Winter Cycling then we Hygge (Hoo-ga)!
Lately, there has been much talk of hygge on social media and in lifestyle articles. For those unfamiliar, hygge (a Danish word, pronounced hoo-ga) means "a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being" (Oxford Dictionary). In Canada, it’s a way to combat long, cold winters by relaxing around a fire with good friends, eating good food, and wrapped up in a cozy wool blanket.
I have a better idea to survive a long, cold winter - embrace it! Go winter cycling! Not that I don't enjoy a warm fire in the presence of good friends and food, it’s just way more fun and healthy to get outside in the elements than hide away ‘til the May flowers bloom. Some might argue that winter cycling is crazy and dangerous, but with proper gear and mind-set, it’s a safe and exhilarating exercise.
Many people ride “skinny" tires in winter, however, I recommend either a mountain bike for commuting on path and hard packed snow or a fat tire bike for varying snow pack and tonnes of fun. The wider footprint and lower tire pressure of fat tires provide incredible traction and you can ride a variety of terrain and conditions from soft, new snow to icy, slick hard pack.
As with any winter sport, clothing is the most important key to a successful outing. Layers are essential. Dressing too warmly is a common mistake. Once you start moving, your body generates plenty of heat and sweat and the evaporation of sweat will make your skin feel chilled. Choosing light, breathable under layers and a light-weight, windproof jacket over top, will help eliminate overheating. As with any cycling activity, helmets are a must. Wear a thin hat or balaclava underneath to reduce heat escaping from your head and ears; and a neck warmer or buff which can cover your mouth and nose to help warm and humidify the air before breathing. This helps decrease the burning sensation in your chest from breathing in cold, dry air. A double layer of wool socks in winter boots or winter cycling boots and ski mitts to warm the hands complete the look. If your explorations take place before sunrise or after sunset, don't forget bright front and rear lighting for visibility. Not only is it important for you to see where your path leads, but for motorists and other cyclists to see you!
All geared up, it's time to get out and explore. We’re lucky here in Calgary to have an abundance of trails within the city or a short drive away. One aspect of winter riding I love is seeing a familiar path or route from a different perspective. A trail you might use frequently in the summer looks and rides completely differently once the snow falls. Another thing I love, is how quiet and less travelled many trails are in winter, including the city pathways..
It’s important to do a light warm up prior to riding, or start out slowly to allow your body to adjust to the colder temperature. Cold muscles feel tighter and have decreased range of motion. By warming up or starting a ride slowly, you can prime the muscles to help them work optimally - contracting and relaxing quickly - making them more responsive.
One last tip, don't forget to hydrate! Despite the cold, your body still requires fluids to replenish those lost during exercise. Use an insulated water bottle to keep that liquid fluid in really cold temperatures!
There you have it! My secret to surviving winter. Get out, embrace the season and earn that cozy fire and hot chocolate. Hygge post-ride!
Written by: Susan Tsang, BscKin, MScPT - outdoor enthusiast, committed winter bike commuter and Physiotherapist at THE Downtown Sports Clinics.