Bicycling during the cold months takes a little extra preparation, but it is definitely possible to pedal through much of a Maine winter. You’ll stay in shape, save money on gas and arrive at your destination feeling invigorated. Best of all, you’ll impress your friends and family with your chutzpah — though they might just call you crazy.
There’s no need to suffer. You just need to dress in layers.
Depending on the temperature, you may want to don silk long underwear and wear a Thinsulate beanie, balaclava or other thin head covering under your bicycle helmet. Because you are exercising, your core will warm up after a while, so concentrate on the extremities. Be sure you have warm gloves. Some cyclists switch from clip-on pedals to standard, flat ones in winter so they can wear heavy socks and boots.
If you wear glasses, you’ll need to keep them from getting fogged up. Be sure to keep lens cleaner with you on your rides. One hearty cyclist in South Portland wears ski goggles on his winter commute.
If you plan to ride throughout the winter, you probably will want to get fenders and heavy-duty tires for your bicycle. Studded bicycle tires work great in hard ice conditions, while narrow tires can cut through slush and snow better than wide ones. You’ll also want to keep your bicycle well tuned and carry supplies such as a spare tube so you don’t end up stranded on a cold day.
Visibility is crucial during the shortest days of the year. You are required by law to have a white front headlight, a red reflector or taillight in back and reflectors on your pedals, heels or ankles. Choose fluorescent colors for your jacket to increase your visibility even more, or use white or red reflective tape available from auto-motive stores. Many cyclists also use a helmet light. To save money, you can get lights that use rechargeable batteries.
You’ll want to scope out routes in your area. Some multipurpose trails may not be plowed in winter, while others offer a great alternative to sharing icy streets with cars. If you feel comfortable biking on major roads with higher-speed traffic, you’ll often find that they are cleaner and dryer than trails and side streets in the winter.
If bicycling outside in subfreezing temperatures doesn’t appeal to you, you still can keep yourself fit by riding a stationary bike or joining a spinning class. You might even meet some new bicycling partners.
Winter is a great time to plan bicycling adventures. You’ll find links to lots of bicycle loop tours and events such as the Maine Lobster Ride & Roll at the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s website, www.bikemaine.org.
By signing up in winter, you’ll have an incentive to keep on pedaling.