Riding your bicycle in winter can be as much fun as any other time of the year, sometimes even more, as you think of clever little responses to people who are mystified by it. Like any other outdoor activity, riding a bike requires a little more preparation, advance planning, and extra caution in winter.
If you decide to try riding your bike this winter, use your own judgment, and rely on your own best instincts. Everyone has a different level of skills and tolerance, and you should not let others (including me) persuade you into doing anything you are uncomfortable with.
I know people who will ride in just about any weather, regardless of pavement conditions, precipitation, ice and slush. Some people set a minimum temperature limit. Personally, I will ride in any temperature above zero, as long as it's dry, but I choose other means of travel when it is snowing, wet or when ploughed snow has been heaped up in the bike lanes.
Otherwise, staying comfortable on a bike in winter is largely a matter of choosing the right attire. Keeping warm can be accomplished with a few key specialty garments, and other stuff you probably already own.
- Always dress in layers to allow for temperature regulation. When you first start out, you will probably have a tendency to overdress. You can work up a lot of heat on a bike. On the flip side, you will cool off rapidly when you stop, or if you get wet.
- Avoid cotton, as it will trap your perspiration and make you feel clammy and cold throughout your trip. Opt for specially designed wicking under-layers, such as polypropylene, which transfer moisture away from your body; or wool, which keeps you warm even when moist.
- Choose wind cutting garments for both torso and legs (stay away from jeans! In cold weather they will feel like sheets of ice rubbing against your legs). Ideally, your outer layers should have a windproof layer on the front, and venting on the back, to optimize heat and moisture transfer. If you have a favorite pair of warm tights that don't have a windfront, get an inexpensive, packable pair of windpants to pull over them as needed. Make your outer layers are waterproof if you plan to ride when it's wet or snowing.
- For middle layers, choose low bulk, high warmth items that fit snugly at the neck, wrist and waist. Polartech microfleece and other synthetics work well, but my favorite here is merino wool. It seems to breathe better than other stuff.
- Choose head covering that will fit under your helmet. Micro fleece headbands, beanies and balaclavas do just that. For extremely cold days, some people use goggles and neoprene face masks for added protection.
- Instead of cycling shoes, try boots that will accommodate an extra layers of wool or synthetic socks, and still allow your toes to wiggle. If they are too tight, your feet will go numb with cold. You may also want to try shoe covers, which provide and extra wind barrier for your feet.
- Protect your hands with wicking glove liners worn under warm gloves, mittens or lobster-style gloves. Make sure the outer layer is windproof or waterproof. If your bike has straight or upright handlebars, one of our favorite products is CliMitts, made by Sidetrack.
- Carry an extra layer in your bag in case the weather (or you!) gets colder. Having some cash, in case you run into an emergency , is also a good idea.