Friday Group Ride #481

Friday Group Ride #481

I am really no longer the Robot, but changing a silly pen name a decade later seems like more trouble than its worth. The initial idea, the joke that birthed my by-line, came from riding through Boston winters and being confronted continually by  co-workers with the question, “Don’t you get cold?,” to which I would reply, “Robots don’t get cold.”

That was then. This is now. It was 14F this morning with patches of ice and encroaching snow on the roads. I drove my car and listened to a podcast. It was very civilized. And comfortable. The Robot abhors comfort. No, that’s not right. The Robot doesn’t consider comfort. It does not compute.

And for someone who isn’t a real robot, but only a joke one made of flesh and blood, that’s where things fall apart, because I do compute. Quite how and when the calculus changed, I can’t say, but I blame my kids. Children squeeze your time and limit your brainspace, so that the prospect of packing and managing extra clothing as well as keeping your bike winterized and rolling, becomes just that little bit less appealing and practical, and before you know it you’re sitting ten cars back at a light wondering why you’re not the person (or non-person) you used to be.

Last week I ordered a set of studded tires for my 29er. Whether that’s a reflexive purchase, based on past glories, or a sign of better intentions, remains to be seen. I did ride through some nonsense last year, but I probably spent more days at the indoor cycling studio my lady robot gives me access to, sweating through a cycling kit that didn’t feel somehow like the appropriate attire. I only recall two days when I was desperate enough to force myself down the basement stairs to set up the trainer there in the space between the kids’ XBox and the laundry.

This week’s Group Ride asks, what is your winter riding plan this year? Are you in or out? If out, how are you out? Just with more layers, or do you need studs and fenders and a grappling hook, too? Do you basement, with electronics or out? Do you spin in a studio? Or do you just get fat(ter)? And how is what you do now different from what you did ten years ago?


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  1. James Fitzgerald

    I’ve been riding seriously since 1976. In New England. Sort of in the Robot zone.
    I raced every year on the road from 1976 – 2014. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, to be ready for racing in North Carolina in early April, you HAD to be on your bike in January. And February. And March. My limit used to be 18 degrees. Now I’m not racing, so it’s around 25 degrees, as long as the roads are passable with 25’s, (Although I do have some Panaracer Gravel King 28’s on one set of wheels). I try for around 100 miles a week just for fitness and weight maintenance, but I am at the mercy of the weather. Being retired enables me to choose the best time of the day and best days of the week. I’ve moved further north to mid-coast Maine where the winter is longer, but I have excellent hiking trails nearby for when the roads are too bad. I have never trained indoors and never will. I would rather be on the road at 20 degrees, or hiking at 10 degrees than riding a trainer indoors. Racing used to be the motivation to get on the bike, now it’s about being able to hang with the local crowd on the weekends come spring. Zwift seems to be the new way, but not for me.

    1. DaveinME

      James – where in mid Maine are you? I’m in Portland and frequently ride around Brunswick and the surrounding areas.

  2. Stephen Barner

    I ride through the winter, but less than in warmer weather. I’m in northern Vermont, and my limits are generally 10 degrees F, and when it hasn’t snowed in a couple days. I ride a touring bike with 700C studded tires when the roads are mostly clear, and my ’85 Fat Chance with studded 26″ tires when I need to be able to get through snow. I have 5 miles of unpaved road to ride, and it is usually easier to ride than the paved road when freshly plowed. This means that I have no idea what the 13 miles of pavement are going to be like until it’s too late to turn back. It takes a day or two after a snow for the trucks to drop their wing plows and clear the shoulder, and the greasy, salt-laden snow at the sides of the road can be next to impossible to ride through at any kind of speed, forcing one out into the ruts the cars have made. Just getting back into the mess along the shoulder can be dangerous when a car is overtaking you. I’ve learned that those are good days to drive.

    I’ve ridden rollers for over 40 years, and bought a set of aluminum ones to replace my ancient set a few years ago, but haven’t even tried them out. As long as I can get out at least a couple times a week and ride my 18-mile commute, I’m happy. In January and February, that means pushing the lower end to zero, or even a few degrees below, with extra layers, electric socks, and bar mitts.

    1. Jeff vdD

      CX (and some gravel) Sep-Dec. Fat (and some gravel) Dec-Mar. 2x per week structured intervals Jan-Apr. Layers. Studs on both but only as needed (spare, studded wheelsets for gravel and fat).

      I’m no fan of the cold … but I’m a fan of riding outdoors. As cool as Zwift seems, I’ve never done it (Trainer Road and Netflix for me). In CX, the worse the conditions, the better I am. On my fat bike in the woods, I’m warmer than out on windswept roads.

      Add a layer of snow and I’m in my element. I Nordic ski … but when I do, all I can think is how much more I’d rather be fat biking.

    2. Stephen Barner

      Not sure who you were replying to regarding 28mm studded tires, but in my case I’m running Suomi (formerly Nokian) A10s on the 700C bike, and they measure around 32mm. On my Fat Chance, I’m running 26″ tires that are around 47mm wide. I wouldn’t want to go narrow than either of these for the conditions in which I ride them.

      There’s really no point in even considering performance with studded tires. You need such thick tread to hold the studs in place that I doubt there is anything you could to make the tire significantly faster, especially with the knobbies and studs that make it a winter tire. I wouldn’t think that making a thin, flexible casing would be a good idea, either, as you don’t want to do anything that might make a winter tire more prone to failure. I had a flat when it was 10 degrees F a couple winters ago and it was a race against time to fix it before I cooled down. Changing a tire in a snowbank is a challenge in itself, and the cold makes tire changing a tough task, with numb fingers and stiff rubber. I’ll happily sacrifice any small performance gain for reliability in the winter.

  3. Aar

    I love riding in the cold and generally don’t have a minimum temperature here in North Carolina. When I lived in New Jersey I frequently rode in sub-zero as long as the roads were clear. I also generally don’t suffer indoor exercise well, at all.

    This year, though, something in me snapped when I was unpacking my winter cycling gear. I just decided that I don’t want to fumble with all of that clothing, lighting and junk this winter – even a few days per week. So, I upgraded to a new trainer. One of those new silent, smart trainers. Seriously, my fans are louder and my wife watches TV in the same room, even through intervals. So, I’m going to find out how much trainer I can tolerate before my sanity departs while simultaneously discovering whether The Sufferfest can get me in shape.

  4. Alanm9

    There is no such thing as indoor cycling. As long as no one rides in winter, we will never be taken seriously as road users. I commute year round in the mid Atlantic, single digit temps happen every year. Go ahead and enjoy your warm basements, I’ll be out there trying to preserve our right to the road.

    1. DaveinME

      Alanm9 – chip on the shoulder much? You are one of many, not some revolutionary showing the rest of us how it’s done. We all make sure our rights to the road are preserved regardless of what we do or do not do in the winter. You are not in any way ‘better’ because you ride all through the winter outside. Plenty of us do that.

      You’re in the mid-Atlantic and trying to show off because you ride in single digits? Come back to us when you’ve lived near the Great Lakes or New England and that is just a normal day of riding and not something to be remarked upon.

      See if you can access this article about how we roll in central Maine.

  5. Dave

    Ten years ago, I rode through all the winters here in Calgary. My lowest temperature was -28C (thats -18F) but the worst ride I remember was the day we got 2 feet of snow and I somehow got off track and ended up with wet feet standing in the river.

    I guess I can say I’m not afraid of the cold and wet, but now that I’m older I think I’ve decided to choose my days to ride. I’ve got the winter bike ready to go, but have only ridden it three times so far. I have rollers in the basement, but have only used them twice since winter started. The result? I’m already up 10 pounds and really looking forward to spring.

  6. Miles Archer

    My riding plan? To chat with the guys in the locker room who are putting their wet weather riding gear on after getting out of the swimming pool. I used to ride outdoors 10 months a year – which frankly isn’t a hardship in Northern California. I had been doing shorter triathalons as a goof. After a job change that required a 2 hr commute, I no longer had the time for riding and I replaced it with swimming. I still come here for the good writing. All the best to ye hardy souls that ride all winter in the wet and cold.

  7. Neil Winkelmann

    Commute all through the winter here in Vancouver. Works out to about 200km – 250km per week. Lots of rain but little snow in a typical year. Winter tyres (non-studded), fenders and disc brakes. Rainy rides around Stanley Park on the way home in the dark and cool evenings are amongst of the highlights of my riding each year. I do cut back on the Saturday rides until January.

    Nothing indoors at all. Life’s too short.

  8. Lyford

    Seasons and weather are reasons to do different things.
    In the winter I’d rather cross-country ski or snowshoe than ride in ice and slush. The roads are treacherous and the salt is brutal on components.
    I’ll ride the trainer some and do some weight work. The trainer’s a good way to do structured workouts that I don’t do on the road, because I don’t like staring at numbers when I’m outside.
    Might try renting a fat bike this year.
    As I get older Type 2 fun is less appealing. I don’t *have* to like mud or ice or rocks or wind. Been there, done it, can do it if I have to, but why? I’m ok with riding hard in good riding conditions and doing something else the rest of the time. And it’s not just winter — a summer day with winds gusting to 30 is a good day to borrow a Laser or Sunfish and leave the bike at home.
    I applaud the folks who ride outside year-round in the Northeast but have no urge to join them.

    1. Stephen Barner

      There’s a lot of Type 1 fun to be had in winter cycling that can’t be duplicated in the warmer weather. I start my commute in the country, and I’ve taken in some magical sights, especially in the morning. Things like a giant full moon moving behind the leafless trees, and the early sun streaming through a mist of ice crystals in a pastel pink glow. It’s just not the same when seen through a winddhield. Body heat keeping the cold at bay, and road conditions that can be as good as in summer can make winter riding a real treat, and a pleasant counterpoint to the bugs and sweaty helmet straps that will return all too soon.

  9. David A

    If its dry roads and cold…more layers and outside. Rain……fog, inside on trainer using shorter 1-2hrs rides with short intervals. I use a fix gear with fenders and lights, old skool throw back till I reach 1000km base.

  10. Ron

    The terrible driving in Seattle, WA led me to commute all year round in all but the most harsh conditions some time ago. I’ve been doing it for a few years now and honestly, it gets me out on the bike in weather and temperatures that I would never consider just for fun. The result is that I’m in the best shape of my life, which is neat now that I’ve hit 50.

    I don’t own a roller or any indoor equipment… the money for that could go for more bike parts or more rain gear! I do some squats, stretches, and yoga when I’m stuck inside.

  11. David

    You guys are TOUGH! Here in North Texas it snows only irregularly. No snow at all last year, and sub freezing day time temps are few and far between. Heck we’re expecting 69 degrees on Christmas day! So of course I ride outside all year long. I have some rollers but haven’t used them in years.

    10 years ago I was living in Northern TN stationed at FT Campbell where I had to deal with occasional snow and ice. I rode through it then, but not sure I would now!

  12. Dan Murphy

    Living outside Boston, I’ll ride in the winter – under certain conditions. My argument is that one can do anything for an hour, regardless of conditions. Ok, a lot of times it isn’t even an hour, maybe 30-45 minutes, but I get out. My limit is when temps are in the low 20s. What keeps me inside are lousy road conditions like snow/ice. Not doing that. But, there are a lot of nice, dry days where it’s good to get out for a short ride. And honestly, I don’t mind a break from the bike.
    Gotta say, last year I put full fenders on for the first time ever and they were awesome. Front and rear parts stayed dry on wet roads.
    Mentally, I can’t ride indoors. Maybe someday, but that day isn’t today. And I hate – HATE – the gym.

  13. TominAlbany

    I’ll use the Peloton bike at work a couple of times a week. I’ll run indoors once a week. I’ll lift. I’ll try to get out snowshoeing and cross country skiing and downhill skiing. I have an indoor trainer at home. Old school friction type. It’s still new-in-the-box. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. I’ll sneak out for a winter ride when weather and time allows, on the weekend or a day off only. Trying to keep my ‘at least one outdoor ride each month’ streak alive.

  14. Alanm9

    DaveinME: Sorry I touched a nerve but you miss my point. Here in the mid Atlantic where almost one third of the nation’s population lives I am one of very few. Im alone every day on my 26 mile commute through the suburbs. Those who clog the roads then go to spin class or hang up their wheels in October are the people I’m talking to. And yes I do carry a chip when after 20 years living in the area not only is there no cycling infrastructure but road widening has made it less safe. So enjoy the quiet roads of central Maine while you can; maybe I’ll see you there, I have relatives in Bangor and Kennebunkport.

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