Holy smokes. Thanks to Tom Held’s mention on his Off the Couch blog, my last post got ten times the usual number of views. I promised a follow-up, so here goes.

Let’s start with a little humor. Craft is a manufacturer of some of the nicest cycling apparel money can buy. I especially like their cold-weather base layers. World Cycling Productions is a Minnesota-based company that sells high-end cycling apparel and accessories. They also have a somewhat unique part numbering system with the potential for some awkward results. You may have to enlarge the image in order to appreciate its full hilarity.

So, back to the subject of winter riding. One aspect I haven’t really figured out yet is tires. Cycleicious recently did a post about studded tires. I’ve never had a set, but they sound like they could open up some riding opportunities when the roads are covered in snow and ice. Here in Milwaukee, the main roads get plowed first, followed by the side streets (where we’re more likely to ride). As a result, car traffic often packs the snow down before the plows get a chance to remove it. That ice is pretty much un-ridable with standard tires. If studded tires are as effective as they sound, that would be an awesome triumph of bike technology over winter weather. Alternatively, one of my intrepid coworkers choses to put big, fat downhill tires on his mountain bike. He claims that the big footprint and aggressive lugs allow him to ride pretty much anything offroad. So depending on where you like to ride, studded tires or big, fat knobbies might be the key to more outdoor miles in the winter.

A few other equipment notes:

  • Changing a flat is never fun, but it can be impossible in the cold. Do whatever you can to prevent flats. Wider, knobbier, heavy duty tires and puncture-resistant tubes add weight, but it’s a price worth paying. Tubeless tires might be another solution, but I’m not sure how well their sealant performs in sub-freezing conditions.
  • Road slush has quite an affinity for chains and cables. As it accumulates, shifting performance deteriorates (or disappears) and drivetrain resistance increases. A singlespeed bike is less vulnerable to these effects.
  • Similarly, road slush can render rim brakes almost inoperative. Disc brakes, on the other hand, are pretty impervious.
  • Fenders are a key ingredient to pleasant winter riding. They keep your body relatively clean and dry, and they protect your bike from salty, corrosive slush. Full-coverage fenders should be an absolute requirement on winter group rides.

A lot of cyclists I know choose to cross-country ski in the winter. Personally, I prefer snowshoeing. The equipment is cheaper, there’s far less maintenance, they don’t require groomed trails, there’s almost no learning curve, and the motion (especially in deep snow) is more like pedalling. Both sports offer a great workout and a welcome change of pace from riding. They’re a great alternative to the indoor trainer on days when it’s just not possible to ride outside.

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