Winter has descended upon the Midwest. We had an amazing fall; a nice, slow slide into December.
With only a couple of exceptions — including one day where it rained, snowed and rained again … and then we had a ‘cross race — every day was a good day to ride. But with winter here, it’s time for many cyclists (especially racing cyclists) to make a choice: stay outside or retreat to the trainer in the basement?
The debate fires up every year around this time, with those who ride outside year-round claiming their toughness with a bit of chest-thumping bravado. Meanwhile, one of the area’s fastest riders over the last 10 years rides outside when it’s feasible (ie, dry roads) and puts in his time on the trainer. He comes out in the spring and beats the crap out of us.
Clearly, there are two ways of doing business.
But riding outside all winter — at least around here – isn’t as easy as declaring you’re going to do it. It gets really cold here. Two winters ago we had 87 straight days with snow on the ground. You can dress for 40 degrees with extra stuff you have laying around. Heck, I usually just wear knee warmers, arm warmers some embrocation and a vest.
Dressing for 20 degrees is something else entirely. You need actual cold-weather gear, and a bike that can handle hard-packed snow and ice, along with some gravel. It’s the ramping up, and the associated costs, that makes winter riding more difficult for a lot of people — not the “toughness” factor.
Traditionally, I’ve survived the winter much like our very fast friend. I’ll get outside when I can, but if I have to ride the trainer, so be it. I’ve always held the philosophy that the workout itself is more important than the location of the workout. If you can get things done inside, go for it. If the trainer fills you with dread, you’d better find another way to stay fit.
With the addition of a ‘cross bike to the Velo Jones family garage (I’d have more room for bikes if not for the cars. Hmmm … .), I now have a machine capable of tackling the gravel roads that are the foundation of winter group rides around here. And I ordered a pair of Shimano’s winter cycling boots, too.
I even have a pair of studded tires on the way, to better handle the commute by bike. It generally takes about two weeks for the streets to get better after snowfall, and until that time it’s an absolute sketch-fest. Riding home in the dark on icy streets makes studs pretty much a necessity.
So it seems I’ve taken the plunge into riding outside more often. I’m aiming for a 50/50 split, really. The boots should help make those 15-degree rides a bit more palatable, though that will probably be my temperature limit. I have no need to collect tough-guy points for a three-hour ride with single-digit temperatures.
Besides, I was faster than most of the tough guys this year, anyway. And, ultimately, as long as you get your work in, it doesn’t matter where you ride.
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