The middle of winter might seem like a horrible time for me to encourage you to try bicycling for the first time – or to return to it if you used to ride long ago. I’m not nuts: there are a lot of great reasons to ride when the weather outside is frightful.
- It’s always a great time to get in better physical shape. Most people slumber through winter and lose whatever benefits they’ve gained from exercising when it’s warm. I’ve struggled with this myself during middle age. My fitness reaches a peak by fall and then falls apart when winter arrives. Not anymore. If there’s no snow or ice on the ground and the Sligo Creek Trail is dry, I still get out and huff and puff at least once a week and sometimes even three or four like I do the rest of the year.
- Winter riding makes your brain stronger. Anyone can ride when it’s 75 degrees outside. It takes intestinal fortitude to pedal through the 20s and 30s. I can’t say that I’m always having the most fun I’ve ever had in the world when freezing cold air is clenching my lungs but I take sort of a perverse pleasure in defeating the elements. I find that the self- discipline of winter riding carries over into the rest of my life. I am way more productive at this time of year than I am during the other eight months: I am better at my job. I spend more time on other hobbies. I sleep better.
- Getting fit in winter gives you a huge head start on spring. It’s tough to get rolling again after a long layoff. I don’t know about you but if I go for a while without doing something, even something I like, I find it incredibly challenging to pick it back up again. If you can keep even a minimal level of quality biking or other exercise going through winter, you’ll charge into spring like a bull. You may even find that you’re able to achieve personal-best levels of fitness before the year is over because you put the shortest days to best use.
- “Off-season” riding gives you chances to soak in new sights. If you don’t venture out of your house, you don’t know how much more scenic beauty you can soak in at this time of year. You’ll catch better views of great blue herons, kingfishers and other creatures at the Sligo Creek retention ponds because the field is barren.
Winter riding does present its challenges, of course. Use common sense to determine if it’s safe to pedal. Keep your eyes wide open for black ice at all times as even a spot of frozen precipitation can knock you off your bike. I use extreme caution while crossing all the pedestrian bridges along the Sligo Creek, Northwest and Northeast Branch trails. I also wear many layers of clothing including high-quality gloves and often an inner liner to cover my face. I shed the extra layers as needed, stuffing them in my travel bags. Better to start out with too much clothing than not enough. And don’t even think about riding without a helmet.
If you’re new to biking, get your bike tuned up at your nearest bike shop before you set out. I also suggest you start by riding with friends who know their way around the trails. And don’t try for Tour de France distances. Ride for 20 minutes your first time out and build up from there.
Roll through winter and you and your body will be rocking by spring!
Check out 9 more great tips for beginning bicyclers.