Saturday, January 3, 2015


Let me make this clear: I still don’t like winter.

On   January 1, 2014, the temperature in West Bend bottomed out at –6 and topped out at just 9 degrees. Last winter was uncommonly cold and I didn’t do my first outdoor ride until February 18. By sitting out all of January 2014, I broke a streak of consecutive months that stretched back to February 2011.

This year is off to a better start. We reached a high of 29 on New Year’s Day and 32 this afternoon, and on each of those days I completed a 20-mile bike ride in relative comfort. Overnight snow made for wet roads today, so I spent most of my time on the Eisenbahn State Trail.

As my desire to ride throughout the year has grown, so too has my willingness to invest in good cold-weather clothing. It makes a huge difference. A few years ago I bought a pair of Bontrager wind-front bib tights that added something like 10 degrees to the bottom of my temperature range. I’m lucky that I don’t get cold feet while cycling, but I do get cold hands and I have never had proper gloves for winter rides. Lately I have been wearing nitrile rubber gloves as liners under long-finger mountain bike gloves. Nitrile gloves don’t breathe at all. My hands stay warm but they get wet from trapped perspiration. In next week’s mail I will receive a pair of Pearl Izumi’s top-of-the-line winter cycling gloves, a bit of an extravagance made affordable by a Christmas gift card.

But having the right attitude for winter riding may be just as important as having the right clothing. Some people believe the serious cyclist’s solution for everything is HTFU. Amateurs like me are supposed to emulate the professionals. So, it should be enough if I temper myself to the hardness of the top Belgian cyclocross riders, right?

Maybe not. During the coldest months of the year in Belgium—December and January—the average daytime high is 43 degrees. That’s warmer than the average high in West Bend during December (31), January (26), February (31) and March (41), and nearly as warm as November (44). We get almost 50 inches of snow during a normal winter. With temperatures below freezing for weeks on end, we sometimes don’t see our lawns from December until March. Belgium rarely gets more than a dusting of snow, and that rapidly melts. So, guys like Sven Nys are generally riding in milder weather with fewer restrictions on where they can go. They also have the best equipment and clothing, none of which they purchase, clean or repair by themselves. Obviously, I am not in their league when it comes to racing, but in many respects they have it easier.

I get out more often than I once did, but I haven’t embraced winter riding the way some people have. Pure mountain bikers—people who rarely or perhaps even never ride on the road—seem to be OK with the cold, and the fatbike crowd absolutely revels in it. I still pick my spots, riding only at the warmest time of day, only when conditions are relatively dry and the winds are low, and more often when there’s sunshine.

So, have I turned a corner when it comes to winter riding? Yes and no.

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