For some Steamboat riders, cycling season never ends
December 6, 2012
Steamboat Springs — In his bike shop on Yampa Street, Brock Webster said there are three ways cyclists winterize their rides in Steamboat Springs.
Some riders clean out all the sand, mud and grit from their bikes, tune them up and tuck them away until spring.
Others hook their bike on a stationary trainer and burn calories riding in the warm comfort of their homes.
But a group of tough, brave cyclists has a different winterization ritual.
About this time of year, they slap a pair of studded tires on their bikes, layer up and keep pedaling through the bitter cold months.
"We’re still working this time of year," Webster said Thursday at Orange Peel Bicycle Service as he prepared to convert his own commuter bike into a vehicle better suited to traverse slick ice and muddy slush downtown.
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Steamboat residents would be hard pressed to walk into a local bike shop this week and meet a mechanic who isn’t busy working to keep bikes rolling as snow starts to fly.
It took Webster just 20 minutes to take the front suspension off the front of his bike, install a new front fork and replace his tires with studded versions.
And while the equipment needed to winterize a bicycle is vital, Brock and other local mechanics said a rider’s attitude is equally as important.
Chris Johns said year-round commuters overcome a number of obstacles during the winter, but the challenges don’t keep the ride from being enjoyable.
The Wheels Bike Shop owner said that as snow starts to pile up, roads in town become narrower, and drivers are less aware of the cyclists who pedal on the pavement year-round.
That, and freezing temperatures, only are magnified in the saddle of a bike.
"But once you start commuting in the winter, you’re more prone to continue doing it," Johns said. "It’s almost a mental therapy when you’re riding outside in the quiet and the solitude of the winter."
He encouraged cyclists to ride more carefully on dry pavement with studded tires because the combination of metal and pavement sometimes can cause a slide.
But despite the challenges and extra precautions cyclists must take from late fall through the spring, year-round riders do reap some benefits.
Johns said tangible benefits of staying in the saddle year-round include saving on gas and continuing a healthy workout routine.
Back at Orange Peel, mechanic Essam Welch said riding in the winter isn’t any worse than sitting on a cold ski lift.
"Some people don’t realize they can really do this," Welch said about commuting by bike in the winter.
And winterizing to stay active on the bike only requires a few relatively inexpensive upgrades.
Staying in the saddle
When you start your quest to turn your cruiser, commuter or mountain bike into a winter ride, your checklist will look like this:
Clothes. Fenders. Tires. Lights.
In addition to a helmet, winter commuters recommend wearing layers and — on cold, snowy days — stepping into snow boots.
Clothes that shield the face from cold wind also are key, as many winter commuters who work at local bike shops report that they will stop riding outside only when temperatures start to reach 20 below zero. Many winter cyclists equate dressing for the cold commute to dressing for a morning on Mount Werner.
When prepping the bike, tires are key in the winter, especially for riders who commute in the snow and ice. Many local shops sell studded tires that typically run from $40 to $150 per tire.
Johns said the winter upgrade allows riders to ride aggressively on ice, though no one should expect to be able to ride as fast in winter as they do in summer.
Above the tire, fenders also are vital in winter. They’ll help protect cyclists from all the road spray.
Finally, it’s important to have a reliable light. With less daylight in which to ride and drivers less aware of cyclists in the winter, a bright light will help riders stay visible.
And when you set off to hit the road, there’s also some upkeep to think about that is exclusive to winter.
"Winter riding is tough on the bike," Johns said.
He said when possible, keep your bike indoors. Constant exposure to freezing temperatures wears bike components down, and if snow is allowed to accumulate and the bike stays wet, it’ll be at risk for rust.
I’ll wait till spring
Don’t ride your bike year-round? Brock and Johns aren’t keen on the idea of keeping your bike outside all winter. They recommend finding a place to keep it inside.
But if it’s necessary to leave it in the elements, the bike shop owners said to cover it with a tarp and avoid keeping it out on a balcony.
Brock recalled a time a bike frame was brought into his shop that looked as though it had exploded "like a can of Pillsbury dough."
He speculated that because water dripped down onto the bike all winter and froze inside the frame, the freezing and thawing put too much stress on the bike and led to the "explosion."
And even if you’re not riding a bike in the winter, local mechanics and commuters agree a tuneup this time of year is a benefit.
"The waiting list for bike service is a lot longer when the riding season starts" in spring, Johns said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com