Preparing for winter riding – with the Wimpy Californian

Hello Hall Bicycle blog world! I’m Max, one of the service guys here at the shop. As you all have almost certainly noticed, fall is over and the cold time of year is upon us. I would have to personally say that dealing with the cold weather and still trying to ride outside as much as possible has been the hardest part of living in Iowa for the past three years for me. That being said, this will be my 4th winter here (Yes, I moved here during the winter) and I am confident that I’ve got my hands and feet cold enough times to know a little bit about it. So get ready to freshen up on some winter riding tips from a guy that didn’t own a winter coat for most of his life.

The first thing I try to tell myself every year once it has gotten cold and darker earlier, is to just get out there even if it means not riding for as long as I would on a warmer day. In fact, mileage wise I rarely ride as far on any given winter ride as I would if I rode for the same amount of time in the warmer season. Mileage in my opinion, isn’t the way to gauge your winter riding prowess. Think about how long you’re out there rather than how far you’ve gone. That being said, on any given week night when the temps are reasonable (15 degrees or warmer outside) I will get out for a short ride after work. Even 30-60 minutes riding around the neighborhood, or downtown after work is more fun than 30 minutes on my rollers (more on those later). Get out there! You’ll be happy you did. It does a lot for your mental health as well as keeping you fit.

What about preparation? Over dressing is surprisingly easy when it’s cold out. As you warm up, you’ll notice quickly if you’re overdressed. There are countless different layering options, so I won’t delve into that too much. I will say that cycling specific stuff works really well, but normal winter apparel also works. Wool is awesome for base layers. Wind protection also makes a huge difference. I would say you want to be a little chilly when you head out, because then you have room for your body to warm up without getting overheated and drenched in sweat, which will end up making you colder in the long run. If you’re riding hard, make sure you really don’t over dress because you’ll warm up quick. Racing cyclocross in the cold for instance requires an alarmingly minimal amount of clothing. Remember though, if you go out in minimal clothing and something goes wrong, causing you to stop riding for an extended period of time, you will get cold. For that reason, it’s never bad to bring an extra layer to put on in an emergency, or if you just feel like stopping somewhere along the way.

What kinds of riding are FUN in the winter? I’m more of an off road cyclist (mountain bike, cyclocross, etc) so my usual answer is THE FAT BIKE. Yes, fat bikes are as awesome as many people say they are. They aren’t snow mobiles in the sense that they make all snowy conditions effortless, but they do the best out of all the bikes I’ve tried in varying winter conditions (different types of snow, ice, hard packed ground, etc). The fat bike is what I’ll ride almost all winter, even if snow isn’t on the ground. They’re great for exploring wooded trails, deer paths and more. Frozen Cedar River? Yep, ridden on that (please be safe). Even snow packed streets are awesome on a fat bike.

You don’t own a fat bike? Ride what you have. Cross bikes for instance are the sleepers of snow machines. They are rockets through deep snow. Mountain bikes are also plenty capable. I rode a rigid 29er for my first winter here and had a ball. The 2-2.5″ tire platform is very versatile. Cuts through better than a fat bike, but floats better than a narrow tire. Not a bad way to go. Surprisingly enough, the packed city streets are the hardest thing for me on a narrower tire, but if you head off the beaten path pretty much anything goes – fat or not.

If you’re more of a pavement kind of person, that’s awesome too. The Cedar Valley trail through town in most places gets plowed very quickly. Roads also clear up quick around Cedar Rapids, so dress for the weather and get some winter road riding in. Fenders are great for sloppy days! When it’s cold and windy, make sure you dress for it and have minimal bare skin exposed because you’ll be moving fast enough for it to really sting.

Winter maintenance? If you’re riding in lots of sloppy conditions especially, making sure you clean and lubricate certain parts of the bike is very important. Chains need lots of attention. Thicker chain lube is good for keeping things running. Lubricating your derailleurs, brake pivot points, and cables with WD40 or similar products is also pretty important.

Days that are just too cold for me to be outside? Rollers are an awesome indoor riding option. They are slightly less boring than the ole’ trainer, and really aren’t that hard to get used to riding. A solid 30 minutes with some harder efforts on the rollers is a really good workout. Have your music playing or something to watch.

Like I said before, GET OUT THERE this winter! If you want any more specific tips on gear, bikes or places to ride, you know where to find us! Thanks for reading.