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Winter Bike Commuting: Everything You Need To Know
Whether you're riding for fun, fitness, or continuing your daily commute to work, biking in the winter is much easier than you think! In this post, you’ll learn:
- what to wear to stay warm while biking in the winter
- Safety essentials to keep you riding safe on winter roads
- Special considerations for long distance winter bike commutes.
Why Would You Want to Bike In The Winter?
The last census revealed that the average commute here in Peterborough is an easy 4.4km. That means for approximately 50% of the population, you’re travelling that distance or less. Even in winter, that’s a very manageable ride - whether you’re headed to work, shopping, or somewhere else. Here at Wild Rock Outfitters, we want to encourage as many folks in our city to go by bike more often - it's fast, healthier for you and the environment, safe, and fun!
With the right clothing, gear and a little planning, commuting by bike in the winter can be a breeze. Just think - you won’t have to scrape ice off the car, deal with parking passes, plus your fitness will be miles ahead of your friends’ when spring riding season hits.
What To Wear
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? It’s cold outside in the winter, especially in the mornings. Like any other time of the year, it’s just a matter of dressing for the conditions. Chances are good that you already have everything you need to stay warm and comfortable on a short ride in your closet.
First things first, please don’t get on your bike without a helmet. We want to see you out on your bike for years to come, and head injuries are nothing to trifle with. How do you keep your head warm under a helmet? You need a thin, warm, beanie style hat. Merino wool hats are great for this purpose.
On milder winter days, you probably won’t need anything over your face for a short ride, but the colder it is, the more you’ll appreciate a pair of clear or tinted sunglasses. Even if it’s not sunny out, these will keep your eyes protected from any glare, and add a little extra warmth. You can even try a pair of goggles for even better protection from cold and wind.
As it gets further below freezing, we suggest you wear a buff or neck gaiter. It will give some extra warmth around your neck, and you can pull it up to protect your chin, cheeks and nose. For the really cold days, it’s worth wearing a balaclava. You might have one for shovelling or snowmobiling, and it’s perfect for cycling as it will fit smoothly under your helmet. Try layering your balaclava with a thin hat if you’re venturing out when it’s colder than about -20 celsius.
The rules of the game here are windproof and waterproof. Keep your body warm and dry with layers that will break the wind and keep any slush, rain or snow from getting through. We recommend a standard winter jacket and a pair of waterproof pants that will fit right over your regular work clothing. Since you have a short ride, you won’t get too sweaty, and that means you can just take off the jacket and splash pants when you arrive at the office. There’s no need to find a washroom or change-room, and that leaves you more time to enjoy your morning coffee. As the temperatures drop, you can add an extra thin base layer - but remember, you’ll warm up quickly once you get going.
Your hands will bear some of the brunt of the wind and cold on a winter commute, so warm, windproof gloves are a must. You’ll be ok with regular winter gloves on mild winter days, but as you near -20 or colder, you’ll want a full gauntlet style or lobster glove that goes up over your sleeve. Lobster gloves are our top pick, because they give you the freedom, control and dexterity to use your brakes and shifters, with the added warmth of a mitt.
To keep your toes warm and feet dry, you can wear your regular waterproof winter boots, just as you would if commuting by car. If the weather is colder than about -10, we recommend breaking out your heavy duty winter boots. It’s important that these are waterproof, and that they have a little clip or laces so you can secure your pants at the bottom - no one wants a breeze or slush flying up their pant legs!
Finally, one of the key considerations for keeping you warm and dry on your winter commute is not what you’re wearing, but what your bike is wearing. Fenders are key on slushy and snowy days to stop all that grimy spray from your tires from covering your back. Adding a long front fender is also a smart move to keep your feet (and the rest of you) clean, warm and dry.
You may also consider adding studded tires for more traction on your winter commute. They are an investment, but they’ll give you added confidence riding across frozen puddles, through slush and stopping at icy intersections.
How To Stay Safe
Winter riding adds a few unique safety challenges; the roads are slippery, lanes are narrower, visibility can be reduced, and drivers may not be expecting to see a cyclist on the road. Here’s what to do to make your winter commute by bike safer:
One of the most important ways to make sure motorists see you is to add some flash points to your bike. That means adding bright, eye-catching details to your moving parts, such as your feet and hands. Look for gloves and footwear with 3M reflective strips, or add these yourself with reflective tape. Also consider wearing a jacket that is brightly coloured or features reflective strips - especially in the winter when drivers are less used to seeing bikes on the road, bright clothing helps you stand out.
Not only should you be bright to be seen, your bike should be dressed up too. Please make sure you have both day and night-time running lights on your bike. There are many options out there when it comes to bicycle lights, like rechargeable lithium ion battery LED lights, which are some of the brightest we’ve seen. Plug them in while you’re at work, and they’ll light up the entire road on the way home in the dark. You may also have regular battery-powered LED front and rear lights, which are great for cycling in the dark, but not as helpful in daylight.
Like in summer, in the winter we don’t ride the same routes we drive. Grab your city map and take a good look to identify the quieter, slower roads and trails along your commute. Chances are you can design a much safer and more enjoyable route without adding more than a few minutes to your ride. Even if you add a few minutes
As always, remember to have a good quality helmet. There is new technology out there like MIPS and WaveCell, that make helmets safer and more protective than they’ve ever been. Here too, you’ll want to make sure you have a bright colour or reflective strips so that your helmet will pick up car headlights at night.
Considerations for Long Winter Commutes
If you have a long commute to work, you probably want to make the most of it. This is a perfect opportunity to combine the time you spend travelling to work with your fitness goals.
However, with a longer commute, your strategy will be a little different - it’s worth dressing for the activity. Make sure you scope out a spot at the office where you can change from your cycling kit into your work clothes.
If you’re going for a hard workout, you can count on sweating. To keep you from getting too drenched on the way to work, it’s imperative that you layer according to the temperature and how hard you’ll be working.
On the bottom, choose a pair of tights or pants with a chamois, or your summertime shorts with a pair of tights over top. If the weather is particularly cold, a windproof tight with some thermal properties is a great choice. On your upper half, we recommend a long-sleeve thermal top paired with a fitted windproof and waterproof shell.
As for footwear, the key words are dry, warm and comfortable. If you ride with clipless pedals, you’ll be happy to know there are warm cycling boots out there that will allow you to clip in. There are different options for weight and temperature ratings, but overall, be sure to choose a waterproof and windproof boot. You can also opt for a warm water-repellent shoe cover if you plan to wear your regular cycling shoes.
To keep your commute from being miserable, you also need to keep your hands warm. You likely have a pair of thermal gloves already, but another option to consider is the lobster glove we mentioned earlier.
And no matter how well you are dressed, keeping moisture off your body is essential, and the easiest way to do that is by using a fender on your bike.
Finally, since you need to carry your work clothing and other gear with you, you’ll need a backpack. It should come as no surprise that sleek, comfortable waterproof cycling backpacks do exist, but if you already have a favourite pack, you can pick up a waterproof cover.
Whether you work from home or somewhere else, winter cycling is a great way to stay fit all winter long, and soak up the benefits of some outdoor time and sunshine during our breaks, lunch hours and after work.
We hope we've motivated and equipped you with the knowledge on how to enjoy cycling all year round. Come chat with us if you’d like more help with gear or route selection, whether you’re riding for fun, fitness, or commuting by bike this winter.
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