TOP 10 TIPS FOR WINTER COMMUTING
Fenders are key during winter riding – without them you’ll get covered with wet, grimy spray from your tires, and so will those riding behind you. Close-fitting fenders are great for rainy climates, but clog up with slush in snowier conditions. Fenders that clip-on to your downtube and/or seat post are ideal for use in heavy snow, as they won’t clog.
Short days and low-visibility weather make front and rear lights essential during winter. If you ride in dimly lit areas, a front light that helps you see what’s ahead (not just be seen) is key. Opt for a light that’s about 150 lumens or more. If you commute only in well-lit areas, a front light that helps others see you, 60 to 150 lumens, is fine. Cold conditions are tough on batteries, so consider running two rear lights or at least carrying a spare.
3. Tire Choice
Proper wet/snow tires will offer the most security in terms of grip for winter conditions. Look for tires with larger spacing or channels in the tread, as this will prevent hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when a wedge of water lifts the tire from the road, creating a situation with a dangerous lack of grip. Having tires with channels in them provides a space for the water to go, while still providing proper contact with the ground. If you live in a place that sees frequent amounts of snow & ice, consider a studded tire.
4. Dress Properly
The important thing to note with winter commuting on your bike, is that cycling is a physical activity, and you will generate body heat when doing it. So, it’s important not to overdress, as you will be way too hot. But in the same breath, be sure not to underdress, as you will have a hard time staying warm. A good closer fitting base layer underneath a jersey or shirt will help keep your body temperature regulated. Consider something made of merino wool, as it still will keep you warm if it manages to get wet. A waterproof/breathable jacket and pants will help keep you dry as well as making sure you don’t get hot and sweaty on the inside.
Often in wintertime it’s raining and/or snowing. Cycling in these conditions without protection for your eyes can leave you squinting for the entire length of your commute. A pair glasses with a basic clear lens, will help keep the water out of your eyes. Also, look for glasses that have anti-fog coatings on the inside, as fogging can happen quite a bit in the winter. Glasses with yellow tinted lenses will also help in lower light conditions, as they held create more definition.
Summer cyclists usually get a tune-up once a year. Year-round cyclists tune-up every few months because winter can be tough on bikes. Some, people will even use a "beater" bike (albeit a well-functioning one) for the winter months. Make sure you get your bike serviced before winter and after winter as wear and tear and grime build up occur mostly during this period.
It's easy to forget to hydrate yourself in the winter months. While the cooler temps may not make you feel like you're dehydrating, the reality is that biking is an aerobic activity and the outside temperature has little effect on the amount of water your body loses. Keep in mind that your winter clothing traps more heat, thereby increasing your body temperature and causing you to sweat more. Also, the atmosphere tends to be drier in winter, pulling more moisture out of your body with every breath. In summer, if you start to feel thirsty you haven't drank enough water. In winter, you can reach dehydration long before you start to feel thirsty.
8. Snow and Ice
While we don’t often get snow and ice in these parts very often, it can still happen, as this winter in Vancouver has shown. Watch out for areas with melted snow. Snow often melts in the sunlight but refreezes in lower temps or as the sun sets. These are likely places to find black ice, which, as with auto driving, is probably the single most dangerous aspect of riding a bike in below-freezing conditions. Don't freak out. Just ride slowly and steadily through it; if your tires slip, go with it. The good news is that your bike is likely going slowly and you have a few extra clothes to help pad a fall. I have fallen several times due to black ice but by being aware of these areas and riding slowly, I have never done more than bruise my ego.
9. Bags and Panniers
If your bike commute is farther than a couple of miles, you're probably going to need to carry work clothes. There are 3 options for this: backpacks, messenger bags or panniers. For winter riding, a waterproof backpack is a good option. It offers a slim profile and a stable 2-strap configuration. A messenger bag has a single strap and, if not loaded carefully, can shift around and throw off your balance. This can be a nightmare when the ground is wet or snowy. Panniers are good but they do make your bike a little wider. This can be a concern when riding in winter because it's best to stay farther out from the curb then you would in the summer—which means that you are closer to cars than normal. However, panniers do offer the best cargo solution on any bike and with reflective accents and lower profiles this problem is less apparent than it used to be.
10. Post-Ride Maintenance Tips
With all the dirt, gravel and other contaminants on the road, any bike will soon start to squeak, click and clatter after a certain period of time. The more moving or exposed parts, the more places that sand, salt and dirt can gather and affect performance. By minimizing rust and dirt accumulation, you'll keep everything working much happier and smoother. To do so, get in the habit of cleaning your chain and drivetrain after almost every ride. A chain cleaner, rag and an old toothbrush are all you need. Just clean it up and re-lube it with a chain lube designed for wet/dirty climates. Wipe down your brakes after snowy or dirty rides and make sure the contact surfaces with the wheels are clean.