Now that it’s getting a little colder outside, darker earlier, and the chance of rain showers looms, many people are beginning to stow their cycles and take the car to work more often. However, with a few simple changes, you can keep riding through winter–safely and comfortably. It’s so liberating to continue doing something you love, even when it gets a little more challenging. There is even evidence to show that being a little cold can benefit your health and help burn calories by activating your brown fat stores. A little planning and a few simple adjustments are all it takes to keep riding happily throughout all seasons.
It gets darker earlier these days. You almost can’t avoid riding in the dark unless you can always leave by 4pm. The mornings can be foggy; rain and cloud cover can all affect visibility, yours and others. It is very important to be seen. Make sure you have quality good lights, white for the front, red for the back. You can pick up lights pretty cheaply but oftentimes you get what you pay for, rechargeable lights save having to buy batteries. Pile on the lights, you can never have enough. You can also pick up light strands powered by battery packs, spoke lights, blinking bobbles, headlamps, flashlights; they all work to improve your visibility. Get enough lighting to be able to see, too. Make sure your front light illuminates your path. Garbage day containers, leaf piles, junk in the road and flooded roads can be difficult to maneuver if you don’t see them in time. This is especially important after an overnight storm followed by an early morning commute.
Layers! The most important parts of your body are the extremities because your core will warm up while pedaling. Wool is a fantastic, breathable material that also happens to be naturally water-repellent. You can find great wool bargains at thrift stores. Make arm warmers out of wool socks that you cut the toes from. Synthetic materials will also work but can get stinky with heavy use. Cotton tends to be pretty useless in the wintertime, especially if it’s wet. Thermals and tights add warmth without bulk. A long scarf can help cover your neck, mouth, nose, and ears but is still small enough to pack up if it gets too warm. You can always take off your extra layers at the office. Consider a bike cap, thin layer under your helmet, or a cover to go over your helmet.
Always pack a small rain kit if you are likely to be getting caught in the rain. A poncho works adequately if you find yourself out without rain gear. You want something to wear that is waterproof but also breathable. Nothing is perfect but there are many new fabrics to help wick away sweat while repelling rain such as Gore-Tex. Many bike shops stock cycle ready clothing that really do make riding in wet/cold weather more pleasant, such as rain coats with zippers in the arm pits, longer tail and of lightweight breathable material. Also useful are full finger gloves that provide warmth without sacrificing dexterity and water resistant pants that pull over your day wear and are flexible enough for pedaling. Don’t forget reflective straps to bundle pant material away from the chain! If your jackets and pants are black/dark colored, add a safety vest or reflective tape to stand out. Stash an extra pair of shoes and socks at the office or wear rain boots. There aren’t many things worse than wearing a soggy pair of shoes for an entire day. Stuff your wet shoes with newspaper and stick them by the heater/fan to help them dry by the ride home or swap them out to be your new dry office shoes.Try riding a bit slower, a good idea anyway because visibility is reduced and it takes longer to stop, and stay below your perspiration threshold. Fenders are excellent for keeping mud and grime off your back, your gear, and your teeth.
Try to bring your important things into the office on clear days. If you can’t avoid bringing things in on a wet day, keep them in a waterproof bag–even a garbage bag inside your panniers will work. Stash your phone, keys, and wallet in a seal-able plastic bag or tub. Dry bags, same ones that kayakers use, are fantastic for keeping your necessities rain-free. Install tires that have enough tread to keep you from hydroplaning through puddles and puncture-resistant tubes and lines, it’s no fun to be stuck fixing a flat in the rain. Think ahead to relatively dry spots in case you do need some roadside repair and carry some rags to clean up afterwards.
Finally, don’t forget to stay hydrated. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you’re not sweating. Always bring your regular necessities–tool kit, flat repair, first aid kit, ID, phone, etc. Check your bike regularly, clean off the road grit, and make sure your chain and moving parts stay oiled. A thermos with hot tea/coffee/cocoa is the perfect end to a crisp ride in the morning. It is really much easier than most people think and incredibly rewarding to know you are continuing to benefit your health and the environment.