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5 Tips for Riding Your Bike Through Winter

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You can have an enjoyable time bike commuting through fall & winter if you learn to stay warm & dry; do some quick bike maintenance; keep your clothes and lunch dry; find the best cycling routes and the safest way to ride them.
1. Dress for Success:  Dress in thin layers and protect yourself from the wind. If you ride slow, or conditions will make you ride slow, wear more layers and peel off as needed. The point is to avoid sweating. Protect yourself from cold wind and rain with a breathable windbreaker.

Your legs require fewer layers, because they are doing all the work, but keep your knees protected. Look for tights that have extra padding at the knee or have a wind/waterproof front.

Hands are easier to layer than feet. A thin glove, followed with a fleece glove, covered by a waterproof lobster mitten will keep the coolest hand toasty for the longest time. Mittens help retain heat but make shifting gears and braking difficult.

For feet, caged pedals allow a greater variety of footwear but clip-in pedal systems have fewer pressure points at the toes. Cyclists with caged pedals can wear anything from hiking boots to rubber boots. Cyclists using clip-in pedal systems must layer in the shoe, with thin waterproof socks, and above the shoe using rain booties (covers) or, in cold dry weather, neoprene booties.

Wear eye protection. Debris flies up whenever a motorist passes. Use the anti-fog treatments skiers use or apply a thin layer of soap to your glasses and wipe.

Thin neoprene headbands do a marvellous job of keeping the ears warm and they don't interfere with the fit of your helmet. Thin toques under the helmet help retain body heat, baseball caps work fine too. On really cold days, you may also wish to consider a neck gaiter or facemask and using an additional piece of padding down the front of your shorts.

2. Minute Maintenance:  After your ride, wipe the wheel rims (braking surface) with a rag. Spray and wipe your chain with WD-40 (Water Displacement) and let it drip dry. Lubricate your chain before you ride again.

Check your tires regularly for cuts and foreign objects. Tires with thick rubber or knobbies work well as flat prevention. Tire liners present an additional layer of protection but make sure you do your part with daily inspections.

3. Clothing Ceremonies:  Transporting your clothing, without getting them wet, can be a challenge to owners of porous panniers. Waterproof panniers are available but they are expensive. Most cyclists use plastic bags inside their panniers. Don't squish your clothing down, they get wrinkled. Better yet, take them to work on non-cycling days. One more note: keep your lunch in a separate bag!

At work, hang up your bicycle clothing in a warm room to let them dry. Your clothing needs air circulation to dry, so don't put them in a closet. With the aid of a fan, your clothing will quickly and without odour.

4. Choose your route carefully:   Your favourite summer cycling route may not be a suitable winter route. When darkness falls, and help is a long way away, you may not want to be on an idyllic path next to nowhere. Flats are the most common mechanical problem and freezing your fingers, while trying to fix a flat, does not make for a pleasant experience. Plan a route that has options for problems in cold weather.

Road speed is your friend and enemy. On cold and rainy days your body moves slower. You may be able to ride at your summer speed but you probably will not be able to react and brake as quickly.

Road conditions can vary greatly on a winter's day ride. At any moment you can be riding in/on rain, snow, slush, through high winds, ice, black ice, puddles, leaves and sandy pavement.

When possible, avoid roadway snow, ice, leaves, sand and puddles. They are all slippery and can hide debris. When you must ride over a potential hazard, ride as upright as possible as if your were crossing railway tracks.

5. See and be seen:   In motorist caused car/bike collisions, usually at intersections, drivers often say they didn't see the cyclist. To reduce the frequency of collisions, cyclists must become more visible and conspicuous to motorists by using lights, reflectors and a road position that permits good sight lines.

Lights have two uses, to see and be seen. Though many 1-watt lights are available, consider a 3-watt light as a minimum to be seen in all but the most terrible of winter conditions. Point the light up to motorists and use the ambient light of streetlights to navigate. In areas without streetlights, a 10-watt lamp will allow you to see the black asphalt roads on dark rainy days.

White reflectors at the front of the bike are only effective when a motorist is heading straight for the cyclist. Use a light, it's the law. At the back of your bike, a three-inch amber reflector is very effective used in conjunction with a solid or blinking red light.

Bright coloured safety vests, moving reflectors on your pedal or leg, combined with a road position that permits visibility, alerts and allows motorist to make better decisions to deal with your presence on the roadway.

Riding through winter is fun, challenging and possible when you consider how to stay warm and dry, how to maintain your bike, keep your luggage dry, how to plan your route and ride it safely.

 

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