Best advice I received in the past 12 months: Go ahead, try it!

I get it. Winter cycling is not for everyone. Or is it?

This article celebrates the fact that cycling, biking, riding a bike continues in the winter months.
For some of us it is done on fat tires, for others it’s in between icy patches on the seacoast roads.

When did you start riding your bike year-round? 
Is there a particular event that got you to start (riding with a friend, getting a new bike with fat tires, etc.)
What do you enjoy most about winter cycling?
Any recommendations for cyclists who want to start enjoying cycling year-round?
Any suggestions for advocacy groups when it comes to winter riding?

A few Seacoast riders offered to share their winter stories and advices to SABR’s communications committee. Thank you Diane, Curt, Lyndon and Joe!

Share yours by sending an email to [email protected]

Photo credits: Diane Conway and her friends at the Rasputitsa Spring Classic, a gravel bicycle race in Vermont in 2015.

In 2014, late winter/ early spring gravel rides hit the scene (such as Vermont Maple Ride and Rasputitsa), and it was the chance to get outside with friends and partake in a casual, organized ride on dirt backroads. I’m lucky to have both a cyclocross bike and a hard trail mountain bike and both are well suited for the snowy, muddy, gravel rides.  It’s not about how fast I go at these events; it’s about getting outside!  For winter riding having the right gear is key.  That means thermal tights, lots of layers on top, and thermal layers for my feet, hands, and face. 

When I think about all the considerations that go into riding on gravel or road in the winter, (suiting up into warm clothes, tire choice, road conditions etc.) it seems like a huge effort!  But with huge efforts are huge rewards!  There are always stories to tell when the conditions are epic, and those rides are the most memorable. 
All that road and gravel riding during the winter and early spring is great fun, and they are special occasions.  But what about just a normal every day, “I feel like going for a bike ride today” casual approach to winter riding?  Then it’s time for a fat bike! 

My Christmas present in 2016 was a fat bike and when I got on it, I felt like a whole new cycling world was ahead of me!  For me, riding the fat bike is all about the pure joy of being on two wheels.  No racing, no training, just good ‘ole fun.  We have three dogs in our family and throwing the fat bike in the back of the truck, not having to think about special cycling gear, and taking the dogs out on the local trails is my bliss.  I ride my fat bike at least 4 times a week with the dogs during the winter. Nothing epic, we might be out for about 30 minutes, just enough for everyone to get a bit of exercise and fresh air.  Fat bikes are very user-friendly; they easily roll over rough terrain and offer a fun, cushy ride. 

If you’re toying with the idea of riding during the winter, I recommend considering a few things:  a wider tire, with nobs, will help you grip the road, and manage unpredictable road conditions.  (A typical road tire ranges from 23-28cm wide so you’ll want something wider.  Keep in mind some road bike frames may not accommodate a wider tire, so you’ll want to check.)  If you have a mountain bike, that’s perfect!  Your feet and hands will get cold so it’s worth investing in gear designed for the winter elements.   Set a destination, I like to ride into Portsmouth and stop for a cup of coffee, this gives me a reward and the chance to warm up! And if you’re considering investing in a fat bike, go for it!  Aside from riding on roads, local trails and rail trails, many Nordic ski areas now allow fat bikes, so your options are endless!  I’ve never said “Gee, I wish I didn’t ride today with all that snow on the ground.”  It’s time to get outside and enjoy the winter on two wheels!”

-Diane Conway, Rye

Photo credits, Lyndon Blaylock, Woodland Rd near Atlantic Avenue in Hampton

I’ve always considered myself a fair-weather cyclist -rarely going out when the temperature was below 50. But when I moved to North Hampton last October, I resolved to change that and bike through the winter. 

I’ll admit that it has been a challenge, but I’ve found that it’s satisfying and even fun to go out in weather that I would previously have believed impossible. There is something uniquely exhilarating about biking with snow on the ground. The isolation and introspection that for me is always part of cycling is intensified in the cold. 

The same route that in summer seems carefree and relaxing, becomes in winter, a test of strength that suddenly requires more planning, more caution, and a lot more clothing. 

But the more I cycle, the more eager I am for that next ride, and the cold becomes a little less of an obstacle. This year, I’ve confined my winter cycling to short jaunts in the near vicinity, and it’s hard to even imagine a long winter biking tour, but perhaps I’ll feel differently next year.

-Lyndon Blaylock, Hampton

Newcastle resident Curt Springer underwent hip surgery in November. Earlier this week he celebrated his successful recovery with a bike ride on Route 1B.

Saw orthopedic surgeon. Freedom Day, no restrictions on activities. Not a good day for x-c skiing or snowshoeing, so I went around the village on my bike.

-Curt Springer, Newcastle

Photo credits: Joe Christian, Eliot

I’ve been riding year-round on and off since I was a kid.

It started when I was a paperboy back in the 70s. I would ride my Columbia 3 speed with papers in the wire baskets on the back. Unless the weather was bitter cold or a nor’easter, I rode.

Later when I went to College up in Portland, Maine I purchased my first mountain bike and used it as my primary mode of transportation – even though I owned a car. I still remember the rush of bombing over snowbanks for the first time on that bike. For some reason, Portland’s a great city to ride around during snowstorms.

The best part of winter cycling is riding in a light snow at night – my hands down favorite time to ride. Recreational winter riding is not about speed or epic distances. It’s all about the atmosphere and adventure.

Advice to riders considering year-round riding… Try it. You’ll like it. There are plenty of reasonable days during the off season. Start with those and expand. Avoid the extreme cold. Ride close to home. Layer clothing. Extra insulation for your feet. This is even more important for recumbent riders. Having my feet up higher than on a diamond frame seems to make my feet more prone to chill. I also prefer to ride a long wheelbase ‘bent in the cold weather.

-Joe Christian, Eliot

Etiquette Time!

Winter cycling on trails is made much easier when we all follow some simple rules.

  • If you sink in more than 1 inch on your bike or with your shoes then ride or walk another day.  Ruts get frozen in overnight and ruin the trail for everyone else. 
  • Even worse are people “post holing” trails, they should wear snowshoes instead. 
  • If you must walk, then please walk on trails that have been packed down by snowshoes for fat bikes or walk on top of XC ski tracks. 
  • You will not be the only one on the trail: Yield to all other users (remember XC skiers don’t have brakes, you do!); respect the land, do not trespass, and keep the trails in great shape for everyone!

    For more info:

    Thank you to Jeff at Gus’ Bike Shop and Josh at Colonial Bicycles for their inspiration and assistance with this article on trail etiquette.