A time to slow down.

002After buying a road bike this May, I have learned just how fun going fast can be-flying down hills, whizzing around corners, racing tractors and sprinting until my heart is pounding. But soon I will be switching over to my new mountain bike, which is rugged and capable, but not nearly so fast. It will be sad to leave to retire my speedy steed of summer, but the truth is, winter biking (at least for me) is all about taking it nice and slow. It is amazing how many times taking the speed down a notch makes winter biking easier and more enjoyable.

When work has been hard and my energy is waning with the setting sun,
I slow down.
When the beauty of a clear night sky takes my breath away,
I slow down.
When I have overdressed and start to sweat,
I slow down.
When everywhere I look is glittering, sparkling snow,
I slow down.
When my ski goggles are fogging up from my huffing and puffing,
I slow down.
When I am mesmerized by a thousand snowflakes floating gently to earth,
I slow down.
When I am wrapped in warm clothes from head to toe like a mummy,
I slow down.
When the wind howls against me,
I slow down.
When the wind howls against me
and I am biking through deep snow,
I slow down.
When the wind howls against me,
and I am biking through deep snow,
up a never-ending hill,
I slow down.
When the wind howls against me,
and I am biking through deep snow,
up a never-ending hill,
while coughing and wheezing like an old mountain goat,
I slow down.
Way down.

Yes, I bike slow in winter. Slow enough to make it possible for elderly snails to leave me in the dust (thank goodness there are not to many snails out and about in the cold). But like the hare and tortoise learned long ago, “slow and steady wins the race”. That is especially true in winter.

Wait a second…

If the tortoise and hare had raced in the winter, the hare would have won because the tortoise would have gone into hibernation. Maybe I have followed the example of the wrong animal! This year, should I switch to short, sporadic sprints with long breaks of rest in-between? A hare surely knows more about how to deal with winter than a tortoise….

This post is the third post of the 5 day story challenge. Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for this challenge and he wanted to read more about cycling in snow and cold.

In lieu of nominating someone everyday of this challenge, I am inviting anyone to post about a weird or funny bike ride that for some reason hasn’t made it on your blog yet. I would love to read them. Let me know about it and I will link you in my successive story challenge posts.

How I learned to bike in snow

DSCN0019[1]My bike handling style, can be summed up in a single word, “tentative”. Going into the last winter, I  had never been a risk taker, never pushed the boundaries, never attempted to ride off-road, no-handed or anything of that nature.  My bike handling skills were at a basic, beginning level.

But then snow started taking over the road and suddenly, I had to learn how to ride on something other than pavement or a hard-packed dirt road. Biking in deep fresh snow was a blast but it was also terrifying.

White-knuckled, I rode, trying to force my bike to keep a straight line in the light and fluffy snow. My rear wheel was a traitor though, constantly twisting around like it was an independent entity. Then I learned the trick of lowering my tire pressure to the lowest recommended psi. Take that little traitor! Fishtailing was still a common occurrence, but it felt slower and gentler, so much easier to handle.

Lowering the psi did give me increased traction but the extra rolling resistance slowed my average speed way down. So I would pump my tires up when the road were clear and then release that pressure when I was biking during or after a snowstorm.

Coming into the month of January, I was starting to gain confidence in the snow. After all, even though my bike twisted around like mad when it couldn’t contact the pavement or ice (which my studs would bite into) the only time I had fallen off my bike was when I misjudged the shoulder’s edge and tumbled into a ditch.

Then, one day when I was biking home from work someone stopped to ask if I needed a ride. I uttered my standard, “I’m good, thank you!” and they drove off. I smiled to myself, so thankful that I discovered the world of winter biking. I didn’t want to be in a car when I could be pedaling through snow! I felt happy and free and as I was biking through the brilliantly sparking white snow, somehow the skill that had evaded me all winter, began to click into place. Which was weird because I didn’t even know that this was the skill I had been looking for all along.

It wasn’t really a skill, it was more a mindset shift. I had started to trust my bike. My iron grip on the handlebars was loosened and I let the front wheel guide the bike and I through the snow. When the bike shifted under me, instead of fighting it,  I let it move underneath me. I was no longer a dictator trying to force my bike in a rigidly straight line-we started working together.

That was the missing puzzle piece. Once I started working with my little pink mountain bike, riding in the snow became increasingly easier and more fun. I could pump my tires to their max psi and not suffer for it. The last few months of winter sped by fast and before I knew it the days of snowy commutes were over.

I miss the sheer joy of plunging into deep snow on my bike. But winter will soon be here and I can’t wait to learn more about how to bike in snow.

Over the summer, I found a video that would have really helped me at the start of my snowy travels. But it wasn’t in existence yet and it has a rather misleading title.

Every main tip can be applied to biking through snow although there are a few differences. First, the video makes biking through sand (or snow) out to be tougher than it really is, probably because they are coming from the standpoint of using this skill in a race. The skinny tires probably make it trickier as well. When I am out biking there is no pressure to get through the snow as fast as possible. Second, when there is ice on the road and there are rocks and chunks of ice littering that road but hidden under a layer of snow, big studded tires are always the way to go.

This post is the second post of the 5 day story challenge. Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for this challenge and he wanted to read more about cycling in snow and cold.

In lieu of nominating someone everyday of this challenge, I am inviting anyone to post about a weird or funny bike ride that for some reason hasn’t made it on your blog yet. I would love to read them. Let me know about it and I will link you in my successive story challenge posts.

Making friends with winter’s most dangerous creature.

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Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for the 5 day story challenge. He wants to hear more about my experience cycling in cold and snow and because he has cool bikes, he gets what he wants. So here we go.

Last year, around this time I was preparing for my first ever attempt to bike through winter. Not only was I gathering the gear that would keep me safe and warm through the winter, I was gathering information in how to use that gear to keep me safe and warm through the winter. But try as I might, my safety plan had a few gaps in it. The biggest, scariest blank area was how to deal with snow plows.

Snow plows are no joke. They are massive machines weighing somewhere around thirty tons with the power to clear whatever stands in their way. It is common for snow plows take down mailboxes and damage fences, street signs and whatever happens to be in their path. And I was about to willingly place myself in their path.

Online, I couldn’t find any helpful information. The general consensus seemed to be that snow plows were the most dangerous thing about winter biking and your best bet was to make sure you stayed out of their way. But how, exactly? I pictured myself trying to drag my bike up onto a towering snow bank as huge snow plows barreled toward me at lightning speed. Scary stuff.

It got even more scary. My family and friends, in a desperate attempt to get me off of my bike and into a car for the winter, were constantly warning me how I was going to die if I carried out my foolish plan. And the number one way they predicted I would die, was, you guessed it, by snow plow. They made convincing arguments, and though I tried my best not to show it, I was scared stiff.

Then winter arrived. On the very night we got our first serious snowfall I finally found a helpful nugget of information. When you hear a snow plow coming, you cross to the other side of the road. Wow, I should have thought of that. But what if a snow plow sneaks up on me?

Haha. Snow plows don’t sneak. Ever. Scraping the road clean, they create a roar of frightening intensity. Hearing them was never a problem. Since I live in a rural area, traffic is light and I always was able to cross the road and wait on the opposite shoulder long before the snow plow’s rumbling arrival.

It didn’t take me long to recognize the awesomeness of snow plows. I would be biking to work, constantly evaluating where I should position myself on the road. The far right of the shoulder was safest from cars, but also had the deepest snow and was littered with chunks of ice and other debris. The left half of the shoulder had slightly less snow, but also closer proximity to cars. Then, of course, I could follow the rut created by cars, the easiest and fastest path, but did I really trust them to see me? It all came down to how good the visibility was.

So there I would be, out biking, in the dark of night, trying to maintain the optimum position when I would pull over to the side of the road to let a snow plow pass. I would return to find the road and shoulder completely clear. Awesome. No more evaluation necessary.

There was one glitch, however. My ears became a little too honed for the distant noise of a plow at work. Especially in the dark and especially when I hadn’t slept well, I would hear phantom snow plows that never materialized. I must admit, it kept me on edge. I would keep glancing behind me to see only open, lonely road.

As winter progressed so did my skills and winter biking savvy. I enjoyed biking in snow from the start, but as I gained confidence, I started to relax and notice more of what was going on around me, instead of focusing solely on the essentials. One of the things I noticed was that after I pulled off on the opposite shoulder, the guys in the passing snow plow would sometimes wave. So I started waving back.

Within a few weeks, they were all waving and grinning at me. One day I was walking home in the cold, dressed in the same coat and pants I use for biking. Two guys, high up in an orange snow plow, recognized me and gave me a friendly wave. I waved back, a huge smile on my face.

I had the privilege of making friends with my greatest winter fear, the snow plow.

In lieu of nominating someone everyday of this challenge, I am inviting anyone to post about a weird or funny bike ride that for some reason hasn’t made it on your blog yet. I would love to read them. Let me know about it and I will link you in my successive story challenge posts.

Getting Ready for Winter-New Bike Day

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Last winter I was so focused on my needs as a winter biker that I neglected the needs of my winter bike almost entirely. The lack of care resulted in my little pink Diamondback’s demise. It was clear that restoring my bike to a useable condition would take more money than it was worth. I needed a new (to me at least) mountain bike to stick studded tires on.

Today my dad and I dropped off my brother and sister at the Syracuse airport. Then we went bike shopping and found this little guy. He is a 2007 Gary Fisher Marlin and as soon as I went around the parking lot, I knew that this was my new winter bike. It just felt right. So I brought him home.

My dad left him on the doorstep and left me in a quandary. Should I put him in the shed or carry him into my apartment? I have been carting my Trek up and down the stairs from the first day I got her. (Incidentally, that is the main reason my fitness has improved over the summer. It’s not the actual biking, although that helps.)

Did my new mountain bike deserve the same treatment as a road bike?

I guess not, because I started to wheel him into the shed. But I couldn’t do it. Instead, I picked him up and carried him up the stairs. He is talking to my Trek right now.

Soon it will be time for a proper test ride.

Helpful Winter Biking Links

I would never have been brave enough to attempt biking through the ice and snow without the helpful information I found on the internet. That coupled with the knowledge that real, normal people were out there doing it gave me the courage to give it a try.

These links were the ones that have been key in making my winter of biking doable and fun.

Winter Biking 101
This is one of the first websites I found and the one that made me start to believe that biking through the winter was possible.

Bike Forum – Winter Biking
I spent a few afternoons reading through this forum and there is tons of great info to be found. Being an open forum, however, there is some advice that seems a bit off to me, so I do take it with a grain of salt.

All Seasons Cyclist
Jim introduced me to this website and I am not sure whether to thank him (because it has a ridiculous amount of great info) or never listen to him again (because I spent an afternoon reading through all of the posts about bike lights  and now I want all of those cool lights for myself).

Bike Winter
This website has some cool DIY tips which I was going to take a stab at…until I realized my sewing machine was broken.

Winter Bicycling: How to Enjoy It
A nice article with an overview of many aspects of winter biking.

Icebike
So much great information from clothing to bike handling tips. There are some epic winter biking stories to read as well.

Peter White Cycles
Great descriptions of different models of Nokian and Schwalbe Studded Tires and advice on how to use them properly.

I am sure I am forgetting a few of the websites I have been to and learned from and I am sure there are more out there, so if you know of a great winter biking website that should be listed, let me know!