Winter cycling begins.

This year, and for the first time, I ventured into snowy winter cycling. Like many people, I found the thought of it intimidating at first. Cold winds, glare ice, wipeouts, fogged glasses, frozen toes and frigid fingers all come to mind. However, cycling is not just a pleasure for me, it is my major form of exercise. Cycling on a bike stand in the basement doesn’t have quite the same motivational factor as being outdoors, navigating traffic and flowing down roads and trails. So I decided to face the icy issues and get down to winter cycling.

So far, clothing has not been a problem. I cross-country ski, and layered clothing and keeping active is usually more than enough to keep the body warm even down to -20C if the wind is not too strong. The problem areas that arise are the extremities: toes, fingers and noses, plus the fogging-up of eyeglasses and/or goggles.
– I use a fleece balaclava under my helmet that solves the issue with the ears and nose.
– Mittens won’t do for shifting and breaking, so I am using various layers of gloves now and may consider using a set of pogies in the future. I have a pair of insulated gauntlet-style insulated work gloves on standby as an economical alternative to brand-name cycling gloves for when the weather gets colder.
– I’ll continue using my regular MTB shoes (a three-year-old set of Mavic XA’s, with cleats) that, with a liner and wool socks, have so far kept my toes relatively warm down -12C. in non-windy conditions. Winter shoe covers will be my next option when temperatures demand them.
– I have no good solution to the foggy glasses right now, except removing them and squinting a lot…hardly a safe practice, considering what an MTB tire can toss up at you. Well-ventilated, tinted goggles and breathing that is directed downwards when inside the balaclava is the beginning of a solution, but I’m still working on that.

Next, I had to adapt my bike, the Trek Fuel EX5 MTB. I still have the 2.6″ tires that it came equipped with, which are not wide enough for fat bike-like snow flotation, and not grippy enough for hardpacked snow and ice. After checking out some tire reviews online, I settled on two of the mid-range 29 x 2.25″ Icespiker Pros by Schwalbe. With 402 carbide steel studs on each tire and extra puncture protection, these seem to be the best way to go. On the first outing with the bike, I was cautious, but soon found they had excellent grip on ice and packed snow, so I quickly felt confident cycling with them. The only issue I have found so far is that they tend to wallow and shift on the loose, oatmeal-like snow that we often get on residential side streets, and keeping a straight line can be challenging: steady power on the pedals and a firm hand on the handlebars are needed to push through. I am considering swapping out the front Icespiker if I can find a better alternative to deal with this problem.

Winter cycling is still an early venture for me, and I have a lot to learn. Edmonton is a winter city, but still far from being bicycle-friendly at any time of year. If I survive, I’ll share more about my experiences as winter progresses.

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