July’s winter survival tips

Having now pedaled through three winters it seems my main cycling skill is a propensity for not dying.  This makes me something of a luminary in the field, and as such I am duty bound to share my survival skills with others.

China in 2010

China in 2010

First, it’s important that we use the correct vocabulary.  Let us not refer to winter as a wonderland, at least not if we plan to do more with it than sip mocha-hipster-lattes and post pictures of hoar frost on Facebook.

My friends, winter is a bitch.  It’s a howling white monster that doesn’t care if your mother thinks you’re special.  It eats toes and inverts manhood, condemning the faint of heart to four months of house arrest.

No more, I say.  It’s time to reclaim the season.  This year, when the snow flies, hop on your bike with a tent and a prayer to show Jack Frost he ain’t so tough.

Here’s how:

Enter the Gluttonous Dragon

Shivering burns an inordinate amount of calories.  After a few months of teeth chattering you’ll probably discover just how many ribs you really have.  The only solution is to eat absolutely everything that passes in front of your face.  I once devoured an entire roast chicken – bones and all – in 10 minutes flat. And you know what?  I got back on my bike and felt fantastic.

No cycle savvy

No cycle savvy

It’s All About Layers

Buy a giant parka if you want to star in a rap video, not if you plan to cycle across frozen tundra.  It’s far wiser to wear layers so you can quickly adjust to changes in temperature.  Avoid sweat at all cost because it has a nasty habit of giving people hypothermia when the sun goes down.

Stem the Tide

No longer are handkerchiefs the sole purview of grandfathers and tuberculosis patients. Consider them standard equipment for the winter cyclist whose nose has turned into a raging waterfall.  Fail to wipe your sniffer with a monogrammed rag and you’ll be sporting a handlebar mustache of frozen snot.  Not sexy.

Get Bearded

Pound for pound, nothing in the universe retains heat more effectively than beard hair.  In fact, with the aid of modern telescopes, astronomers have recently discovered that Venus is comprised entirely of uncombed whiskers. Don’t fight science.  Grow a beard and stroke it incessantly.

Say No to Clammy Jammies

My elementary school principal once told me that nothing is more precious than one’s word.  He wasn’t a winter cyclist.  No, after being soaked with rain, snow and occasional tears, your most valuable asset is dry pajamas.  Keep them in a waterproof bag and don’t even think about touching them until you are safely situated in your tent.


The insect installation in Boyup Brook

Take the Tour

Every town has a museum for something, whether it’s the world’s biggest barometer or the needlepoint hall of fame. These buildings are heated and usually staffed by delightful retirees who can’t pour you enough cups of hot coffee.  Step inside and take the free tour.  You’ll warm yourself and learn something new.  Win-win.

Going Down? Bundle Up.

If you’re daft enough to bike over a mountain in winter, at least have the sense to put on all your layers when you get to the top.  In China I descended 40 km down a range in the same clothes I’d used to climb it.  I realized at the bottom that I’d never been colder in my entire life.  From then on my two best friends were Mr. Balaclava and Sir Goretex Windbreaker.

Warm feet are happy feet

Warm feet are happy feet

Honor Thy Toes

Be kind to your feet by investing in decent boots.  Wear layers of insulated socks, keep them dry and remember to walk your bike for a few minutes every hour to kick start the circulation in your toes.

Trust me.  I followed none of this advice during my first winter on the road and my feet haven’t been the same since.  Sadly, my dream of being a virtuoso man-ballerina has been shelved indefinitely.

Pees Before Zzz’s

And finally: Winter nights are long so it’s critically important to empty your bladder before crawling into your tent.  Think of it as your cocoon of warmth. The last thing you want to do is unzip it at 4 am so you can thrust your fuzzy bits into the frozen air.


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