Bike Advocates: Riding in Winter

Some preliminary notes:

  • staying dry:
    • problem is keeping rain off without sweating too much inside
    • jackets: jackets with vents will help with air circulation
    • front fender/mudflap: keeps your feet dry
    • rear fender: keeps you from getting a muddy stripe on your back
  • staying warm:
    • stay dry! (See above.)
    • don't dress too warmly; dress in thin layers you can easily remove, jackets with zippers you can adjust, etc. If you're a little cold when you leave the house you may be about the right temperature after riding a few minutes.
    • underwear made out of "wicking" material (not cotton) helps draw moisture away from your skin
    • protect your extremities:
      • fingers: mittens usually warmer than gloves. Layer if necessary.
      • ears: balaklava, fleece headband, hat thin enough to fit under helmet
      • feet: keep them dry--fenders help here.
      • eyes: ski goggles will work if you have some. Inexpensive safety goggles from a hardware store will also work.
  • traction in rain, ice, and snow:
    • if your wheels skid (especially your front wheel), you can lose balance and fall very quickly.
    • using brakes:
      • brake slowly
      • normally your front brake is more useful, since it stops you more quickly. But in very slippery conditions it is possible to lock up your front wheel, so you may want to rely on the rear brake more--you have a better chance of recovering from a rear-wheel skid.
    • corner very gently: changing direction too quickly on slick surfaces can also cause spills.
    • plan ahead: since you can't dodge or brake as quickly, ride slowly, watch the road well ahead of you, and anticipate changing conditions.
    • tires: studs? wide vs. narrow? knobby vs. smooth?
    • Don't be afraid to ride in the middle of the traffic lane, where the surface is often clearer.
    • find a vacant lot/quiet area where you can practice when there's ice or snow.
    • You may just want to walk on days when roads aren't clear. Fortunately, this is usually only right after a big storm.
    • To complain about poor roads and sidewalks: sidewalks: report the address to the city at 994-2818 (M-F, 8am-5pm) street maintenance: 994-1617; call 99-HOLES for potholes.
  • dark:
    • With dark coming as early as five, lights are especially important; you're invisible without them, and you must be visible to be safe.
    • Keep lights clean, aim them carefully, and check batteries frequently
    • rear light: red led's are cheap ($10-$20), effective, and battery-efficient.
    • front light: small halogens are cheap ($10-$30) and bright enough for low speeds, but suck up batteries. Use rechargeables. Blue and white LED's are inexpensive, very power efficient and may give up enough light for you to be seen, but will not help you see the road. More powerful bike light systems with rechargeable battery packs will shed enough light for you to see the road ahead at very high speeds, but they are expensive ($60 to $400, with most in the $100 to $250 range), and you must remember to keep them charged. Generators remove the need for batteries, and provide less light than powerful rechargeable systems but more than the smaller halogens: rim- or tire- driven generators are least expensive and easiest to install; hub generators are most efficient and reliable, but cost $150-$250 (including the cost of building a new wheel around the hub).
  • special maintenance concerns?
    • If your bike is kept inside at night, put it in a sheltered area outside to allow it to cool down before exposing it to wet. (When it cools down it may suck air into sealed parts, bringing water with it.)


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