Your Winter Biking Guide

The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing: more people getting off their bikes and into their cars. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a few adjustments you can be fairly comfortable riding well into the winter.

Here are your five winter biking essentials:

  1. Lights and reflectors. Now that we’ve turned the clocks back an hour, most of us will be biking home in the dark. On well-lit streets, the purpose of your lights will probably be less about seeing and more about being seen. Be sure to have a good front and back light on your bike at all times, preferably ones with blinking modes, which help distinguish you from all the other taillights on the road. It’s also not a bad idea to get some reflective tape for your helmet, fender and bike bag.
  2. Gloves. Gloves are essential in the cooler temperatures. It’s no fun trying to use your brakes when your hands are numb.
  3. Ear protection. It’s hard to protect your head from the elements and still be able to fit your helmet on, but keeping your ears warm is essential. My favorite item is a fairly flat headband that wraps from your forehead over your ears. When it’s really cold I have a thin, microfiber beanie that will fit underneath my helmet.
  4. Neck gaiter. Hands down, this is the best $10 I’ve ever spent. This fleece-like round piece of fabric (picture a floppy neck brace) covers my neck (and when it’s really cold I can pull it up to cover my mouth and nose, too).
  5. Layers. Keeping your core warm is essential. Try experimenting with different base layers and jackets to see what works best for your particular ride. I love the warmth of a fleece as mid-layer protection. And who needs expensive leg warmers? I find that a pair of tight-fitting, knee-high soccer socks work well to protect my right leg where I roll my pants leg up.
  6. BONUS: A back-up plan: Riding in a mid-summer rain shower is one thing. Riding in a “wintry mix” is quite another. If you don’t have the right rain or sub-freezing gear, riding in the elements can be anywhere from uncomfortable to dangerous. Plan ahead for days like this by getting your local bus schedule or a carpool buddy, and try not to feel guilty about it.

Of course, these are just basic guidelines for those of us in reasonable winter climates. If you are biking in the sleet, snow or temperatures in the teens, you would need a whole other set of advice — one that includes winter tires and shoe covers  — from someone who doesn’t draw the line at biking below 25 degrees.

Photo Credit: D’Arcy Norman via FlickR Creative Commons.

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  1. My self-imposed lower temperature limit is 15 degrees. When I lived in Phoenix my upper limit was 115. I figure a hundred degree range is pretty good.

  2. Don’t forget to wear some reflective clothing/swatches/etc – it really helps getting seen by drivers.

    And try to encourage others (walkers & joggers especially) to do the same! There are way too many people wearing black at night.

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  5. A great way to combat cabin fever. I always wear a headband under my hat to keep my earlobes warm.

    Recently added lights on my wheels, helps a great deal with traffic at intersections. Nite Ize ‘spokelit’, $10 from Amazon.

  6. I wanted to give my son a really reflective jacket for his birthday, but the items I found in bicycle stores were disappointing–high style, but with skinny little stripes that were not very visible. Then I went to a store that sells work clothes and found a great yellow jacket with 3-inch wide reflective stripes. He rides to work every day early in the morning and in the dark late afternoon, and I feel a lot better–so does he!

  7. One more idea – take a few moments and write a note to your local politicians asking for safer bicycling routes. (Personally, I think bike and pedestrian paths are a better idea than throwing bicyclers out in the street with cars, especially if we want to encourage kids to bike places.)

    Most bicycling routes are left to local politicians. But, the federal government, however, has recently provided some help. It has said that bike/pedestrian paths now qualify for federal transportation funding, along with street improvements. Encourage your local politicians to look into it.

  8. My latest – 2 lights on the front – one on the handle bars, and the second on my helmet – which is great because I can see in different directions and sometime to stare directly at drivers to get their attention!

    And so far – my record low is 25F!!

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