Easier Than You Think! Freezing Saddles & Winter Cycling with Eric B.

The Freezing Saddles series rolls on with Eric – an astrophysicist, creator of 3-D-printer prosthetic hands, and of course, cyclist.

A fellow teammate of mine in the Bike Arlington Freezing Saddles competition, Eric says one of the keys to winter riding success is in keeping the hands and toes toasty. (He’s still working on a system for the toes so feel free to offer suggestions!) 

Thanks for being part of the Winter Cycling & Freezing Saddles series, Eric! Tell me a little about your riding.

I first got into cycling about three years ago when a couple of my friends got “nice bikes” (hybrids), and convinced me to do the same to go on weekend rides. I didn’t use the bike nearly enough and felt guilty about spending lots of money on a bike that was just sitting there, so I decided to try commuting on it occasionally.

I live in Takoma Park, Maryland, and work in Arlington, Virginia, so my commute is about 15 miles each way. I had a goal to bike all the way to work once that year. I did it once and was exhausted when I arrived. I still managed to ride home that day and was slightly less exhausted. The seed of bike commuting was planted.

After getting frustrated with impressively poor, yet expensive, Metro costs I decided to ramp up my bike commuting. After a couple of weeks I was no longer completely exhausted from biking every day and I became a full-time bike commuter!

I’m told that my distance makes me a “super commuter” of sorts and this commute comprises most of my riding. I’ve dabbled in local shop rides like the Hills of Anacostia and the Hills of Rock Creek, mostly in the summers when I’m not teaching full time.

This year the century bug also bit me, thanks to twitter friends @MrTinDC and @raq423. They took me out on my first 100-mile ride, and I joined them for three centuries in the span of about five weekends.

Snowbank Parking. All photos courtesy of Eric Bubar
Snowbank Parking. All photos courtesy of Eric Bubar
What kind of winter riding do you generally do?

I have two kinds of winter rides: commutes and sleaze! Sleaze rides are any rides longer than one mile but shorter than two. Their purpose is to simply get points for my Freezing Saddles team. I’ll ride this mile in almost any conditions (icy blizzards will occasionally make me miss a day) to get my points.

Sometimes the sleaze ride serves the purpose of getting groceries (I happen to live 1.1 miles from my local grocery store – perfect for getting something done with my sleaze ride).

If at all possible, I also ride my full commute. The problem is when we have lots of snow, and roads become covered and impassable for a long span of time. I never trust that the roads from Takoma all the way to Arlington will be completely clear so occasionally I have to go multi-modal and just ride to the Metro.

Sometimes riding on the slushy roads, dodging slipping cars and hunting out clear routes will just take too long to be an effective use of my time. I’m lucky that my route to the Metro is on roads that are plowed pretty well, so I was able to ride to Metro safely within 2 days of the blizzard this year. That means no excuses for not getting to work.

What inspired you to join Freezing Saddles the first time?

When I first started commuting, the members of the Bike Arlington cyclings forums were instrumental in convincing me that cycling for transit was possible.

I saw this “Freezing Saddles” contest announced on there and I figured my “big” commuting miles would help any team I was assigned to. Little did I realize that #BikeDC is crazy and I’m just a mid-tier rider at best!

How many times have you done the Freezing Saddles challenge, and why have you continued to do it?

This is my third year. I do it as a personal motivation to get out and ride every day, similar to the summer National Bike Challenge. It’s amazing how much the thought of 11 points per day* in a silly but fun bike challenge can motivate you to get out and ride even in slushy, post-blizzard conditions!

*For the Freezing Saddles competition, riders receive 10 points for every day they ride at least one mile, plus one point for each mile ridden.

Eric 1

What is your approach to Freezing Saddles?

I mainly compete with myself. My desire is to ride my mile every day. I feel better and get more done on days that I get out and ride (even if its a sleaze ride).

I also like the team interaction aspects. It’s great to meet new cyclists in the D.C. area and find other friends to ride with.

In the past two years, the organizers have placed teams by geographic proximity. That has been GREAT for meeting other cyclists that actually live near me.

What do you enjoy most about this winter challenge?

I enjoy the personal drive to get out and ride in sub-freezing wind chills. It really helps me to feel tough – not common for an astrophysicist!

As part of Freezing Saddles, you must also be a Strava user. How do you like using Strava?

I record rides with my Garmin and have Garmin Connect setup to autosync to my Strava account. I really like logging into my Strava after a ride and seeing trophies that I managed to get and to compare how I’m riding with other member of #BikeDC. Maybe one day I’ll be as fast as @bikeeveryday!

Strava also has various cycling challenges for people to complete (e.g., monthly distance and climbing challenges). I sign up for these to push myself to ride further and higher than I otherwise would.

Eric 2
Potomac River and the Jamis Quest. Photo credit Eric Bubar
Let’s talk winter riding, and your essential winter gear and cycling setup!

I’m always amazed at how little I actually wear! (My winter cycling pickup line!)

  • Feet: SPD cycling shoes with neoprene shoe covers and thick wool socks
  • Legs: Normal cycling shorts, Costco base layer and reflective striped wind/rain pants.
  • Torso: Heart Rate Monitor (so I don’t overdo it), Costco base layer shirt, reflective mid-weight cycling jacket
  • Hands: Light-weight gloves and Pearl Izumi lobster mittens
  • Face: Balaclava (supplemented with a Buff and ski goggles for extreme riding!)

I still haven’t found a way to keep my toes warm. Winter cycling boots may be in my future. Shoe covers get expensive.

What kind of lights and reflective-wear do you use for shorter days?

I have two rear blinkies, a front blinky and a Cygolite 800 lumen headlight.

My jacket and pants both have reflective piping, and I wear reflective velcro bands to seal legs.

I’m pondering a Dynamo setup (generator light) so I can forget about batteries and charging. Reading about Carol C’s setup, I think I need some more lights and reflective vests!

What’s so great about riding through the winter?

Rule 9 – If you ride in this stuff… you are a badass. That’s a great ego boost!

Plus I just feel better when I ride, regardless of cold/rainy/snowy/icy weather.

What is the threshold below which you will not ride? 

My limit is ice. Road conditions that are unsafe will prevent me from my full commute, but I’ll still do everything I can to ride my mile.

This year, I missed one day so far from the blizzard. There was no safe way for me to get out. Roads were WAY too disgusting and I didn’t want to get in the way of the plows. The cold doesn’t bother me (too much) but cars sliding into me doesn’t sound fun!


What bikes do you have?

I rode my hybrid for about a year to really convince myself that I deserved a newer “big boy road bike.” In the span of three years I’ve since gotten rid of the hybrid (no need to mourn, it wasn’t quite sized right) and now have a steel Jamis Quest road bike that I use for fast riding. I’m currently looking to upgrade out of this one.

I also have a beloved Bianchi Volpe touring bike that I built up myself from components off of a frame that was totaled by an unfavorable interaction with a car.

What would you say to somebody who is interested in riding through the winter, but doesn’t know where to start?

I have two thoughts:

First, get good gloves. Fingers and toes are the hardest to keep warm. My lobster gloves took winter riding from slightly painful to warm and dreamy!

Next stop is my toes…

Second, winter riding is much easier than you think! I’m a wimp and can still manage it.

The trick is all in how you dress. DON’T start with too many clothes. You need to be chilly for the first 10-15 minutes of your ride.

After the blood pumps, you’ll be toasty for your ride. Think about when you get in your car in the morning, you’re chilly while the car warms up. Cycling is the same!

Thanks again, Eric. We’ll see you out there (or on Strava)! 


  1. Keeping toes warm (or less cold): Obviously cycling boots or shoe covers help, and the chemical bag warmers are key – i like the full length inner sole for real cold or real long rides. A friend also tipped me off to wrapping my toes in Aluminum foil. Still testing this, but, it seems to help a lot when using normal cycling (ventilated) shoes with booties over them. It keeps the air out and the heat in and lets the wool socks do their job! Of course, Cincinnati rarely gets the kind of winters the east coast has gotten slammed with lately, and we teachers get to stay home during the worst of it, so I may not be as expert as I thought I was!


  2. Great interview! Cold is cold though, I find myself chilled to the bone after winter rides. I guess because of all of the cold air in and out the lungs! Still yet, it is great to get in the ride! It is good to read of others out there getting it done, I find it motivational, so THANKS!


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