December 29, 2004
WINTER BIKE RIDING
With this weather I can hardly call this ĎWinterí bike riding. Today I rode my bike and it was fun. But tonight I met with my Korean Language partner and picked him up from the UofM. There were still a lot of bikes in the bike racks and I saw dozens of people riding around on their bikes. I feel like Iíve made a big deal out of something that many of you are already doing, namely riding your bikes for transportation. I am assuming that itís because itís easier than walking and cheaper than a car to own. I have learned that as long as the streets are clear there is no reason not to continue riding our bikes. The cold? Wear warmer clothes. The wet? Wear waterproof footwear and have fenders that block most of the spray. The snow? Well, weíll face that soon enough. In the mean time, we can keep riding. We are only limited by our own attitude.
In the book, The bicycle commuting book, Using the bicycle for utility and transportation, by Rob Van der Plas, the author shares with us his ideas on Cycling in Bad Weather. Most of what he talks about is attitude. He said, ďI shall never forget my first group ride in the US. After having lived and cycled most of my life in such rainy regions as Britain and Holland, I had made arrangements with some colleagues in California for a Sunday cycle tour. At seven in the morning the phone rang: ďThereís a 20% chance of rain, so weíll have to call off the ride,Ē I was informed. That seemed a curious attitude and I went on the attitude anyway, together with two other Ďhardyí cyclists. We had a wonderful day. It didnít rain Ė after all there was an 80% chance of that. But even if it had rained, we would have had a pretty good ride: Though rain may detract from the pleasure of cycling, it is not usually so serious that cycling becomes punishment. And the same can be said for all kinds of other weather problems, ranging from snow to wind and from excessive heat to frost. Consider that in many parts of the world, cyclists accept what seems normal there. In Scotland or the Lake District it rains. Everybody knows it and so you donít stop cycling if it does. You dress for it or you ignore it, but you wouldnít lose a nightís sleep worrying about it. The same can be said for the cold in other parts of the world: If it often freezes or snows, you just learn to ride when it does. At the other extreme, I donít go for heat too much, but folk in much of Australia seem to think nothing of riding their bikes when itís 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The message is simple: Keep in mind what can be done Ė and enjoyed Ė in other parts of the world, and start doing it yourself...Ē He goes on to describe how to do that for the various conditions. He talks about using the right equipment, wearing the right clothing and proper fuel.
Today I rode my Schwinn road bike because I didnít need the big fat knobby tires. I had some mechanical problems today, like a flat tire, broken toe straps and a scraping fender. None of these equipment failures were serious enough to stop. I had to fix them though, which was a pain. For winter biking I feel itís even more important to have a well-maintained bike. Breaking down in the cold is not as much fun as riding in the cold. Iíve pushed my bike in the cold three times now. Iím learning that I need to avoid this by fixing and maintaining my bikes better.
LINKS TO SITES
Here are three good sites with information on winter biking: I especially liked the Fairbanks, Alaska cycle club site. They are winter cyclists! I am a fair-weather rider compared to these people. If they can ride in the snow and love it, so can I.
Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Association
Totalbike.com information on winter cycling
ĒNaturally, we have a lot of winter here in central Alaska. This is a Good Thing, as it treats us to almost six months of excellent winter bicycling. For the uninitiated, it sounds mad and ridiculous, but for folks that have tried it and gotten "the buzz" from winter trail rides, it is sublime, and some of the best riding of the year.Ē
Attitude makes a huge difference in everything we do. Today, December 29, 2004, I went for a bike ride, can you believe it? Should it be this warm at this time of year? At 30 degrees Fahrenheit it was a comfortable ride. I can see how out of shape Iíve become already though. I feel it in my legs now as I sit here.
Just one and a half blocks from home I had a flat tire. There is only one thing more discouraging to me than a mechanical failure and thatís to not get right back out there after fixing whatever problem it is. I walked the bike back to my house, fixed the flat in my basement where itís warm, then went right back out. At first I wanted to just say forget it, because it was a lot of work fixing that flat. Then it was a half hour later and I was running out of daylight. But I went out anyway and rode. I had some other irritating mechanical problems but nothing that kept me from enjoying the ride. I rode hard for about a half an hour and Iím happy that I did it. Iím sure my body will be better off for exercising again. It felt really good! So did a positive attitude. Looking back on the day, I feel much better because I just did it and did not let anything stop me from enjoying it.
I have this feeling that like the people in Fairbanks said, this will be ďsome of the best riding of the year.Ē
I'd also add the icebike website as a source of good info on this topic.
Speaking of that site, they have one article about a winter cyclist in some northern-ish city (Chicago?) who kept meticulous notes about the weather during his commute. At the end of one winter (or several?) he realized that the number of really unpleasantly cold days per winter is really quite small. I think we tend to remember the coldest days long after the winter is gone, when in reality, those cold days were vastly outnumbered by the days of more tolerable weather.
When I first decided to ride all winter, I immediately heard from all sorts of people who have done it before. One guy told me that 5 degrees is his lower bound for riding. Another told me his was 20 degrees. Another guy told me that winter biking sucked because you get too wet (he doesn't have fenders and he apparently overdresses and sweats like crazy).
Posted by: Jim at December 30, 2004 8:40 AM