How to keep riding your bike through the winter

Denmark don't care. Denmark is kicking our ass, all while enjoying a higher average quality of life than us. DENMARK, guys. They're like 1/100th our size. Step up your game, America. via Copenhagen Cycle Chic

Denmark don’t care. Denmark is kicking our ass, all while enjoying a higher average quality of life than us. DENMARK, guys. They’re like 1/100th our size. Step up your game, America. via Copenhagen Cycle Chic

Conventional wisdom in America holds that the only time for biking is when the weather is nice. Biking may be downright delightful from April to October, but you don’t have to listen to conventional wisdom and give up your two-wheeler when the snowflakes start a-fallin’. After all, conventional wisdom once held that the Earth is the center of the solar system, and look how THAT turned out.

Point is, conventional wisdom is hardly the end of the argument, and you should keep riding bicycles everywhere forever even in the cold, because they’re wonderful, they’re cheap and they keep you in shape. We’ll even tell you how to beat Old Man Winter and keep riding until it warms up.

THE BIKE

We’re not gonna tell you to buy a second bicycle for the winter because that would be crazy. Here’s a suggestion for your daily rider: fenders. Fenders are a godsend that will save your back from the infamous shit skunk stripe and the rest of you from a stupid amount of gross road spray. They’re cheap (~$40, including relatively quick install) and wonderful and will make your inclement riding experience so much nicer.

biking with fenders in the winter

Do like the one on the right; the one on the left’s not so deft. Photo by Isaac Anderson

Of course, if you don’t have a bike in the first place, take advantage of those end-of-season sales! Bike shops are eager to get rid of last year’s models, and used bikes won’t fetch prices quite as ridiculous as they did back when the first signs of spring sprung so long ago. If you’re gonna be buying, no need to go too crazy, here–no highfalutin carbon-fiber frames with the razor-skinny tires, clip-in pedals, or any such awkward nonsense.

This is the time for heavy, clunky, old steel-framed bikes with fatter tires and internally-geared hubs–seriously, some fancy Campy derailleur with its exposed million gears will gunk up with road schmutz, ruining everything. Added bonus: these kind of bikes that will get you through the winter are generally more rugged, less likely to get stolen, and more comfortable. Plus they’re made in the good old days back when things were built to last and easy to fix, so they’re cheap to buy and cheap to maintain.

biking without derailleurs in the winter

Gears are like cats: if left out in a snowstorm for extended periods of time, they will freeze and stop working. Photo by Isaac Anderson

If you do find yourself with exposed gears, I guess it’s not the end of the world: just try to keep them clean and lubed up, and definitely get fenders, which will catch gunk before they hit your gears. If they get snow all up in their business and freeze in place, see if you can’t bring your bike somewhere warm for a few hours and watch your worries quite literally melt away.

STAYING WARM

Good news: You don’t need to go out and buy a whole new bike-specific cold-weather wardrobe. Riding a bike is a lot like being a pedestrian–you’re just sitting on a contraption that makes you way better (read: faster, more efficient) at walking. The biggest difference you might notice might be that things are windier because you’re going faster than when you’re walking, so take extra care to protect your extremities.

Here’s an obvious one: It’s gonna be hard to stick your hands in your jacket pockets because you kind of need them on your handlebars to steer, so you should wear some cozy gloves. Also, full-blown rain boots and wool socks go a long way when the roads get slushy with all sorts of wintry bullshit, plus the wool socks will keep your toes warm. Scarves are awesome at keeping your neck and face warm.

You can still show love for your bike. Just dress for the part

You can still show love for your bike. Just dress for the part

Layers are key for dialing in your warmth level (remember, since you’re engaging in a physical activity, you’ll be generating a good amount of heat, you little dynamo, you). In case you’re new to layering: You want to dress for warmth, not for infernal heat. The last thing you want to do is create a sweaty, sauna-like environment in there. Clothes made sopping wet from excessive sweat are bad at insulating and great at rapidly sucking all the heat out of you when you finally throw everything off in a fit of overheated frustration–which, while initially refreshing, is bad news after a minute or two. That’s the advantage of layering: as soon as you begin to feel a little too toasty, take a layer off.

Start with something thin, form-fitting, and long-sleeved and go from there. Cardigans, in addition to being the namesake clothing article of a popular Swedish 90s rock band, are also a stylish way of adding flexible warmth: they can be buttoned or unbuttoned, and are easier to remove than some other form-fitting sweaters that stick to your torso.

Finally, as a last layer, consider a windbreaker. Not that it will make you impermeable to the elements, it’ll stop those wicked winter winds from sucking you dry of all of your heat. Waterproof ones will keep that gross New York grey slush from seeping into your clothes, but again, careful with the sweat! If you can find one that is water repellent while remaining breathable, all the better. In this regard, materials make all the difference; the nylon typically used to make windbreakers can be stifling, whereas the combined breathability and water resistance of wool have made it the material of choice for seamen and landlubbers alike. It’s no mistake that sheep have evolved to grow this stuff.

Crazy how not crazy all of this sounds? Yeah, it’s not that crazy. BONUS: If you’re a dude with a beard or on the fence about growing one, beards are good at keeping the cold off your face. That and you get to collect beardsicles.

HOW TO RIDE

Slow down and use your brakes–use them well before you stop or turn, as you can’t really lean into a turn when your wheel will slip right out from underneath you. If you’ve got awesome brakes, go easy on them–it’s super easy to lock up your wheels and lose control. If you notice that happening, immediately release your brakes or you’ll quickly develop a fondness for the taste of snow. Also, if you notice that despite braking ahead of time, your brakes aren’t quite cutting it, go ahead and and lower your heels into the slush–it’s not the greatest for the soles of your shoes (but you’re wearing boots, right?) to be constantly scraping them against the ground, but it beats running into shit. Better yet, avoid needing to do this in the first place by braking, like, way far in advance.

Another fun thing you might figure out: when the going gets tough, keep on pedaling. In fact, pedal harder! Adversity should increase your resolve! You also might notice that pedaling harder keeps you warmer. But still make sure to go slow around the slippery stuff (read: drain grates, manhole covers, other steely and/or icy things) and brake well in advance. Also take extra care to look where you’re going and avoid obstacles that might be in the way.

Stoked to keep riding? Mind-blown yet by the fact that bicycles can actually be used year-round? Awesome. Brooklyn in January can feel like a goddamn winter wonderland when you’re riding through it, and it’s a great way to avoid being all SAD and such when the mercury drops.

Besides, how else ya gonna stock up on beer come next snowstorm?

3 Comment