Tips for Winter Bike Riding
The topic of winter bike riding begs an important question: Why the hell ride in winter?
I get it. I am more than sympathetic to the fair-weather riders among us; winter riding presents some unique challenges. But go ahead and do it anyway. Why? Lots of reasons, I suppose, but the best I can think of is that winter is now.
Whether you have committed to Big Change in 2016 or you’re building on last year’s lifestyle-related successes, now is it. You could certainly be forgiven for waiting until June, but really the only difference between then and now is the 6 months you could’ve been riding as you attempt to outwit Ohio weather (good luck with that, btw). Well, that and a coupla layers of clothing, of course.
When you’ve decided to give it a go (yay you!!), there are several conditions for which you’ll want to prepare: cold, dark & slippery. You don’t have to ride in all of them, but it IS possible, and not even especially complicated. Yes, you’ll have to invest a bit to make it comfortable, and sometimes ride more cautiously than usual, but you can do this. You really can! So then, the how-to:
Riding when COLD
The foremost enemy of a winter cyclist is wind. If you’re not prepared for it, you’ll be in ABJECT BONE-CHILLED MISERY. We cover winter outfitting strategies on the Yay Bikes! blog, but here’s the bottom line: for the love of all things holy, protect your extremities! You can absolutely ride in your everyday clothes with nothing more intricate than, say, long johns beneath and a wool coat atop, but your hands, feet and head require special attention. I’m not much of a bike gear girl myself, but in this case I do recommend investing in some of the apparel reviewed in these links, if you can swing it and your style sensibilities aren’t too greatly offended. Another way to play it is to hardcore wool it up with gloves (ensuring they’re not so bulky that you can’t grasp your brakes), socks, scarf and cap. Whatever you do, do it well—this here is make or break territory!
Riding when DARK
With darkness descending at 5pm these days, it’s going to be hard to avoid. Luckily, riding in darkness is the same as riding in non-darkness, just add (good quality front and rear) lights. Wear brightly colored outer layers, if you wish, and wrap yourself all mummy-like in reflective tape. But if that’s not your style, fear not! Being visible to drivers has more to do with maintaining the proper lane position than with the vibrancy of your fluorescence.
Riding when SLIPPERY
Again, lane position is where it’s at. You’ll want to be ESPECIALLY certain to maintain an assertive lane position in snowy/icy conditions, because otherwise there won’t be room to maneuver safely if you fall or a car swerves. And to not fall? Do what you’d do while driving: assume there is ice under the snow; go slowly, with intention; grip your brakes gently and repeatedly if you start to skid; and watch for especially slick surfaces like bridges and metal plates. You should also adapt your bike or choose one that’s safer for the conditions—in particular, wide, knobby mountain bike tires, slightly deflated, are going to be far more stable than tight, narrow road bike tires. But if you’re still uncomfortable with the thought of riding on snow or ice, consider your options for finding another way home in inclement weather.
A couple of additional thoughts about you and your bike vs precipitation. First, fenders will keep the yuck off your pants, and that is A Very Good Thing. Second, to maintain a happy steed: rinse off road salt as necessary, take the bike inside for a wipe down asap upon arrival and clean/lube your chain often. Or don’t do those things, and take it to a bike shop in spring instead. You can expect to pay for some new parts at that point, but hey! Still cheaper than driving!
Riding when NOT FEELIN’ IT
It’s always the first mile that seems so impossible—the act of getting the damn bike out of the garage and riding it until your body warms with the pedaling. If you can just convince yourself to do that much, just to ride that first mile and see how it goes, I promise the rest of your ride will be a delightful, exhilarating, alive-making thrill. Enjoy it, and your own badassification!
At Yay Bikes!, we ride the second Saturday of every month, regardless of weather (with rare exceptions for extreme cold, ice or lightning). Join us for a Year of Yay! and practice your winter bike skillz among friends!
Photos courtesy Yay Bikes. For more information, visit Yaybikes.com.
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