Let the Winter Biking Begin

Last January I mused about commuting by bike to work in the winter months. Well actually, commuting year around, but it was of course, winter at the time. Jumpstarting riding to work in the midst of the coldest part of the year was more than I could muster psychologically. I would have had to buy studded tires and commence my 8 mile round trip in the dark, sub-zero days of the snowiest Anchorage winter on record. I let time pass and after the ice melted on the bike paths around mid-May, I dusted off the saddle, greased the chain and commenced a-riden’.

I averaged riding to work about 3 times a week during the summer months, that’s taking into consideration the month long vacation Karen and I took to the Southeast in July. We carried our bikes on that trip and got a few light miles in (one very memorable ride was from the ferry dock in Sitka to the downtown area, about a 14 mile round trip). I broke a spoke in Haines and had it fixed by the good people at Sockeye Cycles (I am sucking down a cup-o-joe from a mug I bought there as I write.). My odometer is coming up on 500 miles for the year, which admittedly would be a weak showing for long time cyclists. My good friend Anthony Newcomer rides an average of 2,000 – 3,000 miles annually, and I just read about a 65 year old that rode 3,100 miles in a month, putting 100 miles a day in before breakfast. Still, for me this represents a significant increase in riding from previous years. I think I rode about 100 miles in 2011 almost nothing in 2010 and maybe another hundred in 2008 and 2009 combined.

I decided not to wait for the middle of the season to start considering winter riding this year. Embodying the philosophy of those who attempt to boil the frog by turning up the temperature slowly, I bought studded tires and continued to ride as the mercury dipped in September well before the first snow. When puddles did begin to freeze I took a long jaunt down the coastal trail to build confidence in the efficacy of studs on bike tires, which frankly I have always found to be a dubious proposition. The thought of consciously gliding onto ice with a two-wheeled mechanism didn’t seem too bright. But, lo-and-behold, as everyone with experience told me would be the case, the bike had absolutely no problem scooting over ice. With some trepidation I ventured out on a 200 foot section of sidewalk that had been covered in water since the heavy rains this fall (now solid ice) and had absolutely no problem staying upright. I am a true convert.

Today was the coldest day of the season so far, with temps that dipped down to 4 degrees Fahrenheit. I am learning quite a bit about cold weather riding. Things like the fact you really don’t need a lot of layers, even on the coldest days (so far) when you are vigorously pumping pedals. Today I rode with a thin layer of Smartwool long undies below my cargo pants and a medium weight polypropylene shirt with a bicycling specific windbreaker from Showers pass. I wear lightweight fleece gloves over my cycling gloves (when it gets really cold I will add pogies), and perhaps most importantly, on days like today a balaclava. I do carry a down jacket and a wool cap in my panniers, in case of a breakdown and a lot of standing around. As it turns out the most difficult part of cold weather commuting is not the cold, or the snow, but the darkness up here in the north. It is REALLY hard to convince myself to scoot around in the dark, even though I am lit up like a 747 landing at Ted Stevens International. That being said, I rode to work during a significant snow and found the unstable new flakes to be treacherous for this old man, so I will be riding only several days after it snows to let things get packed down.

I plan on keeping it up. I will be building a new bike from a Salsa Vaya frameset this winter in preparation for a summer tour. I plan on riding 600 miles from Anchorage, down the Denali Highway and back to Anchorage. Winter riding will be a necessary part of training for the summer, and anyway, I gotta say, I like it!

 I don’t have any pictures yet, and want to get this posted, but I will try and get some up soon…


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