When winter hits and temperatures drop, physical activity levels also take a nosedive. A meta-analysis reported by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (CFLRI) found that physical activity decreases by fifteen percent in the winter, and leisure time physical activity was almost twice as unlikely as in the summer. The seasonal decrease has a cumulative effect. The CFLRI reports that, “this reduction translates to a seven percent overall decrease in physical activity every year,” creating a snowball effect (pun intended) of diminished physical activity over time. What’s behind this seasonal sluggishness? For many people it’s a matter of limited options. If the weather isn’t inviting for a walk — the most common physical activity of Americans — you haven’t got time to ski, or you simply loathe the gym, what are you going to do? Bike!
Biking is an ideal winter activity both on-road and offroad. It’s great cross-training for avid skiers, and also for those whose knees and back rebel against the idea of carving downhill. In fact, the low-impact exercise of biking can offset stiffness and joint pain.
With the right preparation, any type of biking is possible year-round. The free My City Bikes Bellingham app created in partnership with beginner-friendly experts at Earl’s Bike Shop will help you find local routes for all types of biking. Earl’s is an example of a new breed of bike shop that caters to the beginner as much as the enthusiast. Regardless of your past biking experience, it’s important to have a friendly place to get advice, gear and support. Earl’s is recommended for their support of both adult and youth cyclists. The effects of winter inactivity are not limited to adults. Children and teens who are physically inactive in the winter are at a higher risk of being overweight or obese. Earl’s has a “trade in trade up” program for parents to affordably get a great quality, right-size bicycle for their kids and trade it in for credit when it is outgrown. This can keep your little ones active alongside you, and make year-round fitness a family affair.
No matter what style of biking suits you, two basic preparations will make your experience a joyride.
Prepare your tires
Visit a local bike shop like Earl’s that carries special tires with knobby tread for better traction in muddy, snowy or slippery conditions. This simple update will winterize your bike, and don’t forget to pump up your tires before every ride!
Dress the part
Winter activity gear is complicated. It has to keep you warm, then cool, then dry, and then warm again. That’s a lot to ask of a garment! The right layers will keep you comfortable no matter the forecast. The key is three layers: base, insulation, and shell.
Your base layer sits against your skin and should be made of moisture-wicking fabric to keep your skin dry. This can be short-sleeved or long-sleeved, but to keep your neck and chest as warm as possible a crew neck is recommended.
The second layer is insulation — a thicker layer of fabric like micro-fleece or performance wool to keep you warm. A higher neckline is a good idea, or you can accessorize with a scarf made from warm, performance-friendly material. Gloves will also pad your hands, give you grip, and keep your fingers warm.
The third layer is your shell. If you’re riding on the road you aren’t blocked from the wind like when you’re mountain biking. A thin windproof shell will keep you nice and toasty, and can be removed when your body heats up. On snowy or rainy days use a waterproof shell for on-road and off-road biking. There are plenty of options like the Pearl Izumi Select Barrier Bike Jacket that do double duty to protect against both wind and water. Look for a jacket that’s “packable” which means that when you take it off it can be easily balled up and stowed away in a bike jersey pocket or bike pack.
Winter is the most dangerous time of the year for your waistline. The average American gains 4.5 pounds between the holidays and the spring, plus 2-4 pounds of holiday weight gain. Regular exercise is a must to defend your health against seasonal weight gain and biking lets you keep it up every day of the year. Your local bike shop can prepare you and your bike for all kinds of weather. They can also connect you with local rides for camaraderie to keep you accountable and consistent so you’re less likely to yo-yo and set yourself up for a dramatic recovery. Best of all, you’ll already be in shape for your favorite spring sports.