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Biking in a Winter Wonderland

David Meltzer | Published on 11/22/2015

Survival Guide

I blame the tilt of the Earth's axis for Winter.  The weather's colder.  The days are shorter.  It it seems like the Spring and Summer are either in the rear view mirror or in the distant horizon.  Yes, the Winter season is upon us, and we have the option of hibernation or exploration.   I know that there are many who will opt to hibernate, and we will look forward to seeing you in the Spring.  But, if you are going to live in NYC, it makes sense to enjoy ALL the seasons - including Winter.  

Let's start off with the primary question - Why ride in Winter?  You ever get cabin fever?  A great January bike ride is a sure way to alleviate this.  Get out in the Winter air and get those sweet endorphins.  Another reason to ride in Winter is that Spring is just around the corner.  Every mile that you ride in winter, is a mile closer to being in top riding shape when the trees start budding.  For some of us cold weather riders, it's about the gear - warm jerseys and jackets, booties or warmers keeping our toes toasty.  But, for me, there is only one really reason to ride in the Winter - It's FUN.  I know what you are thinking - what fun about freezing your tush off.  Let me take you back to last February when Fritz and I let a ride to Hook Creek.  It was a beautiful sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, no wind.  It was also 15 degrees.  After the two minute "layer check", seven riders set off on a 42 mile romp to Hook Creek.  Lunch was at the wonderful Bay House for some warming food.  This was the epitome of what a winter ride should be...a gorgeous cold day, a cohesive group, a hot meal, and a really nice ride.

So, now that we have the Why Ride out of the way, lets talk about the How do I Ride part of the article.  Here are some tips.  

1.  Safety first.  You can layer up against the cold, but there is no defense against snow, ice and dangerous roads.  Last winter, I intended to take a group up to Rye.  We got as far as mid Pelham Parkway Path when we realized that the roads were just not safer further north.  But all was not lost, we backtracked through the Bronx, saw the Lourdes Shrine, and then went for some great posole at Taqueria Tlaxcali near Parkchester.  Cold is fine.  Ice is not.  Check out the condition of the roads before you go, and during the ride itself.

2.   Gear up.  In the winter, bulk is not your friend, but layers are.  Layers let you regulate the head during the course of the ride.  Remember, as you ride, the internal heat builds up and you do tend to layer down.  Take care to protect your ears and face.  I normally just use a sleeve, but riders also use balaclavas.  Hands and feet are most important - if they are not happy, you are not happy.  Invest in a pair of good cycling gloves.  As far as the feet go - there are a variety of strategies.  Being old school - I opt for silk socks under wool socks and insulated hiking boots on platform pedals.  But, others use chemical foot warmers, battery socks or overbooties.  Winter riding is a great way to expand your cycling wardrobe.

3.   Warm Beverage are wonderful along the way.  On cold days, there is little better than a nice warm drink.  I carry a thermos during many winter rides.  Hot chocolate?  Hot cider?  Spiced tea?  All are great winter warmers.  And remember also to take water - you dehydrate in Winter too.

4.   Cover your bases.  Sometimes you are not ready for what the world hands out.  Winter means being ready for the unexpected.  Be prepared to change a route if the original one is iced up.  Take your railroad pass and/or Metro Card.   As darkness descends early, make sure to have your lights with you when you ride.   it is also a good plan to know where the subways and/or railroads are.  Last year I was sweeping Ed D. back from the Conference House.  As darkness fell, the temp did too.  We re-routed to the SIRR and were at the ferry safe and sound.

5.  Follow the website and the Facebook page to check for cancellations.  Many leaders have different ideas about what they consider acceptable riding weather.  Before leaving the house, make sure that the ride is going out.  

6.  After the ride, make sure to clean and lube your bike.  Salty roads and occasional slush are less than optimal for the chain and cassette.  Make sure to keep em clean.

The 5BBC has rides all throughout the winter.  For those winter riders, welcome back, and I know that I will continue to ride with you throughout the season.  For new riders - let me suggest coming on a trial ride.  The Dycker Heights Lights Ride for example.  Or Getting to Ganesh.  Before putting your bike on the wall until Spring, come out and join us on a ride.  You may just find out that it's fun.   So this Winter - join us on a ride.