According to the calendar, winter is more than one-third over, not that it really matters.
This being the Missouri Ozarks, there will be plenty of warm sunny days, bitterly cold days and everything else mixed in between. With the Polar Vortex passing through, forecast daily highs went from 48 F, down to 10 and back to 60 all in one week.
When I’m in town on cold days, many people ask half-jokingly if I’m bicycling. Short answer: “No!” I have nothing to prove so I do not pedal recreationally in bad weather, but I do often pedal on short errands or to visit neighbors. Warming up and driving a car is just too wasteful, and even in bad weather, pedaling beats walking but it requires some caution.
I suggest avoiding pedaling in busy traffic during snow and ice. Getting sprayed by passing cars is unpleasant, but far more dangerous is getting hit and mangled by a sliding car. If snow is falling and visibility is reduced, that’s just asking for trouble.
Conversely, a quiet snow-covered rural road or a bike path can allow a very nice ride but only with care. If a car or truck approaches to pass, it’s best to pull over and stop out of the way. Snow covers potholes, debris, icy patches, and other hazards that can already make you lurch or fall down. Do not add “falling under a vehicle” to those hazards.
Turning is tricky because if a wheel slides out from under, you fall down. Go slow because in addition to tires skidding, rim brakes won’t work when wet or icy. Especially avoid ice patches on the roadway. If your wheel breaks through the ice into a straight linear crack, the wheel can be caught just like along a railroad track and down you go. Even if you are lucky and the ice breaks wide and your wheel is free, your shoes and pants will likely get splashed with icy water; no fun for the rest of your ride.
Always give yourself some extra travel time. Snow will slow you down just like loose gravel or soft dirt because your wheels are constantly always pushing it out of the way. It’s like constantly riding uphill.
Enough about snow. Around here it does not really snow often or for long, but it certainly gets cold. All the warnings and cautions about wind-chill apply, especially since the bicycle adds a headwind by its own speed. Cover all exposed skin and don’t forget the ears and face. A ski cap covering the face works well and glasses or goggles are handy, too. Mittens are warmer than gloves but be sure that you can comfortably work the shifters and brakes. It’s not difficult but practice before the ride. Shoes can get very cold due to wind so go ahead and wear some insulated boots or overshoes. This isn’t a race so don’t worry about the weight slowing your pedaling. Better warm toes than numb toes. And if you are pedaling and feeling the cold wind, slow down. You will really feel the difference between an 8 mph and a 12 mph headwind.
When cycling, all the advice on layered clothing applies. The physical exertion of pedaling will heat your body. If you dress too warmly, you will perspire and soon be soaking wet. If you dress too lightly, especially if you can feel the wind through the clothes, you will be cold and miserable and risk frostbite and hypothermia. Layer your clothing and adjust during the ride, adding or removing layers as needed. Don’t forget to have a pack or bag to carry those extra layers.
As with any outdoor physical exercise, it’s alright to start while feeling a bit cold since you will soon warm up.
In snow and ice, just riding is difficult while steering and braking are problematic, both yours and that of accompanying cars and trucks. Best to avoid traffic altogether. At least stay off main thoroughfares and when approached by passing cars, get out of their way. They will spray you with snow and slush and might skid and slide into you.
Going downhill, it is very easy to pick up speed and lose control. Pay attention.
In cold weather, high speed increases wind chill which can seriously injure you, especially exposed skin. Dress accordingly. Hard pedaling will make you perspire and soak your clothes.
Pay attention to wind chill and dress accordingly. Give yourself extra time and enjoy the ride.
Or forget about it and just stay snug and warm while waiting for nicer weather. It will come soon enough, perhaps within the same week. Why suffer?
I hope that I’ve dispelled some concerns and encouraged others to give bicycle riding a try. Perhaps we’ll meet soon. I’ll ring my bell!