Tuesday, January 26

Lowering the Barriers: The Winter Commute Part I

Winter bike commuting can be tough.  It can also be very rewarding.  And regardless of whether or not you commute by bike in the snow, riding a bike for fun in the snow can be…well, fun. 
I live in Kentucky now where winter weather typically shuts everything down and doesn’t linger very long.  But I cut my commuting teeth in the Denver, Colorado area where if you’re a dedicated full time bike commuter you just get used to riding on snow and ice. 
The purpose of this post is to just lay out a few tips and tricks for keeping upright while riding in the snow whether for recreation or utility.
1) Leave yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going.  This is sound advice regardless of your mode of transportation, but on the bike it is more imperative to make sure you arrive safely.  Sometimes plowed snow may block a preferred route.  Sometimes bike paths that normally get plowed don’t.  If you have mechanical trouble it’s much harder to change a tube, fix a chain, etc in cold weather.  And it’s good not to be rushed.
2) Dress like you’re going cross country skiing.  I heard someone give this advice and it changed the way I dressed for cycling and cross country skiing.  I typically would dress for my maximum heart rate but carry heavier clothing in case I had a problem.  So that meant panniers or a backpack until I got my cargo bike.  Layers are good, but ultimately cycling consistently in cold weather comes down to knowing what to wear for your comfort level and then carrying layers for contingencies.  No one wants to stop to peel off or pile on layers while riding.
This is what -10F looks like
3) Your water bottle will freeze.  Figure something else out, but make sure you keep drinking.
4) Winter days are short.  Lights. Lights. Lights.  I prefer rechargeable front and rear LED lights.  I carried the charger with me on the bike; that way if a light started going out on the ride to work I could charge it before heading home in the evening.  I ran my bright (250 lumen) NiteRider light even in sunny conditions.
Sporting chains (no kidding) and a light
5) Have a backup plan.  If you have a car and it’s just too bad to bike then drive.  There is no shame.  If you’re comfortable riding the bus and it works for you then don’t hesitate to jump on to avoid worsening conditions.  But make sure if you have a motor vehicle SAG option that when you call you’re not putting friend, family, or significant other into danger by having them come out on bad roads to save your nappy ass.  I remember calling once and then worrying about my wife getting out on icy roads with both kids in our only car.  We made it home safe, but I regretted not sticking it out and letting them stay at home where it was safe.
6) Have fun!  As much work as it was and as much as I suffered being a full time bike commuter in Colorado it was a whole lot of fun and I have a lot of great memories (and photos) from sticking to my guns even when the skies, roads, and pathways were less than optimal.
I don't know, where would YOU rather ride?
For my next post I'll roll you through a day in the life of a winter bike commuter.
Not THIS day


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