Peeling back a corner of the universe to glimpse the utter chaos that lies behind.
Dec 4, 2010
We got about 6 inches of beautiful fluffy snow that started yesterday afternoon and continued through the night. After running around this morning with the snowblower and digging out our house and all of our neighbors the snowy streets were only a minor inconvenience ( here's to 4-wheel drive).
I am pretty convinced that a bike can be as good a form of transportation in winter as a car, and better than a car on ice. After a slight hiatus from the bike I finally wheeled it out and went for a ride this evening. It felt VERY good to be on a bike again. The alleys were tricky - packed snow over ice. That was very squirmy, even with studded tires. The side streets, however, are very rideable in the tire tracks and the trail along the Parkway is generally in good condition. The only tricky stuff out there are the intersections, where the plow spooge blocks the trail crossings.
The secret, to the extent that there is a secret, to winter riding is base layers. I invested in two Smartwool base layer tops this winter. They are expensive, but unbeatable for warmth, breathability and light weight. I like these under a light jacket more than a sweater for riding in winter. I told my co-workers that I am sorry, but I will not be taking my Smartwool off until May (and in every jest there is a grain of truth). The addition of a Grovecraft wool hat has also been a blessing. Holly's hats are wonderful soft Merino wool and fit better than any other ones I have tried. She was selling these at No-Coast today and also sells at Freewheel, Hiawatha and I think at the Hub.
The only winter cycling problem I am still having is my eyes. They tear a lot in cold weather, but I have a pretty low tolerance for goggles. I feel claustrophobic in goggles and they steam up (or my glasses steam up) as soon as I stop, so I am always taking the damn things on and off at stop lights. I am considering getting some of those wrap-around glasses with prescription inserts. Maybe Santa will deliver the goods on that this year.
The final thing that makes winter riding easier is the right bike. I could not be happier with my single speed MTB. I picked this for $60 at a garage sale this summer. With the addition of some wide fenders (I had to hack off the front of the front fender to clear the cantilever brake cables), lights and now studded tires, this bike is amazing. Although this is not a high end bike, it's a very good bike - it's perfect for it's purpose. That's my definition of a "good bike". I know a lot of people ride road bikes in winter, but I prefer a mountain bike with a small frame for better handling. I am never going to win a speed record on this, but then I am never going to win a speed record on a racing bike, either.
Finally, it's just a lot more fun and engaging to ride a bike in winter than it is to drive. Even with studs, I find you have to pay a little more attention, and the little fishtails and side-slips keep you very in touch with the road conditions. You are also presented with a lot of little challenges, like busting through a ridge of plowed snow at an intersection. You think nothing of this in a car, if you even notice it all. On a bike, you to come with a strategy in half a second, bust through it, and then you give yourself a little high-five when you succeed. That's good clean fun.
If you have not tried it, put on some long underwear, find a plowed trail and go for a little spin. It's a beautiful way to enjoy winter and a lot more accessible than most people would think.