December is here so that means that the snow will soon be upon us. This means it is time for the winter bike commute, not only cold, but with snow. Yes, cycling in snow is not only possible but it is a wonderful adventure. Sure, it is cold, but to cycle through newly fallen snow with the white beauty all around in the early morning quiet is a real treat. The commute becomes a bit of a grind when the bike path becomes pitted by frozen footsteps in the snow, but I still ride my bike almost every day. Here are some tips for those who want to ride their bikes throughout winter.
Firstly, I use my winter tires. These have studs in them to improve traction on snow and ice. With a very aggressive tread pattern, and 168 studs, they grip like nothing else on a snow covered or slippery road. Unfortunately, it is like driving a tractor because of the additional rolling resistance. Sill, it is a tradeoff that I’m quite happy to make. Check out Peter White Cycles as they have a good description of studded tires. I got mine from Bike Nashbar but they no longer seem to carry them.
I upgraded my mountain bike to have a front wheel with a disk brake. Regular brakes can cause real problems stopping when the ice and snow build up. A rear brake would also be useful, but not as necessary as the front.
Bottom Bracket Guard
One problem that I had forgotten last year was the build up of ice around the bottom bracket of my bicycle. When this freezes we lose our ability to change gears and use the back brake as the cables are covered by a thick layer of ice. To solve this, I went to Performance Bike later in the day and purhased a mud guard. With the help of a hack saw, I was able to modify it to protect the bottom bracket area. This will solve the problem for me in the future.
Besides having your bike prepared, you need great clothing. The first rule, of course, is layer/layer/layer. I had picked up in China some great cycling clothes with Goretex Windstopper so when it is about 25 and above I need this with a vest; 35 and above just this. Below 25 I use ski pants and a heavier jacket.
The feet take quite a beating in the cold. I use Lake MX-255 shoes which are excellent, supplemented by some nylon shoe covers (which also keep my trousers out of the chain’s way). One thing you’ve got to check is that the bottom of the shoes are sealed properly. Most shoes have a place to attach cleats but if you don’t put silicon around the cleat plate your feet will get wet (and cold). It’s always good to get shoes like these a little large as that leaves room not only for large socks, but also for putting in toe warming packets. In fact, you can even buy soles that are designed to have these warmers inserted.
Last year I had a lot of problems with face numbness. I tried headbands, scarves, but nothing seemed to work. I then discovered the Seirus ‘Ultra Clava’ at REI which is a waterproof, windproof and breathable balaclava. This has been one of the best purchases in years as it keeps me very toasty on even the coldest days. Highly recommended.
Mittons complete the ensemble (unless it is about 40 degrees or above when I wear gloves).
With the right gear you’ll have a hoot cycling through the snow, skidding around corners, doing figure eights in the open spaces – and commuting is possible even on the worst days.