My bike and I went on quite an adventure this week. Thursday night, I reduced the pressure in her tires in preparation for our first ride through the snow. I was excited, but also really nervous. Every time I thought of winter riding, two things came to mind. I thought about how much fun it could be, but my fear of falling tempered my excitement. What was I thinking!?
I have post-concussion syndrome – the result of a car hitting me while cycling four years ago. I know that my brain is more vulnerable than most since brain injuries are accumulative. Shouldn’t I avoid any activities that put me at risk of falling? But I know better than that. I could just as quickly fall and hit my head slipping on the sidewalk. I have to live. I cannot stop living life out of fear. Sometimes it’s tricky balancing caution and quality of life.
Typically, I exercise significantly less during the cold winter months – I think most of us do. Last year, I got a gym membership as soon as the snow flew in hopes of working out at least a few times a week. I only live a few blocks from the gym, and I had friends who I could work out with there. Still, there were plenty of weeks when I didn’t get there at all – especially once I started school.
This year, I knew that I needed to do something differently. I have a bike trainer, but that alone likely won’t be enough. Cycling outside with the wind on my face and nature all around me – that is a different story entirely. If I can gain enough confidence in my winter bike handling abilities, it could be a game changer for me. The benefits of trying winter cycling, seem to outweigh the risks.
When I woke up to a winter wonderland on Friday, I noticed a friend who has cycled through many winters had posted on social media about how slippery it was. I reconsidered – again. “Just try it,” I told myself. “You can always change your mind and take the bus if you don’t feel safe. Just try it and see how it goes.” And so I did.
I biked a slow 12 kph to the bus stop. Bus there and bike home was the plan. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it might be and I felt exhilarated by the time I arrived at the bus stop. Fresh snow to make tracks in made it more fun than I expected!
I was nervous about biking downhill on the way home, and by then I had pre-used snow to contend with. Fresh snow is more fun and relaxing to bike on, but I soon realized that my rubber tires were good at keeping me balanced. Biking over the footprints in the snow felt similar to biking over gravel – go slow and steady, don’t turn sharply and don’t brake suddenly.
I was 7 km into my ride before I realized that I had been so worried about falling that I wasn’t enjoying the experience or the scenery. By then, I was feeling more confident about the conditions and realized that I could relax a bit. “Look up and enjoy the view,” I reminded myself. Seconds later I came around a corner to a delightful surprise. Straight in front of me, heading across the path, was a buck. We paused to look at each other for a few seconds before he wandered into the woods. There’s no photo of the encounter, but the moment is crystal clear in my mind – I had never been so close to a deer.
Initially, I had planned to put studded tires on my bike. There’s a good chance that I would feel more confident with studded tires, but from what I’ve heard, the energy required increases significantly with studs. I enjoyed Friday’s ride enough to try it again, but even without studs, lowered tire pressure doubled my riding time. Given the number of dry days we typically have here, I suspect I will ride more often without studded tires.
I expect it will take a while before my nerves settle down and I’m able to fully enjoy winter biking – it’s a bit of a learning curve. I also know that there will be lots of days when I opt to take the bus instead. However, Friday was a great start, and I’m looking forward to the next time I get to bike on a fresh dusting of snow!
Phoenix – my bike – was messier than I had expected, so I decided that the easiest way to clean her was with a gentle shower. 5 minutes later she was sparkling and free of dirt and leaves!
Do you ride during the winter? What was your first ride like? What are your tips for newbies?
Joy Cameron enjoys cycling, painting, and tai chi. In 2014, she founded Bikes n’ Brains as a response to a collision she was in. Since then, she has enjoyed getting to know many individuals from the cycling community. She is excited to be pursuing a social work degree at King’s University College.