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Biking Through Winter

by Joshua Liberles on November 5, 2007

ICEBIKE Biking Through Winter

Circular reasoning and truisms make up some of my favorite quotes. Try this one, from Icebike, on for size: “You will find that the weather is really not that bad, except when it IS that bad, which is not that often.”

As the air starts feeling a little crisp and we’re rapidly heading towards winter, I hear many people talking about putting their bikes into hibernation mode. While there are days where the most hardcore among us will forego the bike, riding through the winter in relative comfort is a lot more viable than most people think.
There’s something about the photo on this All Weather Sports webpage (also left above) that has always brought me joy. I initially came across this site once I realized that the biking bug had bitten me hard enough that I wouldn’t stop riding in the winter. A little research brought me to that page, replete with info on staying warm and dry; riding safely in winter conditions; and equipment suggestions.
As cool as all the information on that minimalist website is, it was the youthful, goofy smile on that guy’s face as he crunches along on a snowmachine trail in Alaska that really brought me in. There I was looking for a solution for cold feet and maybe a suggestion for a breathable shell to survive winter days around Boston, and I’m confronted with a guy flying right along on top of many feet of snow.

Riding Technique from All Weather Sports:
    Try to pedal smoothly and relax your upper body, especially on ice and soft snow.
    When the bike starts going sideways, make small corrections rather than oversteering and weaving down the trail. Practice riding in a straight line when the trail is good so it’s easier under bad conditions.
    On some soft trails, higher speeds take less effort than lower speeds because your tires sink into the snow less at higher speed.
    When riding in a group on soft trails, have the weaker, less skilled or badly equipped riders lead so they can use the trail before the better riders cut it up.
    Snow machines leave the center of the trail soft. Their best tracks are left by their skis, if you can ride straight enough to use them.
    Dogsleds leave harder, smoother trails than snow machines.
    Road ice can provide lots of traction or very little. Learn how the different types look and sound. Try not to brake hard on the slippery sort, or if you must, use only your rear brake. Watch for dry patches where you can do your braking or turning.
99% of us likely don’t need to know that elastomer suspensions on mountain bikes lose their efficacy close to 0 F; we’re unlikely to ride when it’s cold enough outside to make steel noticeably more brittle or crack plastic water bottle cages and toe clips (topics covered by All Weather Sports). But the very fact that people are out riding in these conditions and enjoying themselves made me realize that there was no need for concern as I embarked on my first winter of cycling. Despite the baffled looks I would get from motorists, friends, coworkers, I persisted and enjoyed myself immensely.
Winter cycling is a great excuse to buy yourself some fancy new technical cycling layers and to continue to one-up your poor car-addicted brethren for another season. You might even set a precedent for others to ride on slightly more inclement days than they otherwise would, just as the crazy Alaskans did for me.
Some general tips: Dress in layers, preferably made of a good wicking material (i.e. synthetics, wool, etc.). Pay extra attention to your hands and feet. Several sources recommend big SPD sandals with wool socks and insulated waterproof covers. Real winter boots (i.e. not cycling-specific) with toe clips work well too. For warm hands in the coldest conditions, pogies look like a sensational solution. Perhaps the best advice is to take one day at a time and, if you don’t feel like riding, don’t. Gradually you’ll expand your comfort window and head out on more days you would have never dreamed of riding previously.
Other great sources for winter cycling tips include: Alaska All Season Cycling and Icebike.
Photos via All Weather Sports and Icebike.

Related posts:

  1. Winterize Your Ride
  2. Trains in Snow: A Winter Video Celebration
  3. Boston Cars in Snow: Going Nowhere
  4. Biking + Breakfast = Bikefast!
  5. When it Snows, Toronto Values Cars More than People
  6. Recent Posts

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dangerous October 9, 2007 at 5:21 pm

a co-worker often states the sad truth about those people brave enough to bike to work or bike a lot: every one of them has been hit by a vehicle at least once.


2 Alex October 28, 2007 at 6:40 am

[i]every one of them has been hit by a vehicle at least once.[/i]

Sounds about right in my experience… I made it 5 years with no collisions, before getting hit three times in one year.

I have to say I’m not so thrilled about the 0.6 power law either - any power less than 1.0 means more cyclists riding equals more cyclists killed. Perhaps there’s some density of cyclists that will tip the balance and drivers will actually respect cyclists, but given the respect they demonstrate for each other I’m not holding my breath.


3 AMH April 11, 2008 at 8:51 pm

How many of you, your family, or your friends who are motorists that you know have never been involved in a crash or collision wilst in a car?

I don’t know of one.

And I’ll bet that if you go digging, you will find it very hard to find one.

Me, I’d still rather take my bike.


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