The Mountain Bike Life

Winter can be a difficult time for us mountain bikers. There is limited daylight, it is cold, and the weather rarely cooperates. Unless you have a fat bike, you could potentially be looking at trails under two feet of fresh unrideable snow or trails covered in a mud bog that you would need a raft to cross. It can be so easy to just put the bikes away for the season and to sit down on the couch with a pint of ice cream and a pile of junk movies. There is, however, a great way to stay in shape, ride more, and not have to go out of your way. What I am talking about are two words that can strike fear into the heart of even the most hardened and dedicated of cyclists… Bicycle commuting. It seems as if it is such an unnecessary burden, one with little reward other than being sore, sweaty and pressed for time. While many of us are unable to commute via bike for different reasons, there are also many of us who would be surprised by how simple it is to get in a quick work out, and keep those legs spinning all winter long. I know commuting via bicycle is not very akin to mountain bikes,  however, for me and a lot of other cyclists, a quick ride to and from work consists of 90% of our winter rides. So we are left with a choice, to hang the bikes up for the season, or to refuse to give in and take advantage of any and every opportunity to ride a bike. I decided this winter to challenge myself to get fit and to stay active, and avoid the winter blues. I chose to use the commute to work as a training tool to get myself in trail ready shape for this coming riding season. I also found that it can be a whole new adventure in itself.

Night View in Front of Mt. Olympus (Photo Credit Martina)

Winter Commute Outerwear

Step number one would be how to dress for success and not stink to high heaven. Not being presentable for work is obviously a primary concern. There are many companies that make dual purpose clothing to keep you comfortable on the bike but to also make sure you look business ready upon your arrival. The Arc’teryx A2B Line is an example of good execution in form and function. There is also the Levi’s commuter line that has a more casual styling to it. Personally I tend to keep things simple with my attire. I know everyone has heard it a million times before, but wool really is your best friend. It keeps you dry if you sweat and the best part is that you will not have that post ride stink once you get to work. I will generally ride in a wool polo shirt and and some form of thermal tight. On top of that, an insulated bike jersey and some good rain gear. Decent rain gear does not have to be too expensive, and if you are lucky you can find something that can be packed down very small and can be tossed into a backpack. Of course bright colors are also a nice touch. I use a bright blue jacket because it reflects a ton of light back, and I do not necessarily have to look like a bright orange traffic cone just to get attention. Personally I tend to lay all of my riding gear out by the front door the night before, trust me, it will guilt trip you into taking two wheeled transportation.

I know what a lot of people are sure to be thinking, “I have the gear and everything, but I am a mountain biker, don’t you need a road bike for that sort of thing?” And while a road or commuter bike could certainly speed up a commute. You lose out on all of the fun that way. Most of us have a hard tail sitting in some corner of the garage. Maybe it is your old steed that has been neglected in favor of full suspension or carbon fiber, maybe it is the only bike you have. Truth be told, I think old hard tails make the most fun and most adaptable urban bikes. Fat tires give you a more comfortable ride, are often less prone to flats, and just plain fun to ride. I would rather be able to sneak off on a bit of dirt trail during my commute than to be stuck on pavement the whole time. For illumination, I just take the same Lighting set up I use for night trail riding and use it for commuting. I have a 1000 lumen headlight and one very annoyingly bright red strobe that clicks onto my seat post.

1000 Lumens in a pitch black room.

The most important part of this is to plan out your route to work to see if riding is even feasible, and what the best route would be. I am fortunate enough to live just shy of ten miles from work. Not a short ride, but certainly not a very long one. Finding the safest ride in to work is also rather important. Many cities have great bike infrastructure combining bike lanes, shared lanes, or even dedicated bike paths. Google maps even has a great feature now that allows for you to plot out your route on bicycle. The map tends to take advantage of safe avenues for bicycles in any given moment. Obviously you have to use some of your own judgement, because computers are not perfect and crossing through 5 way intersections is not really my idea of a good time.

Shared bike lanes make the commute safer.
The bike trails is a visually appealing way to get across town

In calculating my ride to and from work, I tend to take the fastest and most direct route in. Being that I have to be at work around 5:30 every morning, I am lucky enough to have the streets to myself and direct major roads become my playground. On the ride home is where I like to have a bit more fun. I go a little more out of my way on the ride home but will turn this into the real training ride. With some careful map combing (I will admit, I am a map nerd, I actually enjoy this part a lot) you can plot out a route that has some great interval training, hill climbs, and just some fun curb drops and tech features along the way. If I plan my ride right, there is even a pump track that I can session on my way home on the dryer days.

Pump track in West Salt Lake City allows for some good exercise on dry days.

In just one week of riding to work I am able to get 93 miles of riding in with 3,270 vertical feet of climbing. Looking at those numbers, I am pretty sure I have weeks in summer where I do a whole lot less then that. So, for now bike commuting may leave you sore and tired at the end of the day, but you will be ready to tackle your favorite single track come summer.

Trail riding on the way to work.

A bloomin' good time
Riding the Herbst with the Heidelberg's Finest Mountain Bike Trails Crew

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