendra. The heat/humidity of the summer is probably far more a pain than the cold or ice/snow of winter for some of us. I can understand how bundling up and using studded tires would sound wonderful when in the midst of such heat.

      These are great tips for those who ride in the heat anywhere - thanks for sharing what you do to keep riding.

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  6. I'll refrain from suggesting a psychological exam for those living in snowy regions of the country. We lived in rainy Seattle for years, but have finally come to our "senses" and are preparing to move to the SW. Just a couple of weeks ago, in January no less, we spent a week riding in Tucson with highs in the 70's and up to 81 F, one day. Awesome!

    Sure, it goes over 100 F in summer, but you have to deduct 10 - 15 degrees for the lack of humidity to compare with other parts of the country. I never get too hot at 100+F when I'm moving and I find it still pleasant to ride. I do require one liter of water per hour to stay hydrated.

    I do have a suggestion for those riding in winter, especially the rain. I picked up a Giro Air Attack helmet with face shield last Fall and I find it makes a big difference in riding in cold and rain (and probably snow). The Air Attack is pricey and probably seems like a strange helmet to choose for riding on the road. It is an "aero" helmet made for racing and comes with a "bubble" face shield. But that face shield keeps the wind and rain off your face. The shield also does not fog - a real problem in Seattle where you can find your self climbing a 10+% grade for a mile or more and even though it is 40 degrees and raining, you develop enough warm, moist heat to fog even the best eyewear. The added benefit to the Air Attack is the face shield provides the peripheral vision you never realized you lost going to conventional eyewear. The improved sideways vision is dramatic.

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    1. :) Agreed. Psychological evals may be in order.

      I agree with you that dry heat is definitely different and not nearly as taxing as adding in the humidity. Glad you will be able to ride with a bit more ease in the southwest moving forward. A move is always exciting and unnerving, but hopefully it goes great!

      We actually had a run of near-60F degree days right before the dumping of snow (again). Unfortunately, the ice was just getting to the point that riding on roads was more tolerable and now we have a fresh heap. I was getting all excited that maybe winter was over (I know better, but it was a nice mental and physical break). Hopefully, spring comes early though... that's all I hold on to some days.

      Thanks for the helmet thought. I think any suggestions for things to try to make it through are wonderful. Some work better than others, so it's nice to hear what others have tried and used successfully.

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