Let me start by stating the obvious: riding your bike in the winter isn’t for everyone. Nor is it a feat of greatness. In other countries (where bicycles are seen as a more regular form of transportation) winter riding is the norm, not the exception.
That being said, I feel like a super-star each and every day I ride to and from work from about November-April. A very lonely super-star (Hello? Anyone? Is anyone out here? Is that a cyclist?! No. It’s just an elk.) but everyone knows that greatness comes at a cost.
All kidding aside, let’s explore why winter riding is good for you…and also really hard, but mostly really good.
Saves me time. When the weather is fairly to really bad, it will often take me less time to ride to and from work than to drive. Granted, my commute is only about 6 miles each way, but I live in Golden, CO. Hills. So many hills.
Saves my sanity. Even if it takes me MORE time (and it’s cold and miserable) that time is insanely more enjoyable than the random day that I drive. Often times it’s silent and beautiful. If the road is bad, I can hop on the trail. If the trail is bad, I walk. If it gets too deep to walk, I whimper and whine a bit, but then I find a way and am always happy I did.
Connects me to my community. Pedaling through the streets and trails means I know what’s going on in my city from a very personal level. It’s like a daily sneak preview of…everything. I even get to say hello to the prisoners on work-duty near the Jefferson County Prison (most of them are quite friendly, by the way). When most people are in their houses all winter, the few folks you DO see become your friends quickly.
I eat like a horse and sleep like a baby (for all you parents out there, that means BETTER than a baby). Biking in the winter takes an inordinate amount of energy (or Kcals, as my husband the engineer would say). Heck, even getting geared up to ride in the winter takes a lot of energy. I may not be putting in the same amount of miles that I do in the warmer months, but here’s the equation: winter + biking = miles x 2. Bike in the winter and you’ll likely avoid that winter hibernation weight gain.
Sweet skills. Some people ride the rollers to work on balance and a smooth pedal stroke. I ride my bike in the snow and ice. It’s pretty much the same thing only with the added challenge of vehicles–so…rollers plus the popular 1980’s video game Frogger. In Colorado, our conditions can change radically from the morning to the afternoon (or hour by hour). Being able to ride through a path that hasn’t been cleared or along an icy shoulder gives you a wicked core workout and the confidence to try new things on the trail or in a cx race.
It’s cold. Stating the obvious here, but it is cold. Most mornings as I come screaming down a huge hill on my way to work, my eyes instantly water and the tears sometimes freeze on the inside of my clear Home Depot safety glasses (best commuter glasses ever). I’m not kidding. Let that sink in. My tears freeze. And this is normal.
It’s dark. It’s getting better now, but those first few rides post Daylight Saving Time are downright scary. Add in ice and snow (sometimes blinding snow) and it can be a whole new, terrifying ball game.
It takes forever to get geared up. Though the commute itself may take less time than driving, some days the time it takes for me to get dressed is almost equal to the ride time. Ralphie’s brother from The Christmas Story has nothing on me when it’s 1 degree outside.
Falling. Those “sweet skills” I mentioned above aren’t instant. At least they weren’t for me. They’ve taken years to gather and just when I think I’m bulletproof…I’m on the ground. Sometimes I’m on the ground near a car. The only time I’ve truly ever wanted to throw my bike TDF-style was last March when I fell riding on ice through an intersection, on a 12 degree morning (with studded tires, btw). Brutal.
Drivers lacking empathy, patience, and spatial awareness. Many of us have had mildly unpleasant interactions with drivers while riding our bikes. Even though I’m lit up like a Christmas tree, obeying the rules of the road, riding as fast, if not faster than the cars around me and feeling on top of the world for saving the environment, improving my body and mind, etc. some drivers just hate me. And they will hate you too. No matter what. Add the cold, darkness, and nasty conditions and the nastiness can compound. You have to rise above (or pedal around). Live to ride another day.
But let’s close with the good. My two daughters ask how my ride was every night when I get home. How my day was is secondary. Riding in the winter means you win no matter what. No matter how slow, no matter far, you’ve won by simply being out there. That surpasses the bad and ugly any day of the week.