Dashing Through the Snow

Photo of Katie and her bike

It may be cold outside, but that’s no excuse to hibernate! We checked in with Smart Commute’s resident year-round cyclist, Katie Wittmann, for her top tips for winter cycling:

  • Layer, layer, layer!

For my hands, I’ve found the best combination is a thin wool liner glove with windproof mittens on top. You won’t have as much dexterity with mittens, but I decided to trade off some range of motion to keep my fingers together. Thick wool socks with decent boots are recommended to keep your toes from going numb, and a ski scarf will keep your face cozy.

Image of Katie cycling through the snowFor the rest of your body, wool clothing is a good base layer, and cotton should probably be avoided.  When the temperature is above zero, I often ride in the same clothes I wear to work, but if it’s sub-zero, I pull out the wool base and carry my work clothes along with me. I know it’s an extra step, but the wool is worth it! A windproof layer should go on top of the wool (if that layer is already lined, that’s likely enough. Or if that layer is thin, add another sweater to the mix). Our bodies are all different, so find a combination that works for you. It may take some trial and error for the first few rides until you find that winning combo.

  • Keep your bike in tip-top shape

While you should take care of your bike year-round, during winter it needs extra attention. One of the best take-home messages I heard from BikeChain is to “oil anything that moves”. Use oil or lube on your brake cables and chain to keep them from rusting, and use grease on the insides of pieces that should be able to come apart (namely the post of your bike seat and handle bars, and anything that screws in). Aim to clean and oil your chain every week, and take a brush to the rest of your bike to scrape off anything that doesn’t belong there (salt, grit, etc). Lastly, as strange as it sounds, put some oil or grease in the key port of your bike lock. I learned the hard way that the lock can freeze and you can break your key by forcing it, so lube it up on a fairly regular basis.

  • Stay safe

Lights – always remember your lights! Early winter darkness on the ride home may catch you by surprise, so bring your bike lights with you just in case.

Next, you might need to rethink your cycling route in the winter. The side streets may no longer be your friend if they aren’t getting plowed after a snow storm. If your bike lane is full of snow, and there isn’t much room for you on the side of the road, don’t be afraid to take the lane. Bicycles are allowed to ride in the middle of the lane, which may become the safest place in winter.

Finally, it’s okay not to ride every day. If you ride to work one morning, and an ice storm hits during the day, don’t stress about trying to ride home. You can leave your bicycle and retrieve it another day, or take it on transit if you can. (And hey, there’s no shame in walking your bike home!) I try to ride as many days of winter as I can, but if the road conditions are really dangerous, I choose an alternative.

Even if you only try cycling a few times this winter, you’ll save a little money, get a little exercise, and perhaps inspire others to give winter riding a whirl!