Winter Bicycle / Bike Riding
"There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing"
Pittsburgh weather really doesn't preclude outdoor riding, so I ride year-round.
I'd much rather ride outside with hills and scenery than inside on a stationary trainer.
In the winter, overheating isn't much of a problem and I use less water.
My personal shibboleth is
"Cold, Wet, Dark : Any two out of the three."
That's not completely true; I hate riding wet. I'd rather be cold, dark, and dry.
I'd rather ride in snow than rain.
The best thing about winter riding is you can control overheating by opening up a layer;
if you're overheating you can just open a zipper and it's like air conditioning.
You can't do that in August.
My cutoff is a 20°F windchill. In conditions above that, at the end of an hour
ride I'm comfortably aware of the cold but not suffering from it.
In general, the start of the ride is a bit cold, but by the first hill I'm warming up.
It's OK when you're riding, but when you stop riding you cool off pretty fast. So the clothing
that's suitable for riding isn't sufficient for a lengthy tire-change. I've never had to use it
as a winter lifeline, but it seems like carrying a cellphone is prudent.
I'll ride if the roads are mostly clear. If there's snow on the ground the shoulders usually
aren't available, and in that case I tend to take the lane if there's not enough room to pass
If there's a bit of snow underfoot it seems effective to rely on the rear brake only.
I do not use a studded front tire, as others suggest, because (1) they're good for ice not snow, (2)
if it's that bad I prefer to skip it and (3) I know it'll scratch my wife's floors
and that's a show-stopper.
Ottawa bike page
From the top down, in the wintertime I wear --
I can't say enough about how effective the wool middle layer and wool socks are.
- a rubberized helmet cover and a thin neoprene ear muff or a polypro balaclava
- a long-sleeve Capilene jersey, a thin wool sweater from Goodwill, and a Hind goretex/neoprene winter riding jacket
- full-fingered riding gloves (that go into the bullwinkles on my bike)
- winter-weight running tights under Nashbar winter riding pants
- wool socks, riding shoes with cleats inside of neoprene booties. The wool sock/bootie works very well, but the metal cleats do chill the feet.
Bullwinkles / PogiesThe essential winter accessory for me are my "bullwinkles", I've also seen them called "pogies",
they're essentially blankets that fold around the handlebars. You put your hands in, grip the bar and
use the brakes and shifters, and your fingers are protected from the windstream. The downside of
the bullwinkles is you really want to leave your hands inside them, and hand signals or waves to
drivers/peds is something I tend not to do when I've got the bullwinkles on.
Your fingers still have direct contact with the cold bike frame / brakes, so you want to wear full-fingered gloves,
but the bullwinkles provide a dramatic benefit. Putting the bullwinkles on the handlebars requires removing
the bar-ends and the horn.
I use my commuter bike (1990 Trek 830 Antelope) in the winter with front and rear fenders.
By the way, there's a performance issue with Zounds-2
air horns in winter riding because the colder/denser air is a bit outside of the design parameters.
Reduced daylight hours is the big problem in winter riding;
I'm often coming home a little bit after sunset. So winter riding is related to night riding.
I have a big, big blinky light on the back, and a reflective orange "slow vehicle" triangle. I
also have a VistaLite night-stick headlight rig on the front of the bike. Cold temps do effect the battery life.
I think that people/drivers are kinder to you in the winter time, or perhaps they're
just giving the nut a wider berth. But it's also true that walkers with scarves around
their head, or drivers who're looking through the small tunnels they've scraped into
their icy windows, have reduced visibility and are less likely to see you. Similarly,
earmuffs and balaclava reduce your own hearing slightly.
Water bottles (and moustaches) will, in fact, freeze. I put my second water bottle in my insulated rack
bag, and usually it's liquid through the ride.
Winter Bicycle Routes
For my winter rides I stick to a few well-travelled routes and keep my rides at about 12 miles; much more than an hour in the cold and it's not as much fun. I avoid riding in isolated areas in the winter time-- If I have a major mechanical I want to be able to walk to a phone and call for help, or to find some shelter to do the repair in.
This is my winter "A-ride". This is largely an out-and-back, offering the luxury of several places to reverse and head home if conditions warrant (or the spirit sags).
The transit west of Route 60 (Main St/Pleasant Drive) lets me warm up with a relatively flat start. The climb by Villa Di's and the Bucktail range up to Crestmont shopping center is challenging, and there's a hill on Chapel that demands attention.
This route includes the area I've decided is the most dangerous place I ride, which is Brodhead Road in New Sheffield- there's just so many cars parking, backing up, transitioning into small shops. I've had more experiences there than anywhere else.
This is my winter "B-ride".
This ride is a circle around an undeveloped area; there's no shortcuts home if things go wrong. Includes a great climb from Monaca up to the Beaver Valley Mall.
This is a great ride, it's a good accomplishment to climb the WalMart hill. Traffic is friendly. The shoulder on Rt.51 is non-existant; the Monaca segment seems ripe for a "dooring". Coming out of Monaca, the shoulder on Route 18 is nice and wide.
At the mall, the route takes a loop around the parking lot in order to catch the hill by Toys-R-Us.
I found these resources of use:
THE WINTER CYCLIST
A wintry chill is in the atmosphere,
As from the heaving lake the storm wind blows;
And weak-kneed brethren of the cycle fear
That brings the riding season to close.
Jack Frost assails us with his wicked thrusts;
Our polka-dotted mufflers are on guard
And many a good wheel in the basement rusts
Which should be speeding down the boulevard.
And shall we join the patient, suffering throng,
Which crowds the rumbling street cars to the door?
Which kicks against the service loud and long,
But keeps on riding as it did before?
Nay! Perish such a thought. On every street
The hardy wheelman has the right of way;
No ancient female comes to claims his seat;
No cable breaks, no lumbering teams delay.
Our hearts beat high, our life-blood dancing flows,
Though ice-flakes sparkle in the biting air;
While street-car heaters, every patron knows,
Are but a vain delusion and a snare.
The steed that bore us through the woods aglow
With sunshine, where the morning glories creep,
Will bear us safely through the mud-streaked snow
Until it lies at least five inches deep.