Ten Tips to Help You Enjoy Winter Cycling
by Brian Gaskill
1. Ride a clunker. Use an old bike that you don’t mind getting rusty or really grungy. Mountain bikes are a good choice because of the upright riding position and the ample clearance between the frame and tires. Slush and snow can build up on the frame and wheels slowing your progress significantly, so make sure that your winter bike has plenty of room for this. Also, the longer wheelbase a mountain bike offers will enhance stability on slippery or snowy roads.
2. Light it up. Make it easy to be seen by motorists by dressing brightly and using a light. The winter season gives others less light to see you with. Fogged windows, snow and glare are things that can distract motorists, even on sunny days. At night, a light can help other cyclists and pedestrians see you and help you avoid colliding with them, plus, it’s the law.
3. Brake slowly and gently. Snow, ice and sand will increase the distance you need to slow or stop your bike. These conditions will also test your balance, so gently apply your brakes way before you need to turn or stop. By applying gentle pressure to your brakes, you will clean the braking surface and avoid icing up your rims needlessly.
4. Use a lower gear. Slush, snow and sand will rob you of momentum. By riding in a lower gear, you will be able to power through the deeper stuff. Pedaling at a higher cadence will keep you warmer also. By turning more RPMs at a slower ground speed, your body will produce more heat. The slower ground speed will mean less windchill effect, which can cause you to lose your body of heat very quickly.
5. Lower your tire pressure. Ride with 10 to 20 PSI less pressure in your tires than you would in the summer. Remember though, just being in colder air will drop your tire pressure a bit. Check your tire pressure when the tires are cold. Running lower air pressure in your tires will give the tires a bigger contact patch allowing for more traction. The softer tire can also “float” better on really soft snow. Be careful not to let too much air out of your tire though, as snow can cover up big potholes that can destroy your wheel, possibly sending you over the handlebars!
6. Cover your mouth. Your mother was right. You do lose a lot of heat through your head, but not from the top of your head, rather from your mouth. Breathing through a balaclava or fleece neck gaiter will warm the air before it enters your lungs. Your breath will keep the material you are breathing through warm, thus re-warming the air you take in. Doing this will allow you to ride even in the very coldest of Minnesota winters.
7. Dress in layers. Three to be exact. Wear a polypropylene or merino wool base layer. These materials wick moisture away from your body, helping to keep the air next to your skin warm and dry. Merino wool tends to be hypoallergenic and not as itchy, so don’t be afraid of this luxurious option. Also, both polypropylene and merino wool will help keep you warm if the material gets wet.
The next layer should be the insulating layer. Try not to use thick or heavy products, since these will limit mobility and overheat you quickly. A middleweight long sleeve jersey or lightweight fleece sweater should do the trick. Either one of these will help transfer the moisture that the base layer wicks up.
Your outer layer should be very wind proof and at the least water-resistant. Fabrics that are waterproof and breathable are the best, but can be fairly expensive (especially if you crash a lot). The best waterproof and breathable jackets and pants have the Goretex brand, which gives you a lifetime guarantee. Pay special attention to your head, hands and feet. These areas get cold the quickest and are the most prone to frostbite. Good waterproof gloves and shoe covers are a must to enjoy riding in the winter months. A thin wind proof skull cap or balaclava that fits under your helmet will help keep your noggin toasty.
8. Drink up. You may not feel thirsty, but when you can see your breath, that’s proof that water vapor is leaving your body. As in the summer months, you should be drinking about a liter of water per hour to replenish what you loose. Water bottles are almost useless in the cold, and the salt and road grime that accompanies winter road conditions make drinking from a water bottle very unappealing. They also tend to freeze rock solid in a matter of minutes. A hydration system worn under your jacket will keep your water from becoming frozen or contaminated. Most hydration systems allow you to drink from a tube that can be kept inside of your jacket, which will help keep the tube from freezing.
9. Be a stud. Ride on studded winter tires for better traction. Studded winter tires are available in many sizes that will fit mountain or cyclocross bikes. These tires make riding on icy, snowy and generally slippery surfaces much safer and much more fun. Some tire designs have so many carbide studs that you can race around a hockey rink without worry of sliding out and crashing. Not having to worry about slippery spots on the road lets you relax and enjoy the ride. Studded snow tires run from $65 to well over $100 each, but they tend to last many, many years. Yes, you can make your own studded tires, but they tend to puncture themselves. The time and effort to make your own studded tire rarely pays off.
10. Ride indoors. If the weather outside is just too cold and miserable, riding indoors will help you maintain your physical fitness. Put your bike on an indoor stationary trainer, pop a movie into the DVD player, and pedal away. The more you do this, the more you may tend to want to be outside anyway, just to get some fresh air.
SO WHICH TIRES FOR WINTER??