Frostbiking: The joys of winter riding

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: WINTER BIKE TO WORK DAY (FACEBOOK)
Even with the colder weather, as long as people are safe and have the right equipment, they can still bike in the winter.

You see them out there. Bundled up so that just their eyes are visible, reflective gear almost blinding. You ask yourself “What is wrong with these people?”. “Those people” have discovered a secret, an almost addictive form of exercise called Frostbiking or Vikingbiking. They know the joys of a silent, snowy ride on a quiet street. The sparkle of the snow as their tires crunch across the surface of the road. They love the challenge of riding in all kinds of weather conditions and indeed, they are a hardcore bunch. They know they are still getting around the city faster than cars while saving money and improving their health.

Maybe you are a Frostbiker and you didn't even know it. Anyone who rides past November can count themselves as a cycling renegade, one who others may make fun of but also revere.

So how can you become a frost biker? We asked local Frostbikers for some advice for new riders and this is what they came up with:

What kind of bike?

The choices are as varied as the riders. Some use Mountain Bikes, while others chose to buy lower quality bikes that can endure the salt and snow. Some people chose to go all out and purchase fat bikes, which are a cyclists' dream bike for winter riding. Some prefer not to ride such heavy bikes and instead install studded tires on their bikes for winter riding. No matter what your budget, you can frostbike.

How to get there warm?

There are a number of clothing items out there, that will keep you warm during winter biking season. Think skiwear, lined pants and base layers. You can purchase boot/shoe covers to keep your feet warm and dry. Gloves can be as simple as ski gloves, lobster gloves (two fingered mittens to help you brake safely) or even handle bar mittens that are heated. Depending on how much you ride and what your budget can allow, the choices are excellent. Headgear is a must. You need to cover your head for warmth and wind protection. Some wear balaclavas that go smoothly under a cycling helmet.

Others wear face protection like ski visors or Buffs (a multi-use head/face cover). Make sure you adjust your bike helmet straps to accommodate any headgear you wear.

How to get there safe?

Choose quiet, well-plowed routes on bike routes. This will make you feel safer and less likely to slip and fall. If you must use the sidewalk, be respectful of pedestrians as they have the right of way.

Your tires can be all season or studded. Most try regular tires but prefer studded as they “bite” into the snow and ice. Studded tires with installation cost about $75 to $100 but they really improve traction so are worth the expense.

Bike maintenance, no matter what your bike choice, your bike will need regular baths. It will also need regular chain cleaning and lubrication. You can go on YouTube to learn how to do this yourself or you can contact a local bike shop to do the maintenance for you. In London, there are two shops that specialize in winter biking.

They are:

London Bike Caf, 355 Clarence St, 226-289-2670, londonbicyclecafe.com

Outspokin Cycles, 867 Hamilton Rd, 519-933-2953, outspokincycles.ca

How do I meet other Frost bikers?

Frost bikers are everywhere. Using the hashtag #frostbike, #vikingbiking, you can connect with winter riders from all over Canada and the world.

There is even a Winter Cycling Day best known as “Winter Ride to Work Day” on Feb 8 every year. This world-wide celebration of winter cyclists has participants and cycling groups running rides, workshops and other fun events in towns and cities. You can sign up to learn more about events in your area at winterbiketoworkday.org

Locally, there is a London Ontario Frostbike group on Facebook, you can find local frost bikers with the #ldnontbike hashtag on Twitter and Instagram as well as the social media accounts of the bike shops listed above. No matter what way you chose to connect with other riders, always make sure you give a friendly wave as you pass!

Important winter riding terms:

Frostbiker — people who ride in snow/winter

Vikingbiking - another term for winter cycling

Snirt — deadly combo of snow mixed with sand and salt

Mashed Potatoes Snow — mushy, sludgy snow conditions with no sand.

Brown Sugar Snow — very sandy snow conditions

Bacon tires — the sound of your studded tires biting into ice.

Snuts — Hard, icy rutted bumps on your path.

Sleeping Giants — hidden ice puddles

Snice — solid ice that looks like snow

Slipdy dip — the moment you hit ice and feel yourself starting to fall but you correct by clutching your thighs together.

Pogies — heated handlebar mittens

Lobster Mittens — two fingered mittens for operating brakes appropriately.

POSWB (POS winter bike) — cheap, crappy bicycle that you are ok with dying at the end of the season

Bike bath — process of cleaning salt/sand off your bike in the shower.