Soon after posting my column encouraging people to bicycle through the winter, especially if they live in a relatively mild climate such as the Pacific Northwest or in one of the warmer zones of the country, I came across conflicting advice in Long-Distance Cycling, a 1993 book by the editors of Bicycling Magazine.
The editors provide six rules for riding through winter, drawn largely from people who live in Colorado, a place where winters are cold. They start off with advice that seems to contradict my encouragement that cyclists keep at it through the gloomy months. “Take it easy,” they counsel their readers. “The first rule for riding through winter is: Don’t ride through winter—at least not too hard.” They warn against the dangers of riding so much during the off season that cyclists will burn out part way through the summer.
They do encourage cyclists to stay in shape with indoor riding on a stationary bike and cross training in other athletic activities. Even in warm climates like Arizona, they say, “it’s important to get off the bike to clear your head. It’s fine to keep riding, but the pressure should be off.”
The other rules for winter riding make it clear that despite the advice in rule one, they do expect cyclists to continue to ride even during cold winters in higher elevations. “Dress Properly” is the second rule. Several suggestions are given, including layering, generous use of wool, special protection of knees, chest, hands, feet, and face. They suggest how male riders can protect against penile frostbite.
Rule three, “Be Flexible,” makes allowance for variations in weather, with pleasant days interspersed with harsher winter days. A flexible attitude and schedule allow cyclists to stay in when things are bad and get out when conditions improve. One writer acknowledges a change that I too have experienced. As I grow older, my cutoff temperature for winter riding has gotten warmer. In Indiana, my winter rule for recreational cycling was 35 and sunny. In the Pacific Northwest, I’ve added ten degrees.
“Get Fat Tires” is a rule I would never have thought of. Their point is that winter time riding is designed to help cyclists stay in good condition. A mountain bike with knobby tires will allow cyclists to “crank along” at 12 or 13 mph rather that 20 mph on a road bike. You will minimize wind chill, but still get a good workout.
The next rule is to rearrange routes to avoid hills and wind.” You get really warm going up hills and then you get cold going down. It’s especially important in winter to check the wind and try to ride into the wind going out and with the wind at your back on the return.
The final rule: “see and be seen after dark.” Here they make a few suggestions about wearing clothes that can be seen at night, using lights and reflectors, and trying to get out during the day—during noon hour, for example.
The editors finish off their rules for winter riding with a strong word of encouragement: “So, don’t let bad weather make this your winter of discontent. Instead, mix weight-training and aerobic activities with some no-pressure winter riding. When spring does come, you’ll be fit and eager.
So what am I doing on this 27 degree, gloomy, snow-spitting day? I’m sure not out there on my bicycle. I’m sitting in my warm condominium writing this blog.
Oh, and I’m dreaming of my near-New-Year’s-Day half-century, which this year I hope to do while visiting my son in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. In fact, the thought is so happiness-forming that I may do two and credit one of them for next year when I might be someplace cold.