Note: This article is the first installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, “A Guide To Winter Cycling”).
I started cycling in the spring of 2002 because of major health problems I’d suffered with over the past winter. With a change in my diet and several hours a week on my bike I was able to drop 60 pounds and get into decent shape. However, when winter came I stopped cycling and put on about ten pounds. The next year I determined to ride as long into the winter months as I could—and I found out I could handle temperatures down to about freezing. Over the next few years I kept experimenting with clothing and gear and can now easily ride in temperatures down to -20F (-29C). By the way, I live between Chicago and Milwaukee and the temperature rarely gets any colder than that.
Since most “winter cycling gear” is made in Europe it is usually not suitable for the harsh winters we experience in the Upper Midwest. As a result, every fall I used to visit the local ski shops and sporting goods stores looking for gear that I could adapt for use in winter cycling. However, last year I didn’t have to buy hardly any new gear—that is when I realized I had finally figured out how to ride in brutal conditions, stay warm and have a great time!
When I started winter cycling I was riding an inexpensive Trek 4300 mountain bike—I just added a cheap pair of steel studded snow tires. Later, I put an Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal geared hub onto a Gary Fisher Big Sur mountain bike so I could ride through the slush on off-road trails, then put an Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal geared hub onto a Trek 1200 road bike so I could ride on the roads that were covered with sand, salt and slush without having to worry about my gears jamming. Finally, I bought a Surly Necromancer Pugsley Fat Bike with 4″ wide steel studded snow tires—this puppy will go through about anything winter can throw at you!
There are many advantages to riding in the snow and ice. For example, you never have to worry about mosquitoes, sunburn or overcrowding on the trails! In addition, you don’t have to put up with those guys in the team jerseys who have never been on a team—they spend all winter in their basement riding on their training wheels, I mean trainers, while watching reruns of The View.
Winter cycling is a lot of fun if you have the right gear. When people ask me about how difficult it is to ride in the snow, I tell them that the hardest part of ride is the first 500 feet as you leave your garage.
In the next few installments in this series we are going to talk about getting your bike(s) ready for winter and the gear needed to help you enjoy your ride, along with several articles about the different pieces of clothing you need to stay warm. If you are considering buying a Fat Bike for this winter I would strongly suggest you check out Fat-Bike.com because those guys have a lot of good information about the new bikes on the market.