Winter for us cyclists here in the frozen tundra of North Dakota typically means an end to our riding season. If you’re like me, the phrase “off-season” does not illicit happy thoughts or feelings.
Winter for us cyclists here in the frozen tundra of North Dakota typically means an end to our riding season. If you’re like me, the phrase “off-season” does not illicit happy thoughts or feelings. Sure, there are still some fat bike races to get in on and group fatty rides (referring to the bike not the rider); fat bikes have indeed opened up a whole new riding season no doubt. However, not everyone is as jazzed about spending more hard earned cash on a bike they would probably only enjoy riding when conditions are perfect. Winter trail systems can be twice as finicky as our beloved single track trails. Snow conditions have to be just right, awesome people have to put in a tremendous amount of work and time in grooming, tire pressure has to be just right and then all it takes is one oblivious snow-shoeing-yahoo to wreck it for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, fat bikes are rad. My point is it tends to be quite a bit more work than our day-dream inspiring, summer riding days.
However, I’m not writing this to try and rag on all those fat bikers out there. I have found another option for enjoying these long winter months on a bicycle. The past two years I have embarked on converting an old hardtail mountain bike of mine into a gravel/adventure rig and it turns out it works great for winter commuting. In the summer, I’ll run a narrower gravel tire for a more efficient ride. Once the flakes start flying and the ground starts freezing, it’s time to switch back to the standard mountain bike tire. I use a plush, 29x2.4 Maxxis Ardent tire to give me more surface area on those slick bike paths and roads. I know what you fatties (again referring to the bike) are thinking, 2.4” is not plush DJ. But they do the trick for me, and no I am not using this bike to go ride fat bike trails.
So for all you riders out there suffering from cabin fever, with no fat bikes in your quiver to cure it. All you need is a little creativity and a couple of other pointers if you’re thinking of joining me on the bike paths and roads this winter.
- Know the weather.
- Experiment with layers. Tips from Bike Radar
- Get some good quality lights! It’s dark during winter so make sure people can see you.
- Brake before the turn and always have your outside foot/pedal at the 6 o’clock. If you’re unsure about a turn stick your inside foot down, off the pedal, just in case.
- You don’t need a fat bike but the wider you can go the better. The main restriction will be the space you have in the rear triangle of your frame.
*Optional – Studs. I have not personally found a need for studding either of my tires since I am frequently riding on roads and bike paths. But it isn’t a bad idea if your route is taking you through large portions of iced-over terrain.
If you commute via bicycle regularly during the warmer months, you already know and have an appreciation for the perks of it like: the boost of energy you get from the exercise, the fresh air you don’t get trapped in your 4 wheeled chariot, the parts of town you wouldn’t normally go through, and the extra cash in your account from saving on gas. You can still experience all of this during winter with the proper planning and preparation. An extra perk of winter commuting is the endless amount of comical faces you get to see as people double-take when passing by in amazement of somebody actually using Bismarck’s controversial bike lanes when everyone claims they’re no longer usable due to the “harsh weather.” Let’s not forget two important things as we bundle up for this off-season:
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” –Alfred Wainwright
“-40° keeps the riffraff out.” –North Dakotans