Bike All Winter: 6 Crucial Tips to Get You through the Coldest Months

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The advantages of commuting to work by bicycle are plentiful: no parking trouble, no paying for gas, no heavy carbon footprint, lots of exercise and even happiness. But as winter sets in, it’s easy for cyclists to hop back in the car and for would-be cyclists to hold off trying it out until the Spring. While it’s true that cold and snowy conditions make biking trickier, there’s no reason to stop pedaling around town.

For proof, look at Minneapolis: Despite having one of the toughest, longest winters in the country, it was named the most bike-friendly city in the country in 2010. That’s because two wheel loving-Minnesotans don’t give up in the face of sub-zero temperatures; they adjust and embrace it. To help you do the same, here are seven crucial tips to help you ride through the coldest months of the year.

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1. Winterize Your Ride

Just because you can ride in winter conditions doesn’t mean you can ignore them. If you’ve got a mountain bike, its wider tires with better traction will serve you better than your skinny-wheeled road bike. At the least, put on studded tires; they shouldn’t cost more than $50.

It’s also worth considering riding an older bike you care less about- salt, sand and grit will take a toll in terms of rusting and damage to the frame. Installing fenders, if you don’t have any, will help deflect some of this. Make sure your brakes are in working condition and you chain is properly lubricated, and you’re good to go.

Photo: Anthony DeLorenzo CC

2. Stay Visible

Winter means shorter days, so you’ll likely be commuting before sunrise and after sunset. Make sure drivers see you: Wear a reflective vest, or at least reflective arm and leg bands. Check that your bike has reflectors, and have a light on the front as well, so you can see where you’re going.

3. Be Extra Careful

With snow piled in what was once your bike lane, you may to have ride amid automobile traffic. This is legal most places (double check traffic laws in your city), but remember that winter conditions can stress and distract drivers as well as narrow the road. Keep your wits about you.

4. Protect Your Face and Extremities

You don’t have a windshield to protect you from freezing wind and falling snow, so goggles or glasses are a good idea. Keep your head and face warm with a balaclava. Your hands and feet get cold easily and don’t move much while cycling, so  wear gloves or mittens, warm socks, and consider feet warmers.

Photo: carlosfpardo CC

5. Dress Right

You need to stay warm, but you don’t want to lose body heat due to evaporating perspiration. The best combination is a bottom layer that wicks away sweat, a middle layer that insulates your body, and a wind and water proof outer shell.

6. Take Your Time

No matter how well equipped you are for winter cycling, the best way to keep from slipping and banging your head on the ice is to ride slowly and carefully. If that means leaving fifteen minutes early, do it. Better to lose a little sleep than to rush and end up paying the consequences.

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Top Photo: thecomicproject / CC