Area cyclists brave the cold

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published December 27, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 27, 2012 at 1:10 p.m.
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The temperature may be dropping, but Mac McDonald still has to get to work. And he’s going to ride his bike to get there.

Year-round, he commutes the 10 miles from his house to his job as service manager at The Ride in Conway.

“It gets cold, but I’m also moving at the same time, so it’s not too bad,” McDonald said. “The main problem is really the wind. In January, it can get really bitter and just bite into you.”

As cycling for both recreation and transportation becomes more popular around the state, McDonald said, he’s seeing more people keep up their biking routine year-round.

Unlike cars, bicycles don’t require new tires or fluids to battle the cold. All that’s needed to stay on the road through the winter is some extra gear and a stiff will against stiff wind.

“There’s clothing that can make or break a [winter] ride for you,” said Dan Lysk, who works at Arkansas Cycling in Sherwood. “Your extremities are always the most vulnerable … your hands, feet and ears.”

If the rider is wearing cycling shoes, Lysk recommends investing in a pair of shoe covers to keep cold air from coming through the vents meant to keep feet cool in the warmer months.

Gloves are another obvious essential to a winter biker, but not every pair does equal work. Phil McGrath, owner of Bike City in Searcy, said gloves specifically made for biking are preferable over bulky, knit gloves, which could cause trouble with the hand mobility essential to breaking and changing gears. Special gear isn’t really necessary for keeping ears and faces warm, however.

“A motorcycle face guard or hunting guard would be just as good, as long as it’s something that breaks the wind,” McGrath said.

As long as the cold doesn’t bother the cyclist, bikes are usually fine on the road year-round without issue. Just as in a car, ice on the road can be a problem for less-experienced bikers, McGrath said.

“If we’re out riding and it’s raining or there’s a little

moisture and it’s freezing, that’s really dangerous for us road riding,” McGrath said. “We have just a half-inch of tread, and that’d be tough.”

Rather than battle sharp winds and possible ice on roads, some bikers break out their mountain bikes during colder weather, Lysk said. Colder weather means harder riding surfaces with less mud and fewer leaves to navigate.

“Trees and rolling hills block the wind,” Lysk said. “You’re moving a little slower, but you’re working a little harder most of the time, so that keeps you a little warmer.”

But as the cold moves in, even the most-experienced winter riders have a breaking point.

“I personally have a temperature drop-off when it’s below 30 degrees,” Lysk said.

For riders who choose to store their bicycles until spring, McDonald recommends storing the bike inside, and covering the drive train if the bike is in a garage. The winter months are a slow period for most bike shops and also a good time to bring a bike in for needed repairs, McDonald said.

“If you’re going to store the bike over the winter, dry rot is definitely the thing to try to counteract,” Lysk said. “Keeping it outside in a shed or garage that is exposed will cause dry rot. It’s better to keep the bike inside.”

After weeks in storage, tires will begin to slowly lose air, so having them re-inflated in spring is also essential, McGrath said.

Cyclists looking to stay warm but still use their bikes in the winter can invest in a trainer, a stand that latches to and raises the wheels to turn the bike into a stationary bike.

“A lot of people do winter biking inside,” McGrath said. “It increases your riding time and keeps the bike moving year-round.”

Despite the cold, those who continue to bike through winter find their rides come with their own benefits.

“To me, it’s just more refreshing,” McGrath said. “It’s almost a wintergreen taste. You feel that coolness, and it’s a nice ride.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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