Winter is Coming

My interest in winter cycling started a number of years ago when I decided that indoor training was extremely boring for me.  While I realize the benefits of this indoor activity, I realized that I needed another winter activity to keep me busy.  Plus I felt that I wasn’t racing  so I didn’t need any specific training; I just wanted to ride my bike(s).  So…why not ride in winter?

It started innocently enough.  There was a group of us that started riding rail trail and gravel roads in the fall.  Temperatures got colder and colder and eventually the snow started falling but there we were… still riding.  I soon expanded my inventory of winter cycling clothing, but we kept at it that winter, only missing a couple of these weekend rides when it got really cold in February.  After a couple of winters, the Waterloo Cycling Club offered to make our rides official club rides.  This made sense because it allowed us to invite more club members and introduce them to gravel grinders and fall/winter/spring riding.

Two winters ago I guest blogged about winter cycling on MichelleTheRunner’s page here. You can read that post for some tips on how to dress and prepare for winter riding.  Since then, I’ve acquired a fat bike to give me more options for outdoor cycling in winter.  I’m not a huge fan of the cold, but riding in winter certainly makes it more enjoyable.  I’m waiting for a long, cold snap in January or February when temperatures are cold enough to freeze the Grand River and other rivers in the area so I can ride along them (Imagine the Strava segments along the centre of a river!).

Here’s a summary of my tips:

  • Take care of your extremities.  I have the most trouble keeping my feet and hands warm, but I’ve found a way that seems to works.  Extra socks and winter cycling shoes covered by neoprene booties with toe warmers inside.  For hands – heavy duty snowmobiling gloves from Costco.  Also make sure your ears are covered.
  • Plan on shorter rides in the extreme cold.  Last year, I rode at The Hydrocut at minus 23C!  It was one of those clear, sunny days, but in the woods, there’s shelter from the wind.  We rode fat bikes for about an hour and covered less than 10 km but it was a hoot!
  • Assume that water bottles will freeze.  If the temperature is below 0C, it will likely happen.  Drink regularly to keep the valve open, but don’t get caught 2 hours from home with frozen water bottles!
  • Dress in layers.  The colder it is, the more layers you’ll need.  I like merino wool – it wicks moisture and is really warm.  I need a layer beneath it though, because my skin reacts to the wool.
  • Accept that your bike will take a beating.  If you ride on the road, your bike will be accumulating salt from the roads.  If you ride on trails, your bike will still accumulate ice and snow, which is hard on a drive train and brakes.  Rinse and clean after your ride.
  • Ride with a friend.  For company… and for safety.
  • Don’t forget about wind chill.  In the woods, it’s less of a problem, but on roads, the cold winter winds can make things a lot colder than you think. I plan routes to ride into the wind in the first half and with the tail wind coming back.  The pain and suffering you feel working hard at 20 km/h into the cold wind will be worth it if you can fly home at 35 km/h with the wind at your back.

There’s also a forest and marsh near where I live in KW.  There’s a whole network of trails that I explored with my snowshoes last winter and I’m eager to get out there on my fat bike (there wasn’t enough snow last year, and the marsh didn’t freeze).  Any takers?

Gravel Grinding with the WCC – yes, that’s a snow bank behind us!

It’s snowing!

Riding The Hydrocut at -23C!

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