Why Winter Cycling?sein river cycling

Cycling in sub-zero temperatures? “You must be crazy!” Any one whose ever rode their bike in the winter is sure to have heard this from some one. When people ask “why would you ride your bike in this weather?”. I have a few answers for them. First off, yeah I’m a little bit crazy, but remember, people do all kinds of winter sports. Imagine commuting to work every day on your snow board or hockey skates. Imagine going to get grocery’s by cross country skis, or tobogganing with your friends on the weekend? How fun would that be right?

Here in Winnipeg most people are content to hibernate in their homes all winter, only leaving the cozy couch to bundle up, pray that their cars will start, then spend 15 minutes practicing their Lamaze breathing, shivering as the frozen auto warms up. This includes most cyclist from “pros” to fair weather cyclists. Even the local bike shops may have only one or two brave souls who will gear up in ride in the ice and snow, if any.

If you’re environmentally conscious you’ll be interested to know that driving your car in the winter is up to 50% more polluting than driving in the summer. The engine is always running a rich fuel to air ratio because of the higher density of cold air. The extra time it takes to get anywhere is testament to that. Think about it? You warm up the car at high idle for 10+ minutes every time you decide to drive. The oil is frozen solid in the equally frozen engine block creating mass friction, and sucking down fuel. Traffic is most certainly slower as ice and snow reduce your traction in braking and acceleration. The catalytic converter isn’t working until the engine reaches running temperature, so until then, the exhaust is spewing out of the tail pipes untreated. I won’t even go into your odds of getting into a fender bender compared to summer. Besides there is great bike parking at the unused bike racks!

There are many reasons why you might want to get out there and ride. Winter cycling allows you to enjoy your favorite sport year round. For a lot of people winter is the off season. A time to increase you BMI, and catch up on all the latest snacks and sit-coms you’ve been missing during the training season. Come spring most cyclists will regret this. Trust me. In the spring you’ll see all kinds of cyclists hitting the streets as clumsy and weak as a new born fawn. Come spring, winter cycling will have helped you become the predator, the wolf, eager eat any gear skipping slow moving commuters. Seriously though, winter cycling will ensure that you stay fit through out the off season, and will give you time to perfect your technique, without having to train for any specific event.

Speaking of technique, winter riding will increase your sense of balance as you navigate rutted ice and take slick frosty corners knowing full well that wipe out is closer than ever. Of course the crashing is less daunting when you have layers of insulation and end up barreling into a 3 foot deep snow drift. Nearly every day the course or route will change as snow drifts form, roads are plowed, (or not plowed) creating new features to play on.

Riding rollers, or spinning endless circles at the local gym gets old pretty quick and you will soon lust for terrain, scenery and challenge. Outside your strength and endurance will increase by leaps and bounds as rolling resistance is increased due to frozen bearings, studded tires, deep snow or having to carry your 50 pounds of winter beater bike up stairs and to the top of snow hills. Just think about how easy riding in the warm summer rain or riding into a relentless headwind will be once you’ve braved your first winter of riding!

Winter cycling requires a paradigm shift in thinking. Winter cycling is not about racing, or stunting (well it can be) but more about survival. The most important thing to remember is to dress for the conditions. And always pack an extra layer in case you have to stop for any extended amount of time. A lofty vest is perfect, made of down, or synthetics like primaloft is great if cases of bike failure. You want to be comfortable, well at least mildly comfortable? With the temperatures and wind chills you have to deal with, winter cycling is closer to mountaineering than any other sports I can think of, well at least in Canada. In fact I have to laugh at what bike companies call winter cycling gear. The could learn a lot from mountain climbing crowd.

So get out there and get some fresh air! I grow tired of breathing the same recirculated air in the home and work place. In the next articles I’ll go into my philosophy of winter riding, clothing and gear so that you too can get out there and be one of those crazy guys who rides his bike all year round.

PS: don’t forget a thermos of hot chocolate!