From BikeDC to Missoula, MT: Freezing Saddles with Emma W.
One of the reasons I became interested in Freezing Saddles was thanks to all the posts of support made by Emma W. – who I interviewed this summer for my Women BikeDC series – on the Women & Bicycles Facebook group. She first exposed me to the idea that Freezing Saddles might embrace a larger group of riders than I initially thought.
Emma has since moved away from BikeDC, but she continues to participate in the Freezing Saddles challenge from her new home in Missoula. That’s right. The Missoula in Montana, a place that delivers winters distinct to those we usually experience in D.C.
Thanks for being our far-flung Freezing Saddles correspondent in Missoula, Emma! Tell us a bit about your riding.
I started riding for health reasons – to combine my commute with a workout – in the fall of 2011. I started commuting year round in 2013. I rode for transportation. I increased time spent on my bike, and then started using it for weekend recreation as well.
Now, I primarily ride my bike for transportation. I don’t own a car and live less than a mile from work. I’m also getting into mountain biking, and I’m currently shopping for a mountain bike!
What kind of riding do you generally do during the winter?
My boring transportation commute. I’d like to do some longer weekend rides, which might be my goal this month as the roads and paths are becoming clearer and my cabin fever is reaching a pitch.
What inspired you to join Freezing Saddles the first time?
The first time I joined Freezing Saddles, it was to get myself out there in the cold. To no longer have an excuse to take the bus. I needed that extra push to get me out the door on my saddle instead of on the bus.
I only missed two riding days that year (2013), and rode more than I ever imagined, even riding in snow and ice.
How many times have you done the Freezing Saddles challenge, and why have you continued to do it?
This is my third year doing Freezing Saddles and I continue to do it for the motivation. I’m more motivated to get out there and ride at least a mile every day so I don’t let my team down.
I love the social aspect of the forum and the Strava groups. While it’s not possible any more, in the past, I enjoyed doing rides with teammates or other participants who aren’t on my team. I also like meeting other people who love cycling, and having an excuse to go for a ride!
What is it like for you to ride Freezing Saddles in Missoula while the majority of participants are in the D.C. area?
It makes me a little sad, I have a little bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
I love Missoula and the lifestyle here. I may be biking less, but I’m cross-country skiing more! I love my job here at Adventure Cycling Association, but I miss my 10-mile commute. I miss having the hordes of cyclists in BikeDC to ride with.
Sometimes, though, it’s ironic. It’ll be snowing and nasty here, but my D.C. teammates are riding in beautiful weather. A few weeks ago, it switched – a huge D.C. blizzard really encouraged me to do a sleaze ride before leaving on a ski trip!
I like the extra challenge here in Missoula. They don’t plow side streets (which can often be my favorite routes), so I’ve finally put on studded tires. I’ve really gotten used to riding on thick ice, especially the little half block of rutted alleyway from my house. Fishtailing and ruts are good practice for my summer singletrack, right?
Mostly I am glad Freezing Saddles is letting remote participants this year (provided we participated in the past) because Freezing Saddles is what makes me absolutely LOVE winter riding.
What is your approach to Freezing Saddles?
Last year, I competed with myself. The first year I participated, I rode every day except two, and hit just under 1000 miles total. (The challenge runs from January 1 through March 29.)
The second year, I rode every day and passed the 1000-mile mark! This year it’s a bit different. I’m not sure I qualify for any prizes, and those last-minute airline tickets are too pricey to allow me to visit D.C. for the ending happy hour, so I make my own competition with myself.
This year, I hope to be the everyday rider with the lowest mileage. Creative, and sort of bizarre!
The team aspect of Freezing Saddles is very encouraging, with every person doing their part, so to speak. One year, our team tried to keep up with the person closest to our mileage in the team directly ahead (or behind) us.
We ended in first place, so maybe this strategy worked? SLOPPY SECONDS 4 LYFE!
What do you enjoy most about Freezing Saddles?
The social aspect times 100! I miss not being in D.C. for the Freezing Saddles kickoff and closing happy hours, the little team rides and Best Buns visits, or rides after work off the Capital Crescent trail really makes me miss BikeDC even more than usual.
I still hang out on the forum, though, and have been chatting with my team (the Thundercats) on Strava as well. I love seeing everybody’s rides, too!
As part of Freezing Saddles, you must also use Strava. How do you like using Strava?
I LOVE STRAVA. When I first started biking, I had no idea how long I was biking or how fast I was going. I had no bike computer.
I’m not sure when I added Strava, but after I did, I occasionally started recording rides. I loved noticing how much faster my commute would become. I could see if, on days when I felt like I was going really fast, whether I really was. If I didn’t get enough sleep the night before a ride, I saw that I might not be as fast.
I like being able to post pictures of your ride, seeing where you went (very helpful for wayfinding in a new place), and seeing where the people you follow on Strava go.
Using Strava even encouraged me to start recording my other activities, like walking or hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
I’m not really *that* into the competitive aspect of Strava, at least with other people. Of course it’s great to get that QOM (queen of the mountains) notification, until someone steals it anyway. I like seeing PRs (personal records) though, and fastest/second fastest times on segments.
I know some people criticize the timing of segments and the KOM/QOM notifications due to the danger of people wanting to get those titles and riding dangerously (such disregarding traffic and egregiously breaking the law [c’mon, we all roll through stop signs…but blowing through a red light where there are cars going?]). Riding dangerously due to your Strava profile is a choice (some? stupid?) people make.
Let’s talk about your essential winter setup.
What bike do you ride?
I ride a Globe “Work” from 2012. Globe is a former subsidiary of Specialized, and I don’t think it is made anymore.
My Globe is great. I returned to biking as an adult and used it as my first commuter, and it’s now become sort of a beater/around town bike, particularly for the winter.
It’s not too heavy, but sturdy enough. The drop top tube makes it a little steadier to get on and off when you’re on slickery* ground, and it’s a very comfortable ride. Going slow is no problem, and I’m not tempted to go too fast.
I have got fenders on the Globe, a rack to carry my stuff, and a chain guard, which keeps my clothes clean. I like that this bike can take wider tires. I’m on 28 studs right now, but it came stock with 38s.
The Globe is my older bike so I don’t feel bad “abusing” it. Someday, I’d like a fatbike, for those deep snow days!
*Editor’s note: Slickery is a Midwest term, no? I’ve only heard slickery used there.
What clothing and cycling gear do you consider essential for riding through the winter?
Essentials are SO tough. It really has been pretty mild here, but for the worst winter weather my essentials are:
- Face mask of some type.
- Thin hat or ear band for under helmet.
- Wool socks.
- Winter boots.
- EITHER long underwear OR knee/leg warmers. Both is best, but you don’t NEED both.
- Beefy gloves. Ski gloves are great; they don’t have to be cycling specific
Things that are really NICE to have (in order of expense):
- Bar Mitts.
- Studded tires.
- Second wheel set for those studded tires if you only have one bike that you can really take advantage of and abuse in the nasty weather. I’m using my old hybrid, which has become quite a good townie/beater bike.
Currently, I have Bar Mitts and studded tires on my hybrid. I wear a Buff, headband, and wool cycling cap under my helmet.
Usually I bike in my regular work clothes (which are casual). Since it’s winter, I wear long underwear of some variety nearly every day, as well as wool socks.
For my old setup (when I only had one bike), I used Continental Travel Contact tires (smooth down the middle, a bit of knob on the sides). I regularly wore a full-on balaclava under my helmet, and wore a cycling-specific outfit of bike shorts, knee warmers, long underwear on top, wool socks, a cheapo outdoorsy jacket from Costco.
On really cold days, I wore my vintage Sorel Caribou boots, and vintage Cabela’s ski gloves. My parents gave me the last two items, because they no longer needed them. That exact outfit kept me warm even in the lowest temperatures (anyone else remember the polar vortex?).
What lights and reflective-wear do you use for shorter days?
My saga of lights includes a Serfas True 250. It was my first powerful bike light, and it was stolen. Well, I forgot it somewhere, went back for it, and it was gone.
That was followed by a Cygolite Metro 360. I lost that one going down a bumpy mountain pass. So much for secure attachments!
My most recent light is a Light & Motion Urban 650.
USB rechargeable is ESSENTIAL for me because it’s easier and means I’m not buying batteries all the time. As long as your light allows you to see (e.g., on a trail) and be seen (e.g., in the city), you’re good.
I like to have a driving friend sit in their car while I bike around the neighborhood a bit, and ask them how well they can see me to test.
Wow, that is an expansive collection of lights you’ve gone through, Emma. Now how about reflectives?
I used to have a hideous reflective vest (which I feel are very effective), but I lost it in my move. Ankle straps are good (and cheap), but I don’t typically use those, either.
My pannier is super-reflective, and I have a green, reflective “Freezing Saddles” band (thanks, Steve-O!) around my seat tube. A friend saw me riding one night (while she was driving home) and I asked her how visible I was. She said “SUPER visible!!”
Alright, Emma, what’s so great about riding through the winter?
- Feeling tough.
- Not buying a car.
- Still getting in my (greatly reduced amount of) exercise.
- Enjoying the fresh air, and freezing your butt off on the move instead of waiting for the bus.
- Fewer people on the trails (This was more applicable when I was in D.C. There are not so many paved trails here).
There are a lot of winter bike commuters in Missoula, though! And this town is really so small, that it doesn’t make sense to drive.
Is there a threshold below which you will not ride?
Nope! I’ll ride in anything.
Maybe if a derecho were to blow through, I might not ride. There was a tiny microburst my first month here and THAT was terrifying. Wind and falling branches are much worse – and more dangerous – than polar vortexes.
Bad weather and temperatures may affect how or where I ride, though. I might not go on a long ride if it’s very cold or snowy here simply because there are not very safe places to ride in that weather. The further away from town I am here in Missoula, the more danger I am in of dying of exposure or something if I couldn’t get back home (this is obviously a bit hyperbolic, but you get my point).
What would you say to somebody who is interested in riding through the winter, but doesn’t know where to start?
Start with warm clothing. It makes riding in the winter a much more pleasant experience.
And you don’t have to splurge on bike specific clothing. Use those old ski gloves you found at the thrift store. Costco has great merino-blend base layers in the fall/winter. Wool socks can also be sourced there.
Don’t feel like you HAVE to ride EVERY day. If you’ve biked through a chilly fall, just add more layers.
If you don’t want to do your usual rides, try a short errand. Ride a mile away to get coffee. If you can do those short trips and dress appropriately, change up your layers and go longer! Convince your friends to ride with you when it’s cold but not icy/snowy.
What is the biggest challenge to riding in the winter?
The first year, getting my layers right was incredibly difficult. I would frequently overheat on my commute.
The other big challenge is just getting out there, especially on those gray days. Or, for the Freezing Saddles competition, it’s tough to go out to ride a mile (the minimum qualifying ride) after putting it off all day.
Keeping the rubber down can also be difficult! I’ve only fallen once so far this winter – on a huge patch of ice in a roundabout. They don’t really plow streets here. I’ve fallen in winters past, too.
Another challenge (in Missoula) is finding people to ride with when the weather is like this. A lot of them (and it’s becoming me, too,) would rather go skiing.
I think skiing is also a good alternative, Emma. Whatever gets you out the door into the fresh air! Thank you again, for being part of the Freezing Saddles interview series, and a big hello to you from BikeDC.