This weekend turned out to be a great weekend for riding. Granted CNY was sub-zero Saturday and not a lot warmer on Sunday, but there was some great riding none the less. In fact when I rolled up my hill Sunday, it was a blistering 12 degrees and I was sweating my proverbial junk off.
I met Tim O. bright and early both days and although we avoided some of the big downhills (Rt 20) it was business as usual. I must admit that when I woke up and saw that it was minus 12 on Saturday I wasn't certain that I'd make it longer than 20 minutes, but 2:45 later I was in pretty good shape and the temps had only skyrocketed to minus 4. As far as a few local cyclists are concerned, and certainly the folks at the Nice N Easy, we'd might as well have been moon men. Partially due to our appearance, but mostly because a lot of people seemed to think that riding in this weather was tantamount to walking on the moon.
I must admit that as recently as last year I would have agreed. I spent weeks XC skiing because I thought it was too cold and snowy. Thankfully my buddy Tim did all of the initial testing and since he lived, I decided I'd might as well tag along for the subsequent rides. Tim is sort of an animal. He trains from 4am to 10am regularly, so I wasn't sure that I should be following his example. Clearly he's tough in ways that would make a Belgian racer proud to know him. After a little trial and error, I think I have the cold weather dialed in. If you'd like to join me in walking on the moon, here's the recipe:
Above 12 degrees F:
1 - CX Bike
1 - Fenders (optional but nice - keep you and your riding buddies dry)
1 - Blinky light (front and rear if it's still dark - rear at all times)
1 - Pair of winter boots (I use Lake MTB boots because you can walk in them if all else fails)
If you don't have winter boots, wool, bags, neoprene and duct tape may suffice
1 - Pair of winter tights with wind block on the front panels (wear tights underneath if necessary)
1 - Set of base layers and a windproof jacket
Wear a jersey underneath so you can keep bottles in it to keep them from freezing
1 - Pair of Mountaineering Mittens (I use EMS) Spend some $ and go $70-$90
1 - Set of hand warmers (buy in bulk at a hardware store)
1 - Winter hat or balaclava
Under 12 degrees F:
Add neoprene shoe covers over winter boots. Trust me, they help.
1 - Snow pants or some form of Gore-tex pants
1 - Toe clip strap to keep your pants out of the chain
1 - Balaclava
1 - Gore-tex jacket or 2nd jacket (Tim wears a down jacket, I just don't own one)
Any form of eye wear seems useless when it's below 12 degrees. They just fog up. I suppose you could wear ski goggles, but I want to have my peripheral vision when the snowplows are out.
Speaking of snowplows, any decent CX'er should be able to manage riding in the snow unless it's icy. It looks intimidating, but you really get a feel for it once you've been out there for awhile. I use Michelin Jet tires all winter and they work very well. They're pretty smooth when the pavement is dry and seem to hook up well in the snow and hard pack as well. 2-3 inches of snow seems to be the limit before you'd need a mountain bike.
If you see a snowplow coming up behind you, you have a couple of options. If there are no cars coming, move into the oncoming lane to get out of the way, or if there are cars coming, get off of the road as completely as possible. Get off your bike if you have to. Trust me, you might be pumped to be out there, but the plow guys are unimpressed. Unless you want to be lying dead in a ditch next to a dear carcass, get out of their way because they have a job to do and to them, you're just another mailbox.
When you head out:
Avoid going down huge hills - my right eye froze shut on Rt 20 a couple of weeks ago
Stay off of the busy roads as much as you can - The shoulder is going to suck and cars aren't going to want to swerve around you if the lanes are snowy. Much like the snowplows, they aren't going to risk sliding off the road because you're a cyclist with OCD trying to build base.
Plan to have a convenience store on the route in case you need to warm up or splash some hot water in your bottle.
All of this may sound like a huge hassle, but this time of year is a great time to build solid base, and riding on the trainer for 3 hours is far less appealing than facing the elements. Once you get into a routine, it really doesn't take any longer to get ready to ride than it does in the summer. Just a few more layers. Some of my best rides have been in cold weather. They will make you "strong like bull."
What else? Make sure to moisturize so your face doesn't look like a catcher's mitt when you're old. Gel packs are less likely to freeze than Cliff Bars. Keep 'em close to your body. Bring a phone in case you need to bail. Plan to see really lame average speeds if you're riding in snow pants. The effort is the same or harder, but don't let the slow speeds make you feel bad. Shifting in mittens isn't easy, but you'll get used to it. If you're thumbs get cold, tuck them into the mittens. You won't be able to shift or stand and climb, but once the thumbs warm up from the heat packs you'll be good to go.
I think that's it. Hope to see you out there, but not next to a deer in a ditch.