Bicycle Commuting and Cold/Winter Weather Riding Tips

Bicycle Commuting and Cold/Winter Weather Riding Tips

“The shortest distance between two points is a lot of little circles.” – Unknown

For what it’s worth, this is my take on commuting by bicycle, most of which also applies well to just riding bicycles on the road. I commute Monday – Friday regardless of weather. Rain, snow, cold, sun, heat, whatever. I also road ride recreation-ally and for training regardless of weather.

Contact me anytime if you want help planning routes in/around Springfield. I’ve been on most roads. I definitely have established “safe” routes and I’ve had a few misadventures where I’ve said “Oh crap…this road is dangerous!”

I keep a week’s worth of business attire at work and wear cycling gear to/from work. Buy packs of Baby Wipes on the cheap at Dollar General if you don’t have access to showers. I also have the luxury of a safe, secure place to store my bike and hang up my work clothes and cycling gear during the day. Your company may work with you to provide similar space.

You can often, but not always get away with cheap alternatives to big dollar cycling gear. Shop around! Support your favorite local bike shop too, they can be darn competitive in pricing on many items. If at least one local shop doesn’t know you by name you’re doing something wrong. They’ll bend over backwards for regulars.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring.” – Bishop Desmond Tutu

Locks

As for locks, I had a bike stolen from a garage. I’m paranoid about losing one to theft. And I’m thankful to be able to park my commuter in a secure I.T. room at work. Buy the biggest, gnarliest looking chain/cable and lock you can afford and can lug around. If your bike is parked with other bikes, just be sure to have the burliest looking lock of the bunch. Given a few minutes, a determined thief will get your bike – but he’ll go for the easier options before yours.
Abus Chain

Stanley Hardware Lock

How to Properly Lock Your Bike with Hal Ruzal

Essential – Lights

I have a fancy but expensive true 1500 lumen light that mounts to the bars, but list price when new was $400 and is excessive considering I’ve now discovered much cheaper and equally reliable lights on Amazon/EBay. They are not actually 2000 lumen lights, but are darn bright and reliable.

Amazon Cheap Bike Light

Mount one light to your handlebars and zip tie or mount one to your helmet.

Bright tail lights! Cygolite Hotshot 2 Watt Tail Light  Programmable, USB rechargeable, long lasting and very bright. One mounted to my rear pannier rack. One gorilla glued to the back of my helmet.

All of my lights are on at all times when I’m commuting, day or night. They’re rechargeable so why the heck not, you need to do everything possible to stand out in traffic.

One more reason for so many lights – batteries burn out. When one dies you always have a backup.

There are a few really good inexpensive options on Amazon for about $10. Buy a few extra, carry them with you and GIVE THEM away to riders that are less fortunate and less informed than you are! Be a good human being, help a less fortunate rider out! Get on board with the Every Cyclist Safer Movement.

Inexpensive Bicycle Tail Light on Amazon

The most important thing about being on the bike is being SEEN not seeing.

A Word on Batteries

They do not like cold. Your lights and electronics won’t last as long. They’ll often recover once they warm up. There’s not much you can do about batteries in lights, but you can stash GPS devices/phones in a chest pocket close to your body heat to maintain run time.

Essential – Conspicuity/Reflective Tape

I bought some reflective tape on Amazon thinking I was getting a good deal and saving some money and it was junk. Don’t go cheap. Do it right and buy 3M DOT grade reflective tape. Be sure any clothing, bags or other gear you buy come with reflective accents.

Clean your bike well and add reflective accents with the 3M tape. A key area are your cranks. The idea is to accentuate the motion that will be a spot on giveaway to a driver that you are a cyclist. The up/down motion (as seen from front/behind) or circular motion as seen from the side are unmistakable.

When lit up by headlights, I probably look like a grounded UFO, especially at night.

There are also many commuter/trekking tires that come with reflective sidewalls. Use them.

Essential – Rear view Mirror

A rear view mirror that works for you. There are many different styles. Ones that attach to the helmet/visor or glasses, handlebars, etc. I like the helmet visor mount. Takes a few rides to get used to it because it does create a small blind spot, but you naturally begin to work around it. What I really like is the ability to move my head around and see a pretty large view of what’s coming up behind me.

Imagine driving your car with no rear view mirror and no side view mirrors. That’s the way it now feels for me to bicycle commute without a mirror. I feel extremely unaware of my surroundings.

Most bike shops carry them.

Riding on the Street

Being seen is the most important thing (see above).

Always ride with traffic. Be confident. Do NOT ride the gutter. It is much safer to take a strong/confident position in the driving lane forcing cars to slow and wait to ride around you then to give them enough room to unsafely “squeeze” by you. Most cycling accidents with cars happen when being overtaken from behind. Your lights and riding position will greatly enhance your safety. Use your mirror and your ears to know what’s going on behind you. Never ride with in-ear buds that block surrounding sounds. Never ride with music so loud that you can’t hear approaching traffic.

Do not ride on the sidewalk. It is illegal in many areas and very dangerous as drivers do not expect a cyclist to suddenly appear at an intersection off a sidewalk.

The most dangerous vehicle on the road is not the semi truck, it is the pickup truck towing a landscape trailer or a boat trailer. The trailers are wider than the truck and drivers often forget this as they pass you. When you see these approaching from behind you…be read to take action if necessary.

Do not get into a shouting match with a driver. I would rather walk or ride away humbly than to get run down because I mouthed off in anger.

Use hand signals to let drivers know when you are turning.

Make eye contact with drivers, smile, constantly give “thank you” or “hello” waves. Every attempt to humanize these beings riding bicycles goes a long way to enhancing our safety on the road. Eye contact can save lives! Eye contact is one of the most important things you can do to be seen or to be noticed.

Traffic Lights/Signs

If you are first in line at the light, take the center of the lane and put your front wheel on the “cyclist” logo. At most lights this logo is positioned to allow the metal in your wheel/frame to trip the intersection sensor. The sensors detect metal in the roadway above, they are NOT weight sensitive as many people believe. Most lights will change within 30 to 60 seconds.

If there are already cars stopped at the light as you approach, do NOT “filter” to the front of the line and wait to the right of the first car. This is bad form, illegal and angers drivers that have already cautiously passed you on the approach to the light. Take your place in line and in the center of your lane when safe.

When the light changes, move as far right as is safe (but not to the gutter).

Please stop at stop signs just as vehicles are required to.

Laws

Keep a copy of the State of MO Cycling Laws handy on your phone or in your pocket. Read them.

Most of what follows are in regard to wet/cold weather commutes/riding.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” – Jim Phillips

2 Degrees Commute

Clothes

Essential – Thermal tights. Coovy Thermal Tights. Good for light rain, cooler temps down to the 30’s.

Essential – A waterproof, reflective and BRIGHT jacket. Example: Endura Luminite II Jacket.

Endura Luminite II Jacket

Best jacket I could find with good reflective patches, breathability and super bright neon green safety color. This stays in one of my bags at all times just in case I get caught out in rain.

For when it’s raining hard/really cold:

Santic Wind/Rain Tights

These run small. I’m 5’6” and I wear an XL. They have a water/windproof barrier on the front and a breathable fabric on the back. These are great over top of the Coovy Tights and good for darn chilly commutes.

WOOL! A light Merino wool base layer is amazing when it’s cool/cold, even when it gets wet or damp still retains its insulating properties unlike cotton. Once cotton gets wet you’re done for. Use layers of light wool and technical fabrics. Again, you’ll get a feel for what’s right for you after a few rides.

A light/medium Merino wool base layer, with a long sleeve tech T-shirt and a breathable but wind/waterproof jacket are all I’ve ever needed down to single digit temps.

Head Gear

Helmet! Neon Safety Yellow or Green with reflective accents. This is often the first part of you that comes into view for motorists. Don’t wear a dark helmet or white for that matter. White is proven to be less visible than the bright, annoying safety colors.

I shave my head so this info will certainly differ for you.

When you buy a helmet, be sure there is enough adjust-ability to allow you to wear the thickest cap, balaclava, beanie etc. with the ability to adjust it back down to fit your head with no gear on.

Light rain, cool commutes I wear a skull cap under my helmet.

Skull Cap

When the temps drop below about 40, depends on wind, rain/snow, etc. I’ll put on a Balaclava.

Pearl Izumi Balaclava

 

Foot Gear

I ride clipped in, I usually just use my Mountain Biking shoes clipped into Time ATAC pedals. I used to mess with neoprene covers when it rained or the temps dropped. That gets really old muscling those things on over cycling shoes!

Neoprene Booties

If I know it’s going to rain or if the temps are going to be below about 40 I’ll wear some winter grade cycling boots.

Northwave Celsious Arctic 2 GTX Boots

Winter riding boots are EXPENSIVE. There are many cost effective alternatives. Get a set of Neoprene shoe covers, some good wool socks and use a good insulated insole. This works especially well if you are using a Mountain Bike clipless pedal system. Obviously the colder it gets the colder the metal cleat gets, it can sometimes feel like you have an icy spike driving into the sole of your foot. It can be infuriating! The ice cold cleat right under your foot sucks all the heat out of your foot.

These insoles from Lake Cycling have a moisture wicking felt top layer and a reflective liner that serves two purposes, reflecting the cold back toward the cleat and the heat back into your foot!

Lake Winter Insole

The last line of defense is to keep your feet dry. Even the best boots will leak a little. You can try the plastic sack/bread bag trick, pulling one over your feet after you get your socks on. They don’t breath at all though.

SealSkins makes some pretty high tech wool socks with a water barrier that breathes. They are truly a great piece of kit but they’re pretty spendy too. Varying prices starting with short shocks to very long socks that go all the way to your knees.
SealSkins Socks

 

Gloves

My solid old stand by for cooler weather/shorter wet rides are Pearl Izumi Amfib Winter Gloves They are not waterproof, but hold off the damp long enough for a ride to work.

When it gets really cold or wet, I reach for the Pearl Izumi Lobster Claw Gloves.

 

Cold/Wet Weather Riding

Try to avoid puddles, they often hide potholes (or other obstacles) which can cause you to flat, damage your wheels or worse…toss you to the pavement.

I check my phone for weather before I get out of bed. Get the mind set. Doesn’t matter what the weather is…I’m riding. You start to get a feel for what’s comfortable based on the temps, humidity, etc. As I’m feeding my dogs, I’ll step out onto the porch and get a real feel for what’s “in the air”. When it’s cooler out, you want to feel a little cool to start. Nothing is worse than being bundled up warm and toasty – then starting a ride and a little while in you are roasting and peeling off layers which causes you to freeze because by then your under layers are damp with sweat so you instantly freeze. You’ll be amazed at how much heat you generate when you are riding.

Bags/Packs

I’ve been using the same panniers for 3 years. They’re “water resistant”. Mileage will vary. Depends on how hard it’s raining and how many puddles you splash through. If you don’t want something to get wet (work clothes, electronics, etc)…zip lock bags, walmart bags, etc.

Tools/Parts

Spare Tube Patch Kit Co2 Inflator
Small Frame Pump Tire Levers Co2 Cartridges
Multi-Tool w/Chain Tool Hand Full of Zip Ties

Connect to the Cycling Tribe!

Look for group rides in town, ride with others. Most towns have a very diverse selection of groups to ride with from beginner/social groups and pub crawls to race teams and training rides. Ask at your local shop for events and group rides, ask at many different shops (some shops won’t tell you about other shop’s rides).

Ozarks Cycling Calendar online calendar

Ozarks Cycling Calendar Facebook Page

Maintenance

Full length cable housings (or internally routed cables) on brakes and shifters will greatly increase reliability and cable longevity for a commuter bicycle. Full length housing weighs a little more which is why most bikes don’t use it, but the weight penalty is minimal and it doesn’t really matter on a commuting machine.

Regular drivetrain cleaning will also increase drivetrain life. Riding in the wet/snow will cause all kinds of junk to build up on gears, chain, derailleurs. Keep it clean and regularly lubed.

Other Stuff

Search Facebook for riding groups in your area.

Watch YouTube videos on bicycle maintenance, especially how to fix a flat. Practice it.

“I may be old and fat, but at least I’m slow.” – Me

Love all the People – Ride all the Bikes – Smile all the Miles

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