Adventures in Winter Cycling

By Al Alessi

This week, we hear from Sustainable Woodstock board member Al Alessi and his adventures biking during the Vermont Winter.

Biking in the winter should be no stranger than skiing, sledding, or snowshoeing. It’s never quite so cold as you would initially think because your body is working and warms you up quite a bit. I remember as a child skating for hours outdoors, and only rarely get cold. In fact, the opposite is more likely the issue you’ll face — getting overheated and wet with perspiration.

So for any outdoor winter sport the clothing is central, and you’ll want to layer. You’ll want to start out cold because you’ll be building that heat. If you start out comfy you’ll burn like a woodstove. It’s also important to think of winter biking as more of a transportation option, not a workout per se. Don’t aim for high speeds because the wind chill makes huge difference. Think slow and steady.

Whatever you wear ideally breathes, but keeps the wind out to some degree. I wear a wool cap that covers all but my eyes, and I am looking for an ideal pair of wind/snow glare glasses. I’m sure they’re out there. I just wear sneakers but good Vermont-made wool socks. Jeans if it’s in the 20s, but in the teens and lower it would be pretty much what I’d wear nordic skiing or snowshoeing. I have a light winter jacket, good wind protection, and a layer of insulation, and underneath a wicking t-shirt and wicking winter overshirt, but you may not need both. Again, layers. Elevation clothing store has great options, as do other stores in the area. (Mine came from Elevation).

The bike issue is something I am still coming to grips with. The fat tire bikes gives everyone a new option that didn’t exist a few years back, but short of that (I know not much about those — go see JB at Woodstock Sports) you really should have knobby winter tires with studs. And you might want to consider a second-hand bike you don’t love too much because you’re going to bathe it in salt, grime, slush and more. Remember, the thought here is a way to transport around, not long journeys for athletic and sight-seeing pleasure. I try to commute to my job, a bit over 3 miles each way. It’s a great way to start the day! Would I go for a 20 or 40 mile tour? Not really, especially if there has been a lot of snow, and the road shoulders are covered with plowed snow. The other day I considered biking to work, or snowshoeing. Biking would be around 15 minutes, max, and the snowshoeing was 45 at least with a beautiful snowfall and no wind. I took the shoes. More time in the beauty of winter is better than less, and less time on the hazards of winter roads is better than more, but many of us are here because we love winter, and the bike can certainly be part of your choice selection. Of course lighting is key, front and back. Don’t skimp on lighting in the dark season and invest in good fenders to keep dirty slush from staining your clothes.

Maybe I’ll see you out there! Be careful, go slow and steady on ice and snow and enjoy our winter wonderland!

For more information on winter cycling consider reading Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling by Tom Babin.

Do Just One Thing: Take a trip by bike or by foot in your community

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