Winter Biking / by Erin Wade

It's nuts, I know. But apparently I'm not the only one.

Where possible, I prefer to exercise outside. This, of course, becomes more challenging as the weather turns to snow and cold. There's cross country skiing as a potential option, but the weather in our region rarely blesses us with sufficient snow to make it viable. I can always hike, and do. But I love my bike, and it always seems a shame to have to put it away at the end of the season.

Then I came across this article in Bicycling Magazine on why's and how's of winter biking. A little additional research found that there are other sites as well, and (of course) there's equipment available to make it all possible.

So I thought I'd give it a shot. It had recently snowed, which seemed a good test, and wasn't super cold. I geared up with multiple layers, essentially dressing in a fashion similar to how I prep for cross country skiing. I set up the bike, mounted up, and hit the trail.

As you'd expect, there are differences from summer riding. The going is slower, and care must be taken in turns and transitions - there's no leaning through a corner. Standing up in the pedals is fruitless at best - on hill climbs, for example, all the extra power does is make the rear wheel spin free (which can be a bit unsettling). It appears, at least from this first outing, that one should be prepared to walk the bike a bit. Once the rear wheel broke free on a hill I couldn't get it replanted enough to move forward without relocating to a flatter spot.

Like cross country skiing this is not a cold activity. While you are out in the winter elements, the exercise heats the body up rapidly and thoroughly. It becomes more a matter of regulating temperature to keep from getting too hot than it is a concern about cold.

I also learned a few things: this is a wet activity. The article recommended waterproof shoes or boots and pants, which seemed unnecessary to me for a short ride. I was wrong.

Even though I ride a road bike, with skinny tires, the tires throw back an amazing volume of snow. My feet and lower legs were coated within the first mile of the trip. I had synthetics on under my pants, so my legs were fine, but my shoes were soaked by the end of the ride and my wool socks kept my feet safe from exposure, but they certainly weren't comfortable.

Also - when faced with the option of fresh snow or a path offered by vehicle tracks the fresh snow is the better choice. This seems counter-intuitive, but the frozen bits in the tracks can pull the front wheel off course suddenly and without warning.

Lessons learned, this was a blast! It's very similar in physical experience to cross country skiing, but without the frustration of waiting weeks (and sometimes an entire winter) for enough snow to make it possible. Seems nuts - and maybe it is - but I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for outdoor options in winter.

Other sites on winter biking:

Bike Winter

Ice Bike

Wikipedia's entry on winter biking