• Thom

Winter cycling where cars rule. Part 1

People here often think one is crazy if they bike through the winters. If that is the case, I've been insane for years! I know it sounds crazy but you may want to try it before you speak poorly of it too much. *Long preamble alert below.

It had to be 1994 or 1995 when I first chose to ride my bike in the winter. I was a mountain biker and I hated winters as I had to put my bike away for months. I can't remember the "light bulb" moment specifically but I'm sure it was something to the tune of: "how hard could it be?"

As it turned out, it wasn't difficult at all. I remember riding on Christmas day and New Year's day one year in a magic -5 degrees Celsius, cold enough to keep the structure of the snow, warm enough to ride for hours if I wanted. I was in my early 20's at this time and I somehow met two other riders, one in his 30's the other in his 40's. We were like a generational three muskateers. We would ride for around 40-60 kilometers on snow covered, mainly off-road trails through our city. I learned a lot from these two fellows, not the least of which was how fit you could be moving through the decades.

I say this often and the thought started on these early winter rides: winter riding is magic! It is like a combination of cross country skiing, downhill skiing and mountain biking but, in an intangible way, it's like none of these. Maybe it's because of something as simple as the sound of the various types snow underneath the tires. Or maybe it is like skiing but being able to be self propelled at a faster rate gives you a quick but quiet sense of freedom. With tire studding technology, ice of many sorts becomes a surface you can ride on safely for extended periods. Bike luge! It's a thing.

On a mountain bike, winter riding only becomes challenging when the snow gets too deep or things get icy. Back in those days studded bike tires were available but often employed blunt rivets which did not bite the ice very well. My experiences with these type of tires were mostly good but then really bad when conditions actually demanded some kind of performance from them.

Fast forward a bunch of years to my determined wife, Kirsten. One year she threw down the gauntlet and said: "I'm going to commute all year around on my bike!" I wasn't shocked as I had ridden bicycles on and off through winters for years at that point. But she bought herself a pair of Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pros (amazing studded tires) - this was a game changer on the shoulder season thaw freeze cycles and freezing rains. I bike with my dog, Ben, and I crawled out of the ravine with him one day with my mountain bike slipping all over the place and Kirsten said to me that I should try her bike with the Schwalbes. I never looked back and I got myself some Nokian (Suomi) studded tires. Now my oldest son is using them.

I bought a fat bike close to this time and, though I didn't have studded tires on the fat bike then, it changed the way you could ride through snow or, well, almost anything else.

These tools (friends, really) changed again the way I perceived winter riding. It opened up the possibility of being able to safely commute anywhere and in any weather if I wanted to. Of course, I don't always want to. Sometimes a bus or a car is the best option when it has snowed two feet, or rained when it is below zero. But if I'm at work and any of these conditions happen while I'm there, I can get back home on my bike. I know. I've done it.

More to come about interacting with traffic, online trolls and more .... stay tuned!

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