The decision to commute by bike during the snowy winters is a decision worthwhile. During these cold seasons, extra planning and precautions must be taken to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride.
The winter season might not be the best moment for breaking out the new bike. The mixture of snow, salt and gravel can put a toll on the gears and chain. An older, reliable bike would be best designated for your winter travel. One-speed bikes are perfect, because they have fewer moving mechanical parts and do not require as much upkeep.
Since winter days have less time of sunlight, it is imperative that you equip your bike with multiple lights. Commutes in the mornings and evenings are typically dark, so making your bike visible is important. Lamps, reflectors, or flashing lights should be attached to the front and back and be visible from at least 500 feet away.
Likewise, similar to a car with daytime running lights, it’s safer to have your lights on even in the daytime.
To avoid the spray of slush and salt from your tires, attach fenders to the front and back. Fenders are available in many different shapes, sizes and prices, and they can be easily installed.
As road conditions and levels of snow are constantly changing, be mindful of the bike tire’s quality. Choose a tread that will not collect and retain snow, but will still provide enough traction and stability. Lowering the air pressure in the tires will allow them to grip the road better and avoid slipping out. Metal-studded tires can be bought and installed, they provide the most support but can also be pricey.
When retiring the bike for the day, it’s a good idea to wash and clean the gears, chains, and wheels. The buildup of salt and gravel, combined with the freezing temperatures, can result in significant damage if left for long periods of time. Also, make sure to not store the bike in heated areas unless it is completely dry – fluctuations in temperature can produce rust if there is still moisture or condensation. If possible, store the bike in a garage or someplace where it can remain cold: bikes at room-temperature are more susceptible to having ice form on the brakes and gears.
When choosing what to wear, it is important to not overdress. Yes, it will be cold outside, but your clothes should be appropriate for the middle of the bike ride, when your body has been moving for some time. Putting on layer after layer will feel warm and comfortable initially, but soon enough the heat – and the sweat that comes with it – will catch up to you. The best strategy for clothing is to start with a layer of merino wool or synthetic wicking fiber.
This first shirt will retain some warmth but not absorb any moisture. Depending on the weather, the second layer could be a jacket, pullover, or vest. Garments that are water-resistant and have vented areas work best. For the coldest of days, gloves and hats are a must – covering these areas will keep precious heat from leaving your body. Gloves or mittens with grip can be useful if the bike handles become wet. Wear thin headgear that can be worn under a helmet. For footwear, use boots or shoes that can grip the pedals. Wearing multiple pairs of socks can keep feet warm, but avoid materials that do not dry quickly.
When your destination is the workplace, keep larger and formal articles of clothing, such as blazers, shirts, and shoes at the office. If that is not possible, roll – rather than fold – your clothes and store them in a backpack or pannier.
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