If you live somewhere snow has plagued the roads for the past eternity (months), then you may be getting excited to get out for some spring rides. There’s nothing better then hopping on your bike and making the most of the longer, brighter, warmer days. However, road conditions are a huge problem with spring cycling.
During the winter, a ton of grit and salt gets dumped on roads to keep them grippy and snow-free. Come spring time, all of that stuff ends up in one place – the shoulder where you want to ride. Spring is also pothole season, as water seeps into cracks in the road and freezes overnight, threatening to open up holes the size of the Grand Canyon on your favourite roads. There are a few easy things you can do to beat these obstacles, and stay safe during the spring cycling season.
Making the Most of Spring Cycling
Avoid Flats with Tough Tires
Nobody likes to change a flat tire, and the side of a road in a spring downpour is about the worst time to have to do it. It doesn’t help that this time of year seems to produce an abnormal number of frustrating flats. The culprit? Road grit. As it builds up on the side of the road, it collects all the little bits of stuff that would normally get blown off into the ditch – pieces of glass, metal shards, nails, etc. Normal, lightweight road tires get torn up in these conditions.
To keep you riding, a durable, puncture-resistant tire is essential. These tires have Kevlar fabric, or something like it integrated into the casing of the tire to strengthen it. Most major tire manufacturers offer at least one model like this. They won’t be the lightest, or the smoothest rolling tires, but they will take a beating. Check out Continental Gatorskins for a nice balance of performance and protection. The same company also makes even more durable (and heavier) tires – the GatorHardShell and the Grand Prix 4-Season. Other options include the Specialized Armadillo and Schwalbe Marathon Plus.
Look Out for Potholes
Weaving your way through the obstacle course that some spring roads tend to turn into can be a daunting task, but there are a couple of tricks that will help you out. The simplest is to look where you want to go, rather than looking at all the things you want to avoid. If you have ever managed to hit the only rock or hole on a nice smooth stretch of road, it’s probably because you were staring straight at it. Look ahead, pick your path through the debris, and then follow that path with your eyes. Your body will guide your bike there without you having to think about it.
As skillful a bike slalomer as you might be, occasionally there will be times that you can’t go around something. Maybe you are on a shoulder with cars to your right, or you might be in a group with other riders. Whatever the situation, you need to take alternative action. Enter the bunny hop. If you haven’t heard the term before, the general idea is to ‘jump’ your bike with both wheels leave the ground for an instant. This isn’t something that you want to try out for the first time at 25 mph on pavement, so find a grass field to practice on. Make sure you have mastered the movement before trying it on out on the road, especially when adding speed to the equation. Thankfully, with clipless pedals, the task is considerably easier. There are countless YouTube tutorials out there, but in short, you are going to ‘hop off’ your pedals (not literally, since your feet are clipped in) and then bring the bike up along with you.
Spring can be a time of quick weather changes, so while you may head out on a ride in the sunshine, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for rain and wind. As far as clothing goes, that means layers, layers, and more layers. You want a warm base layer as well as a waterproof shell, gloves, and even waterproof pants if necessary.
Embrace the Fender
Grit and water aren’t much fun to ride through, and they are even less fun when it’s spraying up into your face as you’re riding. For this reason, fenders are your best friend for spring riding. They keep you (relatively) dry, grit-free as well as keeping all that same junk from getting into your drivetrain. This can reduce maintenance and keep your bike running smoothly. The type of bike you have will determine what your fender options are. For full-fledged race bikes, choices are limited since attachment points and tire clearance are minimal. In this case, the SKS Race Blade fender is one of the best options.
With lower-end road bikes, touring and commuter bikes you have many more options. Some people like clip-on fenders, since you can take them off at the end of the season to keep your bike looking slick. The downside to these are they won’t offer the same coverage and performance as a dedicated bolt-on fender set. Whatever you choose, it will be much better than going without fenders!
Clean Your Bike
Although fenders can help a ton to keep some of the dirt and grime off you and your bike, you should still give your bike a quick clean after every spring ride. It’s inevitable that it will cause wear and tear to your bike, which is why many cyclists have spring specific “beater” bikes, but this isn’t always an option. Check out this quick guide to a bike cleaning to keep your bike running smoothly.
Ensuring you are prepared both technically and mentally will have you jumping into the cycling season in no time. Spring riding can be some of the best rides, so don’t let the conditions deter you from getting out there!