Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tips for Riding in the Winter

By Michelle Valenti
For cyclists living in warm climates, riding through winter requires little more than slight alterations to your workout schedule. Most of the country, however, has to contend with freezing temperatures, snow-packed roads and icy sidewalks. While some cyclists seek refuge on the indoor trainer, others take pride in logging workouts in extreme conditions. You don’t have to be hardcore, however, to ride in winter; you just have to be prepared. Here’s how to prep your bike and your body for the elements.
Your Bike
In order to ride in snow you need a bike that can handle the terrain. With more cyclists embracing the challenge, it’s easier than ever to modify your ride…or buy a bike that’s ready for a little beating.
Ron Kennedy, a year-round commuter in Fort Collins, Colorado, rides a Trek 7500 hybrid that he calls his “beater bike,” in other words; it can take quite a beating. “The only time it ever gets ridden is when the weather is bad,” he says.
In addition to a hybrid you could consider a cyclocross bike, a mountain bike or an all-terrain ride.  
If you can’t find space in your garage—or your budget—you’ll want to sup up your current ride. Here are a few things you can do to help your bike battle the winter:
1.       Swap out your skinny tires for a wider set with more tread.
2.       Let some air out of the tires for better traction.
3.       Consider buying an extra set of winter tires with studs.
4.       Use cold-weather chain lube
5.       Wipe down your bike and drivetrain after every ride.
Your Body
Now that your bike is ready for the elements, it’s time to suit up. The key is to stay warm…but not too warm.
“It’s all about the layers,” says Kennedy, who starts with an Under Armour base layer and a long sleeve jersey. At 30 degrees and above he adds a soft shell breathable jacket. And for every 10 degrees after that he adds another layer.
“Below zero it becomes hard to stay warm,” he says. That’s when “it really tests your commitment.” He recommends a Balaclava and ski goggles since you don’t want any skin exposed to extreme cold.
Gale Bernhardt, USA Cycling-certified coach and fellow year-round Colorado cyclist says “Fingers and toes are a big deal,” noting that she brings chemical heaters (like the ones used by skiers) on every winter ride.
Additionally, you should have some kind of over- or under-the-helmet head covering, and warm socks or winter shoes.
Your Safety
The third and most important element to winter riding is safety.
“Riding in slick conditions becomes more like mountain biking,” Bernhardt says. “On a road bike [in good conditions] you can get comfortable; in winter you have to be more aware of body position, and you have to work harder and move around more on the bike to keep your wheels in contact with the ground.”
Bernhardt, who is used to riding in the ever changing conditions of Colorado, points out that a dry spot in the morning can easily turn into a slick spot in the afternoon. “Keep your eyes open and don’t go around blind corners too fast,” she warns.
It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” Kennedy says. “When you hit ice, make sure your weight is centered. Don’t turn; your momentum will carry you through it.”
Not only are you less stable on winter roads, the cars around you are too.
Bernhardt sticks to mountain biking trails rather than deal with icy streets in winter and Kennedy suggests sticking to off-road paths and even sidewalks on the really bad days.
Either way, good lighting (up front and behind) is essential, not only for you to see where you’re going but for cars to see you. Kennedy uses a DiNotte taillight with 200 lumens. “It is extremely bright, and expensive, but worth the cost.”
The good news is, like most bike rides, once you gear up and get out there you’ll be hooked; and you may never want to spin on the indoor trainer again.
Michelle Valenti is a senior editor at She is particularly fond of mountain biking and San Diego winters.

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