The Days Ahead

The pre-Christmas blizzard has come and gone, leaving in its wake a patchy landscape of snow, slush, ice, and mud. Yesterday the weather was mostly good and we went for a ride along the Charles River Trail - our first real ride together in weeks. In the afternoon everything looked lilac and utterly beautiful; it was a wonderful ride.

The previous night it had rained and much of the snow had washed away. Though the river bank was snowy and the river was iced over, the trail itself was mostly clear, save for a few stretches. What surprised me was how utterly impossible it was to cycle through those stretches.

Having ventured out in the blizzard last week, I thought that I "knew" snow - and with that thought, I proceeded to cycle straight through a snowy patch. As a result, I almost took a spill - twice. Apparently, the fresh, evenly distributed powder through which I rode last week was nothing compared to the lumpy mess of slush, ice, and crusty snow of varying density through which I now attempted to pass. Let's just say, the Marathon Plus tires said "No". And I don't think studded tires would have helped in this kind of snow either - though feel free to correct me if you disagree.

The Co-Habitant checks my tires whilst enjoying the view of Boston across the river. I love this picture, because it captures the feeling of living in this area in a way I can't quite explain verbally. And I have a funny story about my tires, but will hold off on that till the next post.

After yesterday's ride, I think the realities of winter have finally hit me: My God, I won't be able to cycle "normally" again for the next 3 months! Sure, on good days I may feel safe enough to cautiously ride from Point A to Point B. But I can pretty much forget those fast long rides I have grown used to over the Summer and Fall. During the warmer months, I probably averaged around 100 miles per week on the bike, over 80% of them recreational. It should come as no surprise then, that the comparatively minimal cycling I am doing now leaves me wanting more. So what do I do, get a trainer? That's not the same as "real" cycling, and I just can't see myself getting into it. Instead, I think I simply need to accept the limitations of winter, and to stay positive by planning for the next season. Since I enjoy long rides so much, perhaps I should try to develop my endurance and challenge myself - set some goals, devise a training schedule, think of some local destinations I would like to cycle to, and so on.

A year ago, I could not have imagined that I would ever develop an interest in the "athletic" aspect of cycling - but there you have it. Those are my thoughts on cycling as we head towards the New Year. What are yours?


  1. Hey I was there yesterday. Went to the Revels at Sander's. As we were leaving I saw an Xtra locked up right outside.

    Last spring when I got the Sorte one of my reasons for getting it was "with the canopy I can cycle in cold weather with the kids. " But I remembered the ice and Frigid temps of Jan and Feb and told myself that I was off the hook from late Dec-late Feb. I get you is my point.

  2. Boston, like Philadelphia where I live, isn't cold enough to convert the trails to ski trails for the winter. I really wish they would plow them when it snows to avoid the resulting ice that occurs later and makes them impassable, no matter what type of tire you have.

    I would love a city plan that chooses a network of streets and/or paths to keep clear and safe throughout the winter.

    As you know, the streets are often plowed so that a lot of snow and ice ends up near the curb, narrowing the lane and making the lane impossible to share. The piled up snow and ice can make the lane difficult even long after the snow has melted.

    I'd like to see a grid of secondary streets with no parking (so the plowing can be more complete) that are carefully plowed and salted throughout the winter so that you can always get around by bike - although you might have to walk the bike a block or two to get on and off the network. This would be pretty cheap compared to the desires of many for fancy separated bicycle facilities and would go much further for us transportational bicyclists to make bicycling a year round alternative.

    Winter fantasies.

  3. Someone needs to invent a "Lovely Bicycle" trainer/ exercise contraption for the Wii. Ha ha.

  4. it's a foregone conclusion that one must (unless they are truly "hard-core") limit their riding to some degree during the Winter months; cold and weather are things that we must contend with.

    My feeling about trainers is that they are good for training, but can never satisfy the intrinsic enjoyment of being on a bike and traveling through the space of the world we live in. I would rather enjoy the rides outside when I can, cold or not, then sit in my living room watching TV while spinning... at that point it's a home gym -- there's a reason I ride my bike and don't go to the gym, home or otherwise! ;)

    Take the nice days when you can, deal with the cold and dreary ones when you must, and hold out for the warm days of the coming Spring and Summer and Fall... it might be New England, but they'll be here eventually.

  5. Great post. I remember trying to ride my old Phillips 3-speed in the winter when I lived in Northampton during graduate school. Not always very successful!

    A trainer might be a good idea for the winter. I'll tell you, the distance stuff can get really addicting. Its probably all those endorphins that kick in after a few hours in the saddle. Your SH will be perfect for long rides!

  6. Me, I want to get off the bike a little more often and walk around a bit. I've been practicing lately.

    You'll find a way to get riding time in, despite the weather. That lumpy stuff really IS treacherous. The black shiny stuff is even worse. As for that training notion, sit down and breath deeply until the feeling passes.

    PS: REI had convertible half-finger glove/mittens!

  7. Funny, I feel exactly the same about the athletic aspects of cycling. Although it took me longer to develop an interest in them, this year I've found myself pushing my boundaries and crosstraining with activities like jogging (which the cardio benefits of cycling have made much less painful). Winter is a good time for setting goals so I look forward to reading about what you have planned for next year.

  8. Great post! It's admirable that you're venturing out in winter. I live in Southern California and I have the advantage of getting out year around on my Dutch bike. I absolutely love it! I enjoy following your blog. Thank You.

  9. You are too easily discouraged. I was cycling all over Boston Wednesday and Thursday and I didn't have any problems. The roads were completely clear.

    Rutted/slushy/icy/chunky snow is indeed impossible to ride on. But most of it is on separated bike paths, which I usually just avoid during the winter -- the protection from cars isn't worth much if you're afraid of falling.

  10. It looks like studded tires would probably not have helped in those conditions, unless they were really wide. Maybe something more frozen would be rideable, but that looked pretty bumpy. I bogged down a lot last year in deep snow with a frozen crust on it, my studded tires were not wide enough, or I wasn't strong enough. On ice and hard-packed snow they were stellar and I enjoyed the winter riding. Take heart though, most winters are not so bad and there is plenty of riding. Maybe we will even have a warm winter and you will get in lots of long, long rides! I hope!

  11. Stop dreaming, plan for and get those long rides under your belt, go for it.

  12. Giffen & welsh - It's true that the roads are mostly clear at the moment. In fact, today the rain washed even more snow away and we went for a looong ride. But things won't reliably stay that way in the winter, and, combined with the temperatures, winds, darkness and other aspects of winter riding, I think it's unrealistic to count on having the same bike-time, in the same way, as during late March- mid November. At least for me it has not worked out and during the entire December I have only been able to go on a handful of rides, compared to almost daily riding in earlier months. Maybe as my skill level improves this will change, but not yet.

  13. Today was so crazy awesome good for cycling. Too bad I forgot my camera and Filigree's ran out of juice before we even left. Must remember that cameras need charge these days.

  14. Vee - Thanks for the support. And I have to admit I am dying of curiosity re what you will end up getting as a personal bike for spring!

    Peter - Cool, I lived in Philadelphia 1997-2001 as a college undergrad. It is considerably warmer than Boston, but I agree that even Boston does not get enough snow for ski trails. However, outside of Boston (more inland) it snows considerably more than in the city itself. The bike shop at the end of the Minuteman Trail in Bedford told me that in the winter they switch mostly to XC ski rentals and that people do ski along the trail.

    Radler - Oh yes, I can just imagine the Pashley on a trainer. Maybe I can find one from the Edwardian era on ebay : )

  15. Very evocative photos - there's a lovely wistful quality to them (Filigree longing for spring perhaps?). I don't envy you cycling in those conditions though - it looks pretty treacherous. I hope you can get at least some good rides in over the winter as you gain confidence with the conditions.

    As for stationary bikes at home or the gym... urgh. Nothing beats the breeze in your face as you ride along the road or track.

  16. Hmm, perhaps you need an unlovely bicycle, like a Surly Pugsley ;-)

    Good job catching youself and not falling. That stuff looks like it could cause a diversion fall quite quickly.

    Funny thing about the bicycle... it just kinda sweeps you into its world and takes you where you never thought you'd go. Is cycle touring in your future?

    In my future is making an attempt to dress with more style on the bike, inspired by you (and Dottie). :-)

  17. Your photo in which Co-Habitant checks your tires is the essence of what an urban park or bike trail feels like. You have the calming effect of nature, or some variant of it, in the trees and the trail where Co-Habitant is checking the tires. Across the river is the city. The river, a horizontal and sometimes translucent plane, creates a nice synergy between the vertical trees on one side and the vertical buildings on the other. So nature and culture enhance each other.

    Somehow it's not hard to imagine Frederick Law Olmstead having such an image in his mind when he created all of those great urban parklands such as Boston's Emerald Necklace.

  18. MDI -- I've noticed that you put on the second headlight. Very exciting.

  19. Giffen, our Pashleys--both of them--originally had two Cateyes each on the front wheel lug nuts. The removable mounting brackets are still there, but at some point Filigree decided that hers looks better with a single light. Perhaps one day she will run two lights again.

  20. You mention darkness and temperatures as one barrier to winter recreational riding. Back when I did more recreational than transportational riding I had no trouble with those two aspects, Good LED lights take care of darkeness. Temperature, for me at least, was never a problem until the temp got into the single digits, which in "balmy" Philadelphia is almost never during the daytime. I have one high-tec ventable and breathable shell, along with some inexpensive breathable rain pants and they work great as a top layer. Various thickness of polartec work for insulation, etc.

    Same things work great for my transportational needs.

    If you have cold hands and feet that can be more problematic, some of my friends suffer from these and have to use "lobster" gloves, etc.

    I did use to do more mountain biking in the winter. That might be something you can try. Snow, ice, etc. are less important for that type of bicycling.

    It's the darn ice and deep snow that limits me now that I do almost all road biking. I have studded tires that I switch on when I think there might be ice, especially black ice, and that helps a lot but they are noisy and heavy and don't help at all in snow. I have some Schwalbe Marathon Cross tires that I use all winter that really help in light to moderate snow.

    Sadly, this year's long range forcast calls for wave after wave of heavy precipitation along the east coast. Unusual for us in Philly, where it is always sunny :-). Most winters, I loose only a week or so to bad weather. I've already lost a week due to the 2 feet of snow we got last week.

    I spent it looking at gardening catelogs...

  21. Filigree,
    Put on some studded tires. They will help more than you think [even in the bumpy sections]. I use them all winter, even if it is not wet and snowy. They help so much with the black ice. However they are a drag when the roads are dry and very heavy. I just put up with it, just to feel safe.

  22. that ride looks so chilly! luckily i haven't gotten a lot of snow yet so have still been able to cycle around, but you're completely right that it's a different bird that summer cycling. it takes much longer, it feel less safe, and it takes me about ten minutes to suit up.
    i love the red bow on the basket though! so cheerful.

  23. I thought it would be cold too, until I tried it.

    It's warmer than walking and I usually wear lighter gear to ride somewhere than if I had to walk to that same destination.

    I personally don't have the cold hands/feet problem, but if I did, wearing more stuff would not help with that. You need special footwear and gloves, and when the temperatures drop you need chemical packs. There's no getting around this temp-related circulatory problem without heat sources.

  24. I will keep experimenting, but so far I have found that I am physically uncomfortable cycling long distance (as opposed to for transportation) when the temperature is under 30F. Even if I am dressed warmly enough, something about the combination of the cold air entering my mouth/nose and the cardiac exertion, doesn't feel so good. I am definitely motivated to keep experimenting, but this has been my experience so far. Also, keep in mind that I am a relatively new cyclist and am not used to doing long-distance vehicular cycling, so the suggestion of doing a 20+ mile ride on the road instead of on the Minuteman Trail is not realistic given my current skill level. In the past, I have cycled as far as South Boston and West Newton from Somerville through the city, but not by myself. I am not confident enough yet to do that on my own.

  25. Studded tires are great in all conditions except deep snow. I commute on them everyday, all Winter, into Albany, New York. Look up Peter White Cycles on-line. He is in New Hampshire and has the best products and advice.

  26. In cold weather, try breathing though a muffler/scarf until you are warmed up

  27. Peter - Re darkness and lighting: I actually have an excellent lighting setup on my bike that most would consider "overkill". Still, in the winter there is the very real danger of black ice here that becomes even more difficult to spot after dark than during the day, no matter what kind of lights you have. So that is my main concern with riding in the dark in winter. Re scarf/muffler: I've been experimenting with that, as well as with the right clothing in general. Perhaps I will take advantage of the after X-Mas sales and pick up some silk base layers, wool leggings, muffler, etc.

  28. Studded tires don't help much on bumpy ice. I walk over patches like that, too.

    As for the new year and cycling through winter, I don't do much recreational riding, either. Then again, I don't do a huge amount any time of year. My 70-100 mile a week average (less now that my office is a bit closer) comes mostly from commuting. You could come up with more utilitarian destinations and then ride to them as you ride to work - no sport cycling required.


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