What is winter riding up in the Arctic latitudes really like? We hooked up with Jukka, the rider in yesterday’s Winters Edge film, and had a little chat. We thought our little chitter chatter would make some interesting reading to those unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of real winter riding. Here are the facts, the inspiration — the full story:
Jukka, 34 yrs. Office worker and a father of two little girls.
My winter ride
I’ve been trying hard to rationalize my fleet due to lack of time and space. My solution is a sensible bike, suitable for riding all year around. In winter riding fixed is definitely the right choice, because the grip and feel are just something else.
I use my Goldsprint beater, laced with Kenda SB8 32mm tires for the majority of my winter commutes. The tire clearance is tight fit – just enough to keep it from clogging from ice and snow. The front hub axle is lifted in the forks for some extra clearance using some old headset bearings…
During the snowy winter months mudguards aren’t really needed, but I use a beavertail in the rear to collect all the muck and crap. Front brake is in place, but isn’t really used, or usable for that matter. I’m not even bothered with switching the gear ratio for winter – I use 46/19 all year around. It’s a bit on the heavy side for pushing through drifts of snow, but hey: that’s winter riding.
The other bikes
My second winter bike is a Cannondale Badboy. That one’s equipped with a studded 35mm Schwalbe Marathon Winter up front and a 35mm Racing Ralph in the rear. The Cannondale comes basically out when the streets ice over properly or in really unstable conditions. Some winter milage is also covered with my Bakfiets Cargo bike. The kids are kept warm, thanks to a sheepskin rug in the cargo box…
I get by with reflectors and lights over the winter – which are absolutely essential, if you want to stay alive in the darkness. Puncture protected tires are actually not that important in winter – especially with the amount of snow we’ve had over couple of winters. However, you discover their importance pretty quickly out in minus 20 degrees Centigrade, right in the middle of nowhere, in complete darkeness, with a flat.
Why I ride in winter
For me cycling is a way of life and the most natural way to get around. I commute to work on my bike around the year, and the majority of my trips, whether on my own or with the family, is done on two wheels. We don’t own a car. I don’t do recreational rides in winter, but I simply couldn’t refrain from riding. Round trips to and from work, with the occasional stopover in the shops, come out to more or less 20 – 40 km a day. Cycling is a great way to unwind after work, and to get that little moment on your own, which is scarce having two little kids and a busy time at work.
Winter cycling is no picnic, but frozen dry conditions really aren’t actually all that bad for riding around. In fact, it’s rather soothing and pleasurable. There’s less hustle and bustle, and instead of rolling, it’s more riding – helping to set your mind in finding the connection betwee
n you and the bike. Until now, there hasn’t been any weather that would have stopped me from riding.
Merino wool in all forms is the best you can get. It warms, breathes, works in various temperatures, and allows freedom of movement. I’m not very sensitive to cold weather so I guess I’m not a textbook example for clothing in winter. However, I recommend not overdoing it – being a bit chilly in the beginning is part of it. When it gets chilly in autumn it’s wise to add layers gradually. And that’s when nothing beats merino.
I wear shorts around the year. I think it’s criminal to cycle in trousers. However, I do wear windstopper bibs underneath and when the thermometer drops to arctic, I just add some merino underneath.
Good gloves are important. In just above freezing conditions I usually use cycling gloves with fingerless wool on top. In below freezing temps I tend to take out my snowboarding gloves. And if it gets colder than that, out come the mittens.
I’m a maniac when it comes to shoes. I use my Sid dragons around the year. I just haven’t come around to getting proper winter shoes. With some wool mix socks inside is sufficient for an hours riding. In arctic temps or wet conditions covering the shoes keeps my feet warm. The cleats are actually the biggest challenge with riding clipless in winter. They really radiate the temperatures to your feet. I’ve tried to combat this by adding some insulation beneath the inner sole.
My favorite winter story
Hmmm…there’s not one story that comes to mind, but it’s a bliss to actually push yourself through the blizzards – the feeling of accomplishment after making it to your destination.
The traffic around you, people trembling in shelters on bus stops. And there you are, slowly ploughing through the snowy landscapes.
One morning last winter is vividly in my mind: There was a heavy heavy blizzard at night, with a shitload of light, powderlike snow on the ground in the morning. The wind had packed the powder into some proper dunes all over the streets. Going downhill with snow up to the hubs was something else. Doing long, sliding, downhill skiing like turns down that hill, with the powder lifting up clouds of snow around me was something else…
Photography: John Amunét , our beloved and very multi talented court artist.