Even in this day and age, with gas prices pushing $4 a gallon, most folks assume that cycling is a warm weather activity, and put their bikes away for the winter. Those who don't are looked upon as a bit loony. You see them riding along, swathed in layers of fabric, wearing goggles, kind of like Calvin's dad in this Bill Watterson cartoon:
Do you admire, or pity them?
Winter biking can be efficient, safe, and even fun. Most of us at Rapid Transit have been riding our bikes throughout the grim Chicago winters, and we are none the worse for the wear. Because cycling works up a lot of heat, the cold itself will not hurt you, if you're properly dressed. People, after all, do walk, jog, and ski outdoors in the winter. Why not bike?
On a dry frosty day, you can ride as safely as during the summer. Many winter days are free of precipitation, and riding safely on such days largely comes down to dressing appropriately. Snow, ice and slush make road conditions more hazardous. Use extreme caution, or stay off your bike on days you think conditions are too dangerous.
Here are some things you can do to keep riding safely through the winter:
Wear functional clothing.
Use layers for easy stripping, in case you overheat. Avoid cotton, as it will trap your perspiration and make you feel clammy. Wool and performance synthetics are good choices. Select a good, wind-resistant shell (or waterproof suit, if you plan to ride when it's wet) as your top layer. In very cold weather, use windfront tights, or loose-fitting wind-resistant pants over your tights.
Protect your extremities.
Wear good boots that allow and extra layer of wool socks. Mittens, or "lobster" style gloves will keep your fingers warmer than gloves. Cover your head and neck with something that will fit under a helmet. A microfleece headband will work on milder days; for seriously cold days opt for a balaclava ( a one-piece head and neck gaiter).
If you are riding in the city, where street illumination in adequate, front and rear blinking lights are the most effective and economical way to be seen at night. Stay away from dark clothing, or use a reflective vest or sash over your garments.
Get good tires.
If you'd rather not sit on a curb, fixing a flat in sub-freezing weather, invest in a set of high-quality, puncture resistant urban tires. There is no tire that will improve handling on glare ice. However, there are tires specifically designed for better handling in wet or snowy conditions. When you go to purchase your tires, make sure you explain your riding needs to the salesperson, so that she can help you make the best choice.
Protect your bike.
Install full front and rear fenders, and clean and dry your bike after a ride through snow, slush and salt-covered streets. Don't let the salty moisture stay on the bike too long. Lubricate your drivetrain frequently throughout the winter season, with a lube made for bicycle chains.
Coming up: detailed discussion of tires, fenders, winter wear, drivetrain cleaning, and other wintry issues. Stay tuned.