Today was the first biking day after Thanksgiving (and due to a conspiracy between meteorologists, butterflies in China, and family event schedulers, it was my first time out on a bike in more than a week). And the weather being what it is (it being the first week of December and all), Winter Rules for urban assault riding are now officially in effect.
Riding a bike in the city in fair weather is an adventure, to be sure. But winter riding is a completely different frozen ball of mud. You've got less daylight, more clothes, more questionable road and trail and sidewalk conditions, and a whole lotta chaos not normally thrown into the mix of the summer pedal.
For one thing, drivers in winter are somehow even more oblivious to you than in summer. A cyclist in summer is almost expected; a cyclist in December, January or February is such an oddity that it is immediately rejected and ignored by many more cognitively-challenged drivers' minds.
Falling is always bad (especially in urban assault riding), but winter adds new dimensions to falling. Yes, it's possible for pavement to be harder. And grassy ground is stiff or frozen. However, you have more layers on, and if your're lucky there's a pile of leaves to fall into–and maybe there isn't a broken bottle or a sleeping drunk underneath them.
Of course, the leaves may have made you fall in the first place. Or the patch of ice under them.
Forget sunglasses. It's time to go out and buy a pair of clear ski goggles with good peripheral vision. And that summer helmet might do until Christmas, but start thinking about how you're going to wedge earmuffs or a watchcap under it and you'll realize it's time to start investigating either a ski helmet or some other multi-sport helmet that lets you protect your ears from the wind while still hearing the blare of the horn from the moron who decided today was his day to shoot that red light.
We might whine about headwinds during the summer, but wind don't mean nothin' till you've turned it into a compound word like “windchill”. And remember, flesh freezes on contact with the air at -40 F.
Snow and bikes do not mix. I don't care how knobby your freakin' tires are on your Cannondale, buddy; you're in 1WD, and that front wheel ain't a ski. I once rode my bike to school after a 4-inch snowfall, and did fine until I hit ice under the snow–then centrifugal force took over and I was making involuntary snow angels.
It may be possible to ride once snow has been cleared. But remember–the snow piles created by the plow increase your probability of becoming a hood ornament at any given intersection. And generally speaking, people out shovelling out cars don't appreciated being divebombed by some lunatic on a mountain bike looking to catch air off their stoop.
The most important difference between winter and summer riding, though, may be attitude. On a summer ride, it's all about having a little fun and some aerobic exercise, using your physical conditioning and skill to catch some air, explore the limits, yadda yadda yadda. In winter, you're already at the freaking limits, meathead–it's FREAKING WINTER, and most SANE people are inside drinking hot chocolate, or off doing something safe like skiing, snowboarding, luge, or skeleton. But, NO, you have something to PROVE, and you're going to ride that damned bike all freaking winter. So winter riding is about getting through the ride in one piece, completing something resembling a circuit, or getting from point A to point B and strapping your poor abused bike to the back of a four-wheel-drive vehicle and getting your ass home. No picnics, wine and cheese, pal.
And when you get off your bike, blowing snot out of your sinus cavities and wiggling your toes to check for circulation, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that all those other winter sports are for sissies.