Winter Biking: Tips from a Pro

Full bike rackRiding your bike to work offers a convenient way to get a killer workout. Even better, you can save money on gas, eliminate the grind of your daily drive, and you don’t need to budget time for exercise. However, if you live in the Great Northwest, the winter months can throw a huge wrench in your biking plans. It’s cold, it’s wet, and it means you can’t ride your bike. Or does it?

On a drizzling day when the thermostat was around 40 degrees, I came to work and discovered that our bike rack was completely full (see photo to the right). I immediately thought, “How do these bike nuts survive the cold every day?” To get some answers, I tracked down Chris, one of our die hard winter bikers, and asked him five questions to nail down what it takes to become a winter cycler. Here’s the advice he gave:

 

Chris-2_meet-chris1) What gear is a “must have” for riding in the winter?

Chris: For winter riding, I would recommend the following:

  • Water proof shoe covers
  • Gloves
  • A reflective hard shell jacket
  • Waterproof pants
  • Very bright lights for your bike, I use them even in dusk and dawn hours
  • It’s not a must have, but I recommend Merino wool for the base layers

2) What challenges do you encounter when you ride in the rain?

Chris: It depends on the amount of rain. The most serious problems are due to drivers with limited visibility (heavy rain and/or foggy windows means they can’t see as well). Wet leaves and leaf piles can also be a little dangerous. Leaf piles in the bike lane cause you to have to merge in to the road and that can be a risk depending on the time of day.

 

3) Why did you start biking to work?

Chris: I started riding a bike to save money. Back when I started riding about two years ago, gas was over $4 (per gallon). I figured out that driving my old car to work and back carried the same cost of a gallon of milk. At the time I had a 4 and 6 year old and was spending a lot of money on milk! So figured, “Hey, why not get some exercise and spend my money on milk for the kids instead of filling up the tank?” After I started riding, I also found it was a very good way to decompress after a long day at work.

 

4) How long is your typical commute to work?

Chris: I ride about 9 miles and it takes between 38 and 45 minutes. But, if it’s raining, I give myself about an hour. When I used to drive, it took me about 25 minutes.

 

5) What tips would you give to somebody who wants to start riding to work (especially during winter)?

Chris:

  • First, figure out how far your commute would be. Then, go out and ride an equal distance to see how you feel afterwards. If you feel pretty good after riding that distance, then practice riding to work on a weekend. Once you develop confidence to ride to work and back, you should be ready.
  • bike hatLearning how to change a flat tire and having a good bike is a must. Most local bike shops offer workshops and/classes, and those are a great way to learn.
  • Let your friends and family know your route to work and your typical arrival times.
  • During the winter, don’t let the cold air scare you. Dress in layers, get a balaclava (see photo), and some good gloves. But most importantly, just get out and ride!
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