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Riding in winter
Posted by Megan Owen on
Now before we get to the winter part, let's talk about riding in summer (not because I'm procastinating as usual but because it supports my point in the end, I promise). Riding in summer is great. There's nothing better than starting a ride at 4am; seeing the sun rise behind the mountains; switching from being a bit chilly to enjoying the warmth of the sun on your cheeks, to wishing there'd be a bit of shade on that ascent up the mountain pass.
I love seeing people not yet home from partying in the morning and then slowly watching the world wake up, step by step. And I love coming home in the evening, maybe even after the sun's already set, with hundreds of impressions and that feeling that I've made the absolute most of my day, that feeling I always get when I spend the day riding my bike.
As autumn approaches and days are slowly getting shorter and colder, you soon find yourself battling the cold instead of the heat. Again, that's when most people start riding indoors.
Right now, it's winter here in Switzerland and most people I know have switched to using the rollers rather than riding outdoors. There's a few of us though, that've been braving the elements and haven't touched the rollers a single time yet. "But it's only January, you'll get weak", you may say. Well, I've put together a list of pros and cons to determine whether that's likely to happen.
Riding out of fog
Fog is very usual for winter in the area of Switzerland I live in and is one of the few things we don't get that often in any other season but winter. It's usually quite low and stops at around 800-900m above sea level which means you can ride out of it very easily (to put that into perspective, I live at 590m above sea level). If you've never risen out of fog, my dear friend, you are missing out on something. It's what I imagine being born must feel like. Without all the blood and mucus, of course.
If you're under the fog, it feels like the sun can't be shining nor will ever shine again, it's all grey and sad. Then you get into the fog, everything gets wet and visibility can go down to not seeing further than 5m. But, suddenly and out of nowhere, you start sensing a little glimpse of sun and you can't help but ride faster because you'll make it, you'll get out of the thick and cold fog. And then, you're out, the sun is shining and all that reminds of where you're coming from is the fluffy pillow that is fog below you. It's incredible. Being at the top of a mountain and not being able to see anything but fog below you is like being in a completely different world, above everything. And as I said, you only get that in winter.
Snow (no, I can't believe I'm saying that either)
Most of the roads are maintained very well all through winter which means that if it hasn't snowed in a few days, you're able to ride most roads that don't go over a certain altitude. Even if there's no snow down where I live, there's usually snow at the top of all surrounding hills and mountains. So when you get to the top of the hill, a snowy wonderland opens its doors to you. I love mountains, they're one of the reasons why I think riding in Switzerland is phenomenal. Because they're everywhere. But snowy mountains are even better and in winter, we get a whole lot of them. There's something about snow that's just dreamy. Only as long as it's not on the road, of course.
Oh, another plus to riding in winter: Drinking (vegan) hot chocolate becomes very justifiable after a cold ride (and probably tastes a little better too!)
It's cold outside (how very surprising)
Descending in winter isn't fun and you're usually very close to losing your toes and fingers. That, for me, is definitely the biggest downside to riding in winter - the burning pain you feel in your fingers and toes when riding downhill. I always take my Restrap bar bag with me, to put an extra pair of pants and a winter jacket in. I'd definitely suggest you take a few extra layers with you when riding in winter, especially on longer rides. My bag has not missed a single winter ride so far and I'm quite sure I would've already died if it wasn't for the extra layers that prevented me from it. It's quite a large bag as well, so if you want to take some snacks with you, it'll do the job.
Ice, ice, baby
That's an obvious one. Now as I've already mentioned, all main roads are maintained very well but if you're looking to ride on backroads you may find yourself riding on snow or ice. That's just winter and until it gets warmer, there's always routes you won't be able to do. For the cold winter months, I suggest riding cross tyres, they'll give you more grip on the road and even though you will have to pedal a tiny bit more to ride as fast as before, I think not constantly slipping and breaking that carbon frame you've worked for all year is worth the effort (and it's only good training, right?).
I love cycling for far more than fitness reasons. It's one aspect of it, definitely, but not the only one. I believe that there's no off-season for the things you love and just because it gets a little harder and more enduring, if you love cycling for the sake of being outside and getting to explore your surroundings, you'll brave the elements. It is of course different to summer riding. It's more demanding and you gotta be organised but I've never regretted a single ride I've done. Last year, I rode 20'000 kilometres as a personal challenge. I'm used to riding in all conditions. And my favourite rides were always the ones that put this big ass smile on my face, the face I get when I ride and can't quite grasp the beauty of the scenery surrounding me. There are no rollers in the world that will give me that.