by Frank Hubbard
Most cyclists have stopped outdoor riding for the winter, but for the obstinate and those who eventually find gerbil riding on an indoor trainer or spinning class too confining, accommodation to winter riding is necessary.
Winter riding presents some unique challenges. The first of which is the weather: the cold and the wind. The ride starts in the cold and ends in the cold. If you are lucky, you will get some sun and warming between 11 AM and 3 PM. Later starts and shorter distances improve riding conditions. You can expect to be cold for the first 15 minutes of any winter ride but want to warm up during this time period. Keeping your torso and legs warm can generally be achieved with layering: 3 layers on your chest and heavy tights or tights and winter underwear on your legs. Avoid cotton garments which retain sweat. Wear synthetics, silk or wool that breathe. Keeping your ears and head warm is best achieved with a balaclava or equivalent covering under your helmet.
Hands and feet are generally the biggest problem. Winter boots provide the best insulation (http://www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/bikes-and-gear-features/best-winter-cycling-shoes-and-boots?slide=1). Shoe covers are a cheaper alternative. Heavy gloves or mittens are required. You can avoid the initial period of misery as you warm up by using foot or hand warmers inserted on the palms of your hands or under the lacing of your boots. These are available in bulk quantity at Joblots.
Winter presents its unique set of road hazards: snow on the side of the road or shoveled into the street, new and deeper potholes, black ice and snow glare.
Black ice is formed by a thin film of water frequently formed by the side of the road. It is clear without air bubbles and easily missed. It occurs most frequently when temperatures hover below and just above the freezing point. Melting snow produces water which refreezes. Black ice is most common at the beginning of the ride but can be present any time and frequently reappears with temperature drop at the end of the day.
In winter, the sun is low on the horizon. The sun rises later and sets earlier so that maximal glare is noted during the start and end of most rides. As the sun remains low through out the day, glare can be encountered at any time.
Avoiding problems with snow glare and black ice requires attention. Encountering either is a signal to slow down, increase space between riders and stay focused. On a bright day when snow glare is likely, sunglasses or, even better, polarized sunglasses should be part of your riding gear.
Melting snow, salt and sand present another problem keeping your bike clean. Wet chain lubricant won’t wash off on winter rides but will accumulate dirt. Keeping your drive chain clean will require frequent washing in the winter. Installing fenders on your bike will both help to keep you dry and help you retain cycling companions.
Finally bring some snack food, eat whenever you briefly stop and ignore the stares of people who can’t seem to understand that you are having a great time.