The Most Difficult Thing About Winter Cycling

3 01 2011

It’s not the cold. It’s not the snow or the slush or the salt or the muck. It’s not the ice, even when you get right down to it (FTR, falling on ice > road rash). It’s not buying the perfect bike, or the right set of tires, or the right technical clothing. It’s not finding a light with batteries that aren’t affected by the cold or making your presence known to drivers who aren’t expecting you. And it’s certainly not the windchill.

The most difficult thing for me about winter cycling is the moments before I cross the threshold and leave the house.  The anticipation of the cold and the snow and the ever changing conditions is always worse than whatever the conditions of this frozen city actually are.

At the top of this parkade there is a giant pile of snow and a pretty cool view of snow and fog enveloping downtown.

Every morning brings a twinge of dread when I look out the window or check the forecast. Every morning, doubt worms its way into my head and tries to convince me that I can’t make it cross town under my own power on a two wheeled machine. Even though I know that I always feel better after a ride than before one. Even though I know that I’ll be warmer riding than waiting for a train or sitting on a bus. Even though I have never regretted a ride, but have certainly regretted not riding. A little momentum can take you to your goal, but the most difficult part is creating momentum when you start out with none. Everything gets easier after that.

This cool view doesn't have much to do with my post, except it wouldn't have happened had I not been riding like everyday was an adventure.

When people (outside of the bike scene) initially find out I ride all winter, I am pretty used to them thinking I’m crazy. I’ll often protest, “No, actually it’s pretty fun! And you’re moving so you stay warm. I don’t mind at all! It’s a great way to go, fast, cheap & good exercise. And my studded tires grip ice better than my boots…”

But as I peer out the window at my frozen bikes on a cold winter morning, I wonder, for a moment, if I really am crazy, and if this lifestyle actually is a bad choice. I’ve never counted, but I believe it takes me about 2 – 5 cranks of the chain (depending on how cold it is) to completely alleviate this doubt, at least until the next cold winter morning.

Empty streets, mysterious atmosphere, lights up 'til Orthodox Xmas, overall a fine night for parkade topping.

Maybe I am crazy, but it’s because I doubt doing something that’s always sure to put a smile on my face.



13 responses

4 01 2011
Chris Chan

Ah, yes. Rob and I were just saying tonight that the one constant about winter cycling, regardless of the conditions, is how slow it is. I’m always riding my clunky, heavy winter bike, whether the roads are clear or not, and riding carefully (not that I could go much faster if I wanted to). And I’m always wearing lots of clothes, and carrying extra (in case the weather turns unexpectedly, or I’m riding later than planned).

Part of the slowness is that it’s never quick to get out the door. In the summer, if I suddenly need to head somewhere, I grab my bag and helmet, put on my sandals, and run out the door. In the winter, there’s a practiced process, and that anticipation of Outside sure doesn’t make me hurry.

5 01 2011

I don’t know, Chris. You’re one of the few people who could compete with me on slowness & chronic lateness, no matter what the season. 😉

4 01 2011

For me, the dread and inertia are at their greatest on the days when it has been raining steadily for two weeks or more, and I have almost forgotten that the sun is real. Cold and snow are much more fun. I did think about my alternatives this morning: starting a gas engine and letting it run for 15-20 minutes to warm up so that I could go to work in a warm box – not really so appealing; going back to bed – extremely appealing, but not a good long range strategy; riding to work – just fine, and fun once I got started.

5 01 2011

I must admit, I am really glad it doesn’t rain for days and weeks straight here.

4 01 2011

I think you need to replace your front steps with a ramp and leave the house Evil Kneivel styles!

5 01 2011


6 01 2011

I sense a need/ market for “Snow tires” in the growing ranks of winter bikers

6 01 2011

You? With Doubts?

12 01 2011

I think it’s healthy to question what we’re doing from time to time. That being said, I’ve rode every day through this freakin’ blizzard (though I’ve taken my bike onto the train a few times).

8 01 2011
Prairie Voyageur

“The anticipation of the cold and the snow and the ever changing conditions is always worse than whatever the conditions of this frozen city actually are.”

So true!

9 01 2011

I was just considering the other day whether I should take my bike out, considering I’ve lost my wheels (aka: my car), but then I saw how much snow was falling…

13 01 2011

I guess if I am going to move up to North Georgia from South Florida I better get used to riding in the snow. At least you are keeping everyone informed on real winter cycling.

15 01 2011

I agree with all of the above. Mostly, I always regret not cycling. Especially when non-cyclists somehow convince me that the conditions are too snowy/cold/icy for cycling… I’ll opt for the bus and– instant regret.

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