Nov 29 2011
This winter’s first snowstorm was all the reminder I needed. The unseasonably temperate weather we’ve enjoyed lately is bound to come to an end very soon. So it’s high time I geared up for winter cycling. I’m sure I’m not alone. If you live in a part of the world where you can expect sub-freezing temperatures and sloppy weather—and if you plan to keep on riding through the winter months—then you, too, will need to be prepared.
The essentials aren’t hard to enumerate:
- Dress in layers, striving for a healthy balance between warmth and ventilation.
- Guard your extremities: ears, face, neck, hands, and feet all need extra protection.
- Carry a cold weather survival kit.
The last essential can be safely ignored if you live someplace where the buses run 24/7 or the kindness of strangers can be relied on. But if you don’t—and let’s be honest now, such places are few and far between in the States—you’d better get a survival kit.
Your bike will also need attention. If local roads can be expected to be snow-covered and icy, even now and then, studded tires are a very good investment. The won’t work miracles—you’re still relying on something like two square inches of contact surface when you turn and brake—but they do make a real difference on icy parking lots and at sloppy intersections. And be sure to light up. With the hours of darkness now outnumbering the hours of daylight, you’ll need a good headlight and taillight, both to help you see and to help drivers see you. I went even further, mounting a blinkie on the back of my helmet for extra visibility. And it works. But I still assume I’m invisible, especially when drivers have the winter sun in their eyes.
You’ll need to spend a lot more time cleaning your bike, too. If you don’t, salty slush will make short work of bearings, chains, and rims. So plan to spend about as many hours cleaning your bike as riding it. Is this a nuisance? You bet it is! But unless you’re happy buying a new bike every spring, you really don’t have much choice.
The bottom line? There’s nothing wrong with being a summer commuter and a sunshine cyclist, of course. But you can extend the riding season right through the winter if you choose, even in the frozen latitudes. And that’s a good thing. But the freedom of the road isn’t free, and that goes double in winter. Is it worth it? I think so. What about you?
For more tips on gearing up for winter, check out the articles in the “Winter Bicycling” archive.