Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This has not been the kindest early winter.

Starting winter cycling is not the easiest task. There are gear selections to get straight, bike prep to do, and a whole new set of riding skills to learn. All of this is made easier when the weather cooperates. By cooperate, I mean gradually gets colder over a longer period of time. This way, adjustments can be made easily and lessons can be learned. When it is only five degrees colder than yesterday, and your footwear stops being warm, it is much less of a problem than when it is twenty-five degrees colder than yesterday and your footwear setup isn’t working. Careful experimentation is key when you are learning what works for keeping you not cold while cycling. Through several years of riding, I can wake up, look at the current temperature, the projected temperature for the evening (when I’ll be riding home) and be able to put together the appropriate attire for the day. That skill took a while to develop. Even if you have a go to guru available, they’ll only be able to tell you what works for them, not what will work for you. Simon used to wear Tevas and wool socks all winter, while this seemed to work great for him, thinking about it causes my toes to ache in angry warning.

In addition to widely fluctuating temperatures, we have had a lot of early snowfall this year. Alaska DOT in Fairbanks has been good for the most part, but there have been several mornings when an unprepped bike would basically have been just another item to carry while walking.

I have in my mind that every year we probably lose several riders from the year before who simply bought a car or decided that winter riding just wasn’t for them. We gain about as many from people that decide that it’s time to try it and see what happens. I also have an idea that somewhere every year a long time great finally retires the bike and decides to sit by the fire for the winter watching reruns of a TV show that was popular three decades ago. If you are a new winter rider this year and you are still riding, congratulations. Last year would have been an easier year to start winter cycling. You have been baptized in ice.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Let there be Winter.

I was Outside last week to see my mom retire and visit with family. I left on Monday and the first snow of the year that had a chance to stick was coming down nicely. It apparently snowed heavily (for Fairbanks) while I was gone, because we have a good three or four inches floating around firmly declaring that the ground shall not be seen for several months. This morning's commute was at a brisk -8°F and the unplowed bike path was stark reminder that unused snow bike handling skills don't come back as easily as one would like, or that alternately pedestrians are a mixed curse. While foot traffic will pack a trail down, it also tends to leave it severely uneven and capable of rattling the bearings from your bottom bracket. All this means that after a questionable summer and a drawn out fall, things are finally back to normal.