Looking out the window and seeing roads covered or edged with snow and ice is an increasingly rare phenomenon. The snow we just had was a bigger dump than anything in nearly two years. As an enjoyer of winter, I miss the big snows. As a four-season cyclist, I kind of miss it.
I still want to ride. Outside.
In a reverse, or perhaps perverse, way of thinking, I’m sooner to ride a few hours in the slop than just an hour. The reason is that if I’m going to make the effort to temporarily fender the bike, and put on all the necessary layers, might as well go for a long while. All that prep for an hour doesn’t always feel worth the effort. The bike will need the same cleaning whether it’s out for a half hour in wintry mess or four.
I recently came across an article detailing how every ride needs to have a purpose if one is to get the most out of training. I’m sure the coach sharing this wisdom meant that there has to be a goal of heart rate or cadence or power and that will make training easy or successful. I know that when going out in wintry slop it’s hard to be sure that I’ll hit any target in those metrics. But that’s not the purpose. The ride is very purposeful. The purpose is going for a bike ride. The goal is being outside. As a benefit, I gain practice riding in messy conditions, which itself may or may not be beneficial for anything else other than riding in such conditions. But then again, when so much of bike riding and racing is being prepared for the unexpected, being skilled and comfy riding in snow, slush, and ice will go far in terms of being able to handle anything.
Furthermore, it has greater purpose when it comes to providing perspective. Riding in worse conditions gets easier, riding in such conditions gets easier, riding in less worse conditions gets much easier. You gain further appreciation of better conditions. And, finally, it makes riding inside easier because you know you don’t have to do it all the time—as you aren’t.
The biggest difficulty of getting out in winter mess is figuring out footwear. Even with a fully-fendered bike, the shoes are going to get sprayed, and pretty constantly. While I’m generally not a fan of neoprene, such booties are the go-to for this kind of weather. WindStopper and similar materials will eventually be overwhelmed. Winter cycling boots, if you can afford them, are often great for these days. some places, people switch to waterproof hiking boots and flat pedals.
Gears can, if the conditions are right (or wrong, it depends on perspective) freeze. So long as you can turn over the cranks, this is ok and part of the adventure.
Having some kind of fender is a good thing. Even the minimal back-scratcher is better than nothing, as that limits the soggy chamois phenomenon that can get distracting.
After that, it takes some thinking to maximize safety and minimize risk. Riding as temps are warming up, like morning to mid-afternoon, are often better than riding as temps are cooling, as snow is often melting a bit rather than water starting to freeze. Sunny streets melt faster than those that are shaded from sunlight. Heavily trafficked roads are the ones that are usually less fun to ride, but they get plowed first. And typically have more room for the plows to push snow. Narrow roads often get narrower, but have the benefit of not having parked cars that make plowing. Streets with lots of parked cars often have snow plowed against the cars, which take away riding space. Worse, is that city plowing often comes back after a few days and plows the snow that was adjacent to the parked cares into the street so cars can run over and melt the remaining snow.
On the good side, in most places, drivers are often slow to get back out after a big snowfall, reducing car volume and decreasing risk. And drivers usually seem to be more sympathetic to the plight of cyclists at times like these, if only because they think we’re pathetically crazy. Take advantage of it.
I’m going. I’ll appreciate the moment. I’m going to get wet. I’ll probably have to make an unexpected detour and have something unexpected occur. I might rue the problems. I’ll rinse the bike afterward. I’ll warm up.
Sloppy season is perfect for bike riding.
See you out there.