Friday Group Ride #194

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I try not to write about weather too much, even though, as a cyclist, I am fairly obsessed with what is happening outside. I monitor a variety of meteorological services more than once a day to stay up to the minute, to glean every possible detail before I step out the door.

Is it a problem? I don’t know. I think I could quit if I really wanted to.

And in bringing up winter (again), I am only too aware that many of our regular readers are in Australia, not to mention the other cycling nations who cling steadfastly to the underside of the planet. So bear with me.

Yesterday, the local department of public works carted 15 bags of leaves away from my house. This event marks, in my mind, the true beginning of winter. With all the leaves down, there is nothing left but for the snow to fly. Of course, in true New England fashion we marked the passing of the leaves with a bracing round of icy rain showers that made my regular Friday morning ride into something of a survival event.

I find myself wondering when the winter is going to winter on us. I know my friends in Minnesota are no longer wondering. It’s already wintering there.

This week’s Group Ride asks a few weather-related questions. First, how heavy a winter is coming our way? And who do you believe when they tell you what it will be like? Second, how deep into it will you ride? What are your criteria for staying off the bike? If you ride straight through, what is your key to surviving the worst days? For our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, you will be coming into summer now. How did you do this past cold season?

Image: Matt O’Keefe

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31 comments

  1. Rod

    Location: Ottawa, ON.
    Current conditions: Fog, about freezing, possibility of freezing rain.

    I ride year round. I commute putting studs on a fixed gear bike (pawls freeze at -20 C, comical but infuriating). And once we get a bit of snow, the snow bike starts doing the rounds about 3 times/week.

    We have had mild, late winters where the local park was clear of snow (and traffic, they close it to motorized transit to reduce liability) all the way to Christmas. There’s snow there already now, but in some years it has been white since Halloween.

    I wasn’t born here but Canadians are hardy people. I started riding in the winter because taking the bus took more time and resulted in the same exposure to cold – on a good day. On a bad day, cancellations, delays and congestion meant standing like an idiot and freezing for a while. Might as well be making my way home if I’m going to be cold anyway.

    Important things to keep you going: invest in good clothes – waterproof/windproof tights. Bibtights with no pad are even better, you get multiple uses from them and they don’t expose areas. Water-resistant boots, and about three layers on top – base, insulation, shell. My hands are the only part that really suffers – I prize my gloves. Lobster mitts and an insulating liner or two when it’s really cold. Pogies on the handlebar when it’s below -15 C (around 0 F).

    The one really important aspect is the mental makeup. Lo-tech peopole have successfully undertaken Antarctic expeditions; I sure can get to work even if it is cold!

  2. Mike Hancock

    I’ve been relegated to the trainer for weeks now (and will be for the next 5 or so months), so somehow your circumstances don’t seem that bad to me. I could join the fatbike craze, but deep down I’m a roadie so it doesn’t really ring my bell. Strange as it sounds, grinding away in a dark, cold garage while watching old Northern Classics videos is my preferred way to maintain fitness for our all-too-short road season.

    I’ll stay on the bike. I just won’t go anywhere.


    1. Author
      Robot

      @ Mike – Are you in Alaska? What is the season like there? Also, I agree. My circumstances are not bad. They’re good. And once we got rolling in the rain this morning, we warmed up and it was fine and mostly we forgot about it, as you always do. The real gating factor for me here, is when the snow pushes the cars out from their kerbs and the available roadway shrinks so that there is no safe room for a fragile sack of flesh and bones on two weird triangles and a couple of hoops. Then what do you do? Right. Find another route.

  3. Andrew

    In Southeastern MN

    We got our first measurable snow yesterday, it’s only going up to the low teens Farenheit this weekend.

    Got out the other night in the conditions I like the least, just above freezing and wet (rain, sleet, some snow). I much prefer once it gets cold enough for the gravel roads to be solidly snow and ice covered. Studded tires on a cross bike rock on ice covered gravel. Relevant to Robot’s last point- I pretty much stop riding the roads once we start getting snow piles and ice over pavement. I’m really certain I’m not going to get killed on the gravel roads- rather not take the chance elsewhere.

    Down into the teens I’m good with shorts over tights, winter bike shoes, lobster gloves. below that, i break out the powergrips and sorels and the full on mittens.

    and an awful lot of sufferfest videos.

  4. Josh

    I will stay on the bike so long as it is dry. I can take very cold, but where I ride it is hilly and the roads have a lot of turns and are not well lit (if at all). Although I have faith in my tires, I also know that the 5:30am drivers who are zipping through the back roads are not as careful as they could be. For some reason, it seems a lot less safe in the dark if it is wet. For saturday rides, when I can leave during daylight hours, I will ride in wet weather as well.
    I currently have $2000 of winter gear at my house that I ordered to try on, and am trying to decide what to keep. Currently it is between Castelli (Gabba convertible jacket and leggezzerra 2 bib tights) and Rapha classic tights and pro team jacket). Already eliminated are the Castelli espresso due jacket and the rapha softshell jacket.
    I received in the mail this week my Exteondo Iluna baselayers (one short sleeved and one long) and it looks like they could help me wear some 40F rated stuff down into the 30s.
    I am still on the hunt for the best gloves. Have tried Craft Siberian, Castelli 3.1, Giro Ambient… I am picky.

  5. Joe

    Here in Charlotte, the weather is fairly mild by comparison. It’ll dip into the mid to high 20′s for a few weeks with some wintry mix; we get snow maybe once or twice a year if it’s particularly cold.

    I’ll ride outside down into the high 20′s, low 30′s, but otherwise I’m off to trainerland.

    If it’s wet, it’s tough to get me out the door below 45.

    I can’t stand the trainer/rollers, so the goal is to ride as much outdoors this winter as possible.

  6. Hautacam

    Here in Seattle, if I see hard frost on my neighbor’s car in the morning, I go to work by means other than the bike. Not because of the cold, but because I don’t want to slide out on an icy patch, frozen clump of leaves, extra-slippery manhole cover or paint stripe, and fall in front of a car.

    I can manage the cold, I can manage the wet, I can manage the dark; but I can’t manage a major loss of traction in urban rush-hour traffic.

    I’ll ride clear through on the weekends. Mostly goofy CX workouts in the park; plus road rides on quieter streets when it’s over 32 degrees. Which is a lot of the time.

  7. Bryan Lewis

    I plan to ride all year here in southern Maine. Well, commuting three days a week anyway. The only down-time I had in the last few years was when there was so much snowfall in a row that the plows couldn’t keep up with clearing the shoulders. I don’t feel right/safe about riding in the main traffic lane… I might scratch the car’s paint when it slides into me. So that stopped me for a couple of weeks.

    Don’t skimp on your clothes or lights. Big advances in the last decade.

    Get tires that won’t flat. I’ve preached this before but wasn’t practicing it. I got a flat Friday morning, during that icy rain you mentioned. Bummer. That tire will get replaced for the winter by a Strada Bianca I’ve been lusting after, or maybe a nice practical Ribmo.

  8. Mike C

    Living in Florida the weather isn’t usually the issue. Severe back problems and testosterone levels dropping like a rock are my biggest challenges. When the temperature drops, we usually get that high humidity that for some reason makes it bone chilling at only 45 degrees. No problem though, there is plenty of cold weather riding gear out there to be had for a few bucks.
    What’s my biggest challenge you ask? Finding the energy to get out of bed. Once I’m up, it’s no problem if I can get my feet out of the covers and onto the floor.
    Today was one of those days.

  9. Brad

    I ride year round, with some “wife rules” governing my commuting. It is: if there is any white on the deck, I don’t ride.” This will rouse up lots of snipes from those in the cold north, but in the wet northwest, it’s the best way to keep momma happy, and if momma isn’t happy, hall passes for long weekend rides, and long weekends riding are harder to come by. And, it isn’t white on the deck that much.
    As for what kind of winter we’ll have? I’m guessing a more normal one than the past, which means a few more snow days and a few less morning rollouts at 35-38 degrees and raining, which is a pretty fair description of my morning commutes from mid-Dec through February.
    Survival is based on great clothing, especially gloves/handwear and enough of it to keep the rotation of drying and dry gloves productive. Sidi winter boots are a godsend, and under 38 or so these get covered with one of a vast array of shoe covers. Embro-natch, mild weather gets Born@, cooder gets some RKP/Mad Alchemy. Heavy rain is shielded with an REI Gore-tex jacket, cold (for me) is an InverseAir softshell I stumbled upon at a shop called Cento Cycling in Portland, and it’s an amazing jacket.
    I’m constantly searching for really good “water proof” gloves. Kompredell’s are similar to a wet suit glove though marginally better, I’ve found nothing in Pearl’s assortment that truly works, two Assos variants stay home in the rain, and I’ve just got a pair of Enduras that I was pleasantly surprised by, but they only have two rainy commutes so I’ll hold off judgement.
    Any advice on this is welcome!
    Cheers,

  10. Bob

    I’m in the NYC area and will ride through the winter as long as there are not mounds of snow or ice on the ground. I try to commute a couple of times a week depending on my work schedule and, although the cold doesn’t bother me too much, I worry about hitting a patch of black ice in the dark. There is no bad weather, just the wrong gear as they say.

    The weather forecast, I believe, is meaningless. It seems that the local weather people are correct about 50% of the time; the rest of the time they are wrong by several hours. The best forecast is to look outside the window: if it’s not snowing or howling wind, you can probably ride.

  11. supermank17

    Another Seattle-ite here; I try to bike to work in everything but driving rain (I still don’t have proper rain gear, and I hate riding home in soaked clothes).
    Otherwise, as a fairly recent transplant from Indiana I find the winters to be downright mild here and try to use a combination of cyclocross, occasional mountain bike rides, and longer road rides on the weekend to keep fit. My biggest complaint is how hard it is to get out of the city for a road ride, so I fine myself riding the same couple of routes over and over.

  12. Mike Hancock

    @Robot- Alaska’s road scene is pretty interesting. While not on the level of some areas of the country, thanks to a lot of hardcore endurance athletes (cross-country skiers and the like) the competition is pretty solid. Anchorage’s race schedule is packed during our late April to August season (an event or two every week). Fairbanks puts on one hell of a fun 4-day stage race. The mountain biking gets better every year as new trails are developed, and the ‘cross series participation expands exponentially every year.

    Most of us just find other sports to participate in the winter, which helps mitigate burnout and work on the muscles you neglect in the summer. I coach alpine ski racing, so the wife says I have enough expensive hobbies. With two pretty big movers in the fatbike world (Fatback and 9:Zero:7) around, and a bunch of fatbike races (sprint and endurance), a lot of people ride through the winter, enjoying singletrack in a whole new way.

    I get jealous at times of areas with longer riding seasons, but the short, intense season here keeps me motivated without burning me out.

  13. Peter Lin

    I will ride as long as the temp is above 15F and the roads are clear. Once the road conditions are bad in central MA, I force myself to get on the trainer. Having a crash due to ice is where I draw the line.

  14. christopheru

    I ride the trainer in the winter, as I think it is, for me where I live (Southern Ontario) irresponsible to road ride during the snowy months. Too much dark, poor drivers, icy roads, and living on the edge of the snowbelt (lake effect snow area off of Lake Huron) combine to create situations out there that are not so pleasant.

    That said, I do ride all year round. I just put winter tires (studded sometimes, not studded others) on my commuter bike – a cheap Kona 26 inch wheeled mountain bike – and keep on going. But this riding is in the city and is much more manageable and usually results in about 2 to 3000 km of riding over the length of the snowy season. All on a cheap $500 commuter mtn bike :)

    Nothing special about it, just lots of layers, Bogs for my feet, ninja mask for my head and face, fenders and winter tires.

    The worst is trying not to over heat – even at -15.

    Mostly it is fun, but when the winter gasps its last, out come my faster bikes, lighter clothing, and bigger grins.

  15. armybikerider

    Tomorrow is going to be the first really cold day of the season with a high of around 32F at FT Campbell KY.

    Due to other commitments I need to be out of the house at 8am. The predicted temp at that time will be 23. The jury is out whether or not I’ll ride. The cold just saps all the fun out of it for me.

  16. Josh

    I bought the Exte Ondo Iluna base layer based upon the recommendation from Group Ride 193. Best $40 ever spent. I went out this AM (36 degrees) with only the baselayer, a long sleeved Rapha Brevet jersey (with Gilet) and was toasty. A real game changer.

  17. Adam

    Current location: Whistler, BC, Canada. Current temps: 0deg C +-5

    Generally just use the out the window weather forecast & the weather app on my phone. All taken with a pinch of salt.

    This is my very first ‘proper’ winter with all the trimmings. Just a couple of weeks ago put the bike away for the winter. The quick ride up Hwy 99 to work becomes too dangerous now the road is getting icy. As previously mentioned, more concerned about cars & trucks than myself actually falling off. Up to then was commuting in jeans, flannel shirt, gortex jacket & neoprene gloves in temps down to around -10.
    Next winter I might hold out a bit longer & get some spiky tyres to keep going until it gets really snowy. Or maybe I’ll just keep taking the bus & walking.
    I no longer ride to race so keeping up that level of fitness is of no concern to me for now.

    Previous location: Perth, Western Australia.
    Winter? What winter? Riding year round no problems.
    Undershirt, jersey, arm warmers & vest. Light weight full finger gloves & some over shoes.
    Only on the coldest days or rides well away from the coast over the hills would you need full leg warmers & a jacket.
    This last winter I could probably count the number of days it rained significantly on both hands.
    Definitely spoilt.

  18. brucew

    It’s wintering right now on the shore of Lake Ontario in Rochester, NY. It’s a bit earlier than the past few years, but a bit later than most winters I remember.

    With neither an El Nino nor a La Nina to guide them, forecasters give an “equal chance” to harsher, average, and milder for this winter. In other words, a great big “I dunno”. Sounds about right. Since our last three winters have been milder than usual, even an average winter will seem pretty harsh.

    Studded tires went on the four-seasons all-conditions commuter yesterday. The only thing that keeps me off the bike is when they close work for the day. I haven’t missed a single workday bike commuting since summer of 2006. Good equipment, good clothes, and a positive attitude are what make it work for me.

    Having a second commuter with full fenders but without studs, and a Ti roadie with a QR beaver-tail rear fender keep it tolerable through the winter, by letting me take advantage of nicer days.

    The other thing that keeps me going is knowing that come March, I’ll have the best legs in the club, despite never spending a single second in trainer hell.

  19. Wisco

    +12F this morning in southern Wisconsin. My winter is weekday 6 am indoor rides at a cycling focused health club. They have Computrainers and video screens to ride the great cols of Europe or the roads of Ontario with their video series. I find it easier to get up and go when riding together vs solo in my basement. Weekends are snowshoeing or XC skiing or longer indoor rides. You deal with the weather when riding outside. The most important thing is hands and feet. I am a big fan of insulated winter cycling shoes. They seem to work better than any socks/booties combo I’ve tried.

  20. Michael

    Reading all of these, it seems to me that many of us (me included) will commute in much worse weather than we will ride for pleasure. Kinda makes some sense! I know I will commute to -25 oC (a little below 0 oF) but I don’t tend to ride outside for pleasure when the temperature is below about -8 or -10 oC (mid-teens oF). I worry about flat tires and not being able to fix them with bare hands out on the road outside of town, but in town, I just walk my disabled bike to work, or leave it locked somewhere.

  21. JPrumm

    I have 5 weather apps I look at multiple times a day. The only weather predictions I believe are the current conditions. Best app for weather is one with a radar feed.

    I live in NE Oregon where we get a lot snow and the wind is relentless. I ride outside all winter long no matter the conditions. I just can’t seem to ride on a trainer for more the an hour. It is so boring I would rather freeze than sit in one place. We do have a lot of gravel/dirt roads when the snow and ice gets bad. I can connect over 150 miles and only have to cross any paved roads. Riding my CX bike with studs in the snow is some of my favorite riding conditions.

    The only body part that is hard to keep warm are my feet.

  22. christopheru

    Brucew – impressive! Wish I could do that (my job – working on call over a wide geographic area – makes it impossible for now). Perhaps one day I will be able to.

  23. Aar

    Wet/icy roads and temperatures under -15F put me on the trainer. Dark also frequently (but not always) puts me on the trainer, too. Fortunately, North Carolina winters have mild temperatures but can be pretty moist.

  24. Souleur

    First, I have no idea of what weather is coming, if I did, I would head to vegas and then buy bikes professionally, tell the man to sucky me balls and ride them professionally 8hrs a/day…or at least look the part and probably enjoy that more than really being PRO

    I ride in the snow, not on the road, but off road it is great, and I have ridden into 10 inches and broke trail with that. Really, i don’t have a set criteria for not riding, its really more a matter of where i will be riding. On the worst days, for temps, I simply base layer up and dress to kill, and ride slow, and drink hot drinks

  25. Mark

    I am riding once or twice a week on the trainer, with an occasional outdoor ride on nice days. The trainer rides are in the early morning before work. Mostly running though.

  26. rquinones27

    Fortunate to live in San Diego, CA so I just put on a few layers and continue to ride through the winter months. 30% chance of rain or less and I’m pretty much guaranteed a ride in dry weather. Like I said, I’m fortunate to be here.

  27. onairseb

    Here in Montreal you just cannnot ride all year long with -40 celcius temps in the deep of winter -_-.
    Yes you ”technicaly” can ride for short commutes but I don’t see any fun riding in this conditions.
    The bike gets on the trainer mid november and finally gets out sometime in april.
    Trainer, hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing. I kind of like having to do other sports, you get to appreciate even more the summer riding season.

  28. GB

    Mind over matter, and a short spin, fingers numb, toes rock hard, is just more tolerable than a roller session for a hour or more. I seem to find the outdoor air and mind soothing processes riding in the extremes rather refreshing. It’s the soul that gets replenished to keep me going until milder temps. Maybe another excuse to have a winter steed.

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