Round Three!

With the onset of the first real snow storm we’ve had in several weeks, I recently realized this will be my third year of winter-biking.  I’m legal to drive, but haven’t felt the need to purchase a vehicle (yet) and manage all the fun finances that come with such a responsibility, especially since I can bike virtually anywhere I need to get in town. In the snow and ice months, this does admittedly get a bit more challenging, but it’s worked so far, and I intend to make it work again this year.

As folks are settling in for winter preparedness, (where I’m at in the Midwest, blizzards are actually a reason to close down, unlike my childhood home in the middle of the state) here’s a brief survival guide on how I manage it:

  1. Train early and often.
    1. Start as early in the year as you can possibly endure. The longer you bike each year, the easier the winter gets.
    2. Endurance training is also good. Carry increasing amounts of weight when you do bike.
    3. DO go out on the windy/blustery days, and when the rain is pouring down. Learn which layers keep you warm and dry, and which ones don’t. Avoid the latter. Natural fibers are wonderful.
    4. Bike on all kinds of surfaces, no matter how awful they are. Smooth dry roads don’t exist in the winter.
  2. Practice for the worst
    1. Find your center of balance, and mess with it when the weather’s still nice
    2. Buy eggs and canned goods or similarly heavy things. Bike across town with both in your backpack. Poorly-sealed containers of hot soup/food/liquid also work for incentive against falling under less-than-ideal conditions. You’ll also learn how to fall …effectively.
    3. Always wear a backpack with both straps, never a side-bag when the ice is present.
    4. Carry a first aid kit with basic bandages and the like. Hopefully, you’ll never need it, but it’s there, just in case. Same thing goes for a photo ID and health insurance. (Trust me, it’s handy when the day ends in an emergency room trip).
    5. As the weather starts to get nasty, remind yourself, “it’s going to get worse”. Make this your mantra and the really unpleasant days aren’t as unbearable.
  3.  Dress appropriately
    1. ALWAYS wear the helmet. Ear muffs are good alternative to keeping your ears covered without compromising your head. There’s no way around this one unless you want a concussion.
    2. Invest in mittens that can be layered, and are a good wind/sleet block. Your fingers will thank you. The same goes for good, sturdy boots with good traction.
    3. Layers are your absolute friend against the wind, and an added bonus if you happen to topple. If you’re like me, and only do skirts, it’s amazing how many layers you can get by with under a skirt or two! Also, having a dedicated outerskirt to keep the nice one/s dry helps
  4. Know the routes:
    1. Scout out where the puddles form when it rains. Mentally mark these for sheet ice and black ice hidden under snow.
    2. Get to know the snow plow schedule if you can, and plan around it.
    3. Be wary of snow drifts and fallen tree limbs
    4. Textured ice is your friend. Glassy ice is not. Snow is always a mystery.
    5. Avoid the brakes if you have to stop. It’s easy to drop your feet and have four points of contact with the ground rather than spin out with only two.
  5. Biking on the really, really, really nasty days:
    1. Avoid when possible (really!)
    2. Know your limits:
      1. Personally, I cannot physically bike against sustained winds over 35 mph. On the gusty days, know how to stop, hunker down against the gust, wait it out, and then keep going.
      2. Frostbite is not your friend. Know your distances, times to get there, and how long it’ll take before frostbite sets in. Plan accordingly.
      3. The road may look enticing, but be wary of the drivers on it. Use with discretion. On the other hand, know which snowdrifts you can plow through, and which ones will topple you.
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