"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Winter Commuting: There's No Bad Weather...

...only bad clothing. And bad planning.

Now that snow is soon on its way and temps are heading downward with the economy, it doesn't mean your bike commuting is over for the year. With relatively little money - smart spending - and some common sense, your practicality can continue through the dark, cold months while all the other suckers rot in their cages or inhale other people's germs on buses and trains.

Bad clothing does not mean cheap clothing. Quite the contrary. Following these recommendations for dressing and riding will keep your winter commuting enjoyable, warm, and safe.

Keeping the core warm will save your extremities; the body doesn't have to divert blood from fingers and toes. The general rule is an extra layer for every ten degrees below 50 (anything below 60, just remember to keep your legs and arms covered). You will sweat some, so try to stick to technical fabrics - material that wicks moisture away from the skin - instead cotton. But unless your ride is over an hour, it's not a big deal. Just worry about the proper layers.

As the temperatures head below freezing, a thermal layer and a wind stopper become imperative - on top of the base layers. Any wind making it through the outer layer will immediately chill your core. Block it with some sort of fleece top underneath a wind breaker. However, if you do have some money to spend, I highly recommend the Cannondale Thermal Jacket, which combines the thermal layer and the wind stopper into one versatile piece of activewear. Its resembles a cold-water scuba-diving suit, and I've used mine religiously since 2005. It's never let me down. If you look hard enough it can be found for under $100 online.

If you feel like spending money on a good set of winter cycling bibs, the Pearl Izumi offering is the perfect choice. They are full-thermal, with added wind-stopping fabric on the leg-fronts. Winter bibs do not have a chamois so you can wear them day-to-day without having to wash them. Use your regular shorts underneath. However, a pair of long underwear or thermal layer underneath your jeans - some sort of wind pants would be better - will get you there. The wind stopper is again most needed over the core.

Keep the core warm, and you won't have so much trouble keeping everything else comfortable.

Hands and feet:
Any sort full-fingered gloves will work - use ski gloves below freezing, they are windproof. Cover your ears with a balaclava.

One of the best tricks for keeping toes warm is to put a plastic grocery bag over your feet before putting your shoes on. This will actually make your feet too warm, but aromatic toe jam is preferable to frost-bite upon getting to your destination. There used to be a mechanic at Rapid Transit Cycles in Wicker Park - Sarah - who made fleece-lined winter covers for toe clips. Anything to keep the wind out will keep your feet warmer.

Winter commuting means riding in the dark. Display at least two rear (red) blinkie lights and make sure the batteries are strong. Many people don't realize just how dim their rear lights are and that they are dangerously under-visible. . Attach at least one to the frame and have another on your helmet or bag.

The Cateye Opticube is a great choice for a front light. It requires three AAA batteries and can be easily moved from bike to bike with its tool-less mounting system.

For longer rides, to the suburbs like I do, I recommend a rechargeable unit. They attract a lot more attention when streetlights are fewer and the road surface ahead is highly illuminated. Batteries can either be mounted to handlebars or helmet, and the corded battery is mounted to the frame or carried in a pocket. Nite Rider and Light & Motion are two great brands found at many cycling shops.

Your ride:
It's simple: fenders, fenders, fenders. Road salt will eat your bike alive.

Wider tires with traction and lower pressure.

This is all you need to know.

Final Tips:

  • It’s easy to pack light. A rear rack and pannier are a bonus, but not needed. Leave a pair of shoes at the office, and if you roll up your clothes tightly, even your suit won’t need ironing and there’s plenty of room for lunch.
  • A shower is not necessary, even after an hour ride. Most people don’t ride hard enough to really sweat to begin with so a damp rag and a comb is all you need.
  • Being able to take your bike on the Metra trains is one of the huge advantages of the reverse commute to the suburbs. Make sure you bring a bungee chord to secure your bike with, and be prepared for overcrowding by leaving a second beater bike at your destination station.
  • Avoid peak travel times to minimize potential conflict. Leave early. Most employers will be happy to accommodate your schedule as long as you are getting a full day of work in.
  • Most importantly, be predictable and ride confidently. A wobbly cyclist who can’t hold a straight line and dips in and out of parked cars will unnerve drivers. It sounds right from Mr. Rogers’ mouth, but don’t blow stop lights and at least yield to the right of way before proceeding through stop-signs. Look over your shoulder, signal, and when safe, take the lane or turn with authority. It’s your right of way. Use it or lose it.
Ethan Spotts of CBF adds:
"If it's wet out, wipe your bike down when you get home. Salt and wet will ruin your bike and components (brakes, chain, shifters, etc.). While it's not highly recommended for bike use, I use WD-40 in the winter to get that crude out....a quick spray on your components and then a wipe down will keep your bike going throughout the week until you can do a more complete cleaning and use real bike lube on chain/components."

1 comment:

Julian said...

Forget the WD-40, it'll kill your bike. Use Tri-Flow a teflon-based lubricant. It cleans and lubes and smells oh so sweet...