It’s winter? Riding can be a joy, drag

Scott Mercier prepares for a winter ride in the Grand Valley, where conditions have been mild enough to get in several rides this year.



Scott Mercier prepares for a winter ride in the Grand Valley, where conditions have been mild enough to get in several rides this year.

The cold temperatures, poor air quality from the winter inversion and short days can make winter cycling and maintaining fitness very challenging.

Normally at this time of year, I find diversions from the bike up in the mountains. But this year’s early winter drought and lack of precipitation have not allowed for many powder days.

And while I would prefer the temperatures to drop and the snow to fly, I don’t mind the warmer temperatures and dry roads down here in the valley.

In fact, it has been so nice that I have been able to hit the road several times this year. And on each ride I have seen other like-minded residents of the Grand Valley bundled up and riding.

Winter riding can be a joy. The sun and wind on your face is a great way to help beat the winter blues and improve both your mental and physical health. But it does present some challenges that can make your ride miserable as well.

■ Crashing: This is obviously the biggest challenge. Even with a lack of snow there is still a lot of gravel, sand and debris on the roads that can cause you to slip in a turn. And if you decide to climb something like Little Park Road or Colorado National Monument, there are places in the shade with ice and snow.

On the descents be sure to pay attention and ride much slower. The sand used for traction is like tiny little ball bearings that can cause you to slip at high speeds. Try to ride in the car tracks, which are usually clear, but use caution.

If you find a patch of snow or ice, just relax and coast across it. If you pedal or brake, your chances of crashing are greatly increased. Fortunately, if you do crash, at least you will be wearing a lot of gear, which should reduce the road rash and bruising.

■ Gear: Layering is the most important aspect for staying warm. I usually ride with three layers of polypropylene and wool, a long-sleeved jersey and a winter riding jacket. I also ride with tights that have a nylon front to block the wind and keep my knees warm.

The extremities get cold easily, so wear ski socks and thick shoe covers. For a ride longer than two hours I usually wrap the front of my shoes with aluminum foil and then put the shoe covers over that.

For my hands, I bring two sets of gloves, a thick pair of ski gloves and a medium pair of cycling gloves. That way when I climb, I can use the thinner gloves so my warmer pair stays dry.

A hat or a balaclava (ski mask) is a must. I would also have front and rear lights in case you mis-time the sunset. And finally, new tires are a good idea. There are few things worse than trying to change a flat on a cold winter day.

■ The Ride: Unless it is an exceptionally warm day I would limit the ride to around two hours or less.

Keep the effort down and don’t go anaerobic, especially on colder days or when we have an inversion. For the most part, spin in the small chain ring and keep your cadence high. Take it easy. There’s still plenty of time to add intensity.

If your friends are riding too hard, either just sit on their back wheel and let them push the wind, or be more forceful. Grab the back pocket of their jersey and tell them to slow down!

This is not the time to be competitive. Enjoy riding without the stress of worrying about an event just around the corner.

There are still group rides in the valley. A group leaves from the Bike Shop on North Avenue every Sunday at 1 p.m., riding for about two hours.

The days are finally getting noticeably longer and I am wistfully waiting for spring. But with this mild winter, it is great to be able to ride, so don’t wait. Dust off your bike and hit the road.


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