"I really miss my bike," said Big G today. "This winter is getting too long."
Out in the parking lot I watched a local fat biker finishing his ride on this sunny, mild day. I weighed more pros and cons of year-round pedaling.
When I considered myself a racer I trained on the bike from early March into about October and commuted on the bike year-round. But the fall and winter were my chance to do other things: hiking, backpacking, some climbing, and whatever snow sports I could get to from central Maryland. Eventually, an interest in winter skills drew me north. I spent more time on my feet than on wheels for a few years.
To me, exercise should serve to enhance a broader life. Easily bored, I prefer to get my exercise on the move, outdoors, rather than in a building, pounding away repetitively, going nowhere. So I try to get a mix of self-propelled activities. At one time these included propelling myself up rock faces some of the time, calling for upper body strength; propelling myself on water in a kayak, also relying heavily on arms; cross-country skiing, which exercises the whole body with excellent balance and symmetry; and hiking, usually on mountainous trails. I could stomach a little bit of weight training and other resistance work, as well as stationary aerobic training machines for short periods to bridge to my next opportunity to get outside and cover some ground, but not for long periods.
Weight-bearing exercise is important for bone density. If all you do is ride a bike you will not maintain or build bone mass. Hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing do build bone mass. The fat bikers who regularly snowshoe-pack their trails will get the benefits of that weight-bearing exercise, but riders who only pedal will not.
The change of seasons feeds you an automatic excuse to shift your mode of locomotion. On skis or snowshoes you can choose whether to push yourself with a racer's intensity or go for the more deliberate pace of a hiker. If you make a day of it you will need to carry a load of essential gear and supplies.
Snow is not guaranteed, even in what we used to consider snow country. The winter trainer might spend a lot of time running or hiking, depending on physical limitations or temperament. The important thing is to spend time on your feet. And when the snow hits you can add the gliding flight of skiing.
I suppose fat biking is better than nothing, for someone who simply would never use snowshoes or skis. If the choice is between sitting around the house or pedaling around a trail, get out and pedal. If you have the time and the budget to have and use skis and a fat bike, party on. Since I have to choose, I continue to choose my usual winter alternatives. The snow melts eventually, and then I will roll.