Winter Biking: Gear and Challenges

It’s been a long time since my last post. So why not post on what’s been taking up most of my time. Winter biking!

What happens when you are blind, snow comes, and the temperatures drop below 0 degrees on the regular? Put away the bike for the year? Hell no. But this is my first REAL winter after moving out to Alberta from Vancouver, where winters are cold and rainy, but almost always above 0.

I’ve had a crash course in learning about my limits with winter biking and how to cope with the biggest obstacles with riding in the winter while blind, because it is NOT easy and I basically only do it because my bellyis getting fat, I really don’t like taking the bus, and I am a really stubborn bastard.

In the future I’ll share some more in depth gear reviews on the most useful gear that has helped make winter riding possible, and detailed explanation of the obstacles to winter riding while visually impaired, so consider this a short little primer mostly intended to get me back in the habit of blogging again.

Dress Appropriately

Biking in the winter is all about comfort. You will be cold for the first 5 minutes but could get sweaty once you warm up. The best way to deal with this is proper layers. For base layer, a merino wool long sleeve shirt or t-shirt works well, and some winter jogging leggings from a company like Under Armor.

On my upper body I wear an insulated layer, either a fleece hoody or a down insulated jacket, you can find these from basically any outerwear company. Pictured is an Eddie Bauer jacket only because it was the best bang for buck jacket out there during the holiday sale season.

Then as an outer layer, i’ve been fine with a windproof rain cycling jacket and windproof rain cycling pants.

With this clothes, my core has been plenty warm, and my legs cool, but not freezing cold. Your legs should be moving a lot anyways, so no worries there. If you’re cold, pedal faster.

So far i’ve been ok on my feet with water resistant hiking shoes, mostly because I wear ridiculously thick Mohair wool socks. Seriously, the thickest, baddest wool socks you can find. Invest, be happy.

To round out my gear, I rarely go out without a merino wool buff for neck warmth, and it can easily cover your face too. I also upgraded from a cycling helmet to a snowboarding helmet that is also bike certified. It’s a lot bigger, but has cut down on the freezing cold forehead feeling.

Finally, get the best damn gloves you can find, because even now i’d say this is the weakest point in my gear setup. I use 45 North’s Strumfist 4 gloves.

They are lobster gloves that keep your two littlest fingers together for added warmth, but honestly, my index finger and thumb still get cold at the tips. These gloves aren’t perfect but after a good 45 minute bike ride my hands are usually pretty sweaty inside of them. I have resisted, but may have to look into using overmitts on my handle bars to keep my hands a little warmer.

Kit Your Bike Right

There is really only one thing I needed to winterize my bike, studded tires!!! I can not tell you much more confidence these will give you in the snow and even on ice. Within 3 pedals, I was sold. They are not cheap and they do have limits. Also, the front tire can still wash out in deep snow and on deeper slush, but I would consider this an essential upgrade for winter. Be prepared for more weight, much more rolling resistance, which means biking uphill is much slower and tougher, but the added grip in unpredictable conditions is worth these negatives. Check your bike’s tire clearance carefully because I do get some tire rub at higher tires pressures.

The only other big change I made to my bike was adding a large rear-fender to help stop slush and mud from flying up on my back side and making it look like I shat myself whenever I step into a store or do errands.

Additional, I have had to clean my drive train and lube it much more often to avoid rust. Winter riding definately adds a lot more wear and tear on your chain, chain ring, derailer and casette. I’d anticipate at least a new chain and casette once spring comes around.

Added Challanges for the Blind.

You might assume that the biggest challenge is ice and snow causing you slip and fall. However, studded tires actually make this much less of an issue and I can usually anticipate areas of the road or trail that will result in a loss of traction. No, the greatest hazard has got to be the loss of contrast in an all white environment.

Being visually impaired, i bike by looking for contrast and difference in contrast in front of me. When this is replaced by a sea of white, it can become incredibly hard to see where a trail is, and to be able to spot bumps or dips in terrain. Depth perception on fresh snow is basically non-existent, especially when it is overcast and cloudy.

Generally I would suggest to stay on groomed trails on overcast and cloudy days, and know that it will be easier to see where you are going when there is strong, sunlight out. I’ve played with using pink and yellow glasses to improve visibility in cold days, but ultimately find that using no glasses is best. Once it gets lower than minus 15 degrees Celsius I will have to either take a break from biking or look into the best snowboarding goggles for me.

That’s it for my first post on the topic of winter riding.

I’ve held onto this draft for so long that winter is almost done, but hopefully my winter education can help get someone else ready for next year. I plan on updating this post with links to more detailed product reviews and tips on blind winter biking.

Forget the cold, get out there and ride.