At VeoRide, part of our goal is to help make biking fit more into people’s lives; not just for recreation, but for practical, everyday transportation, too. This means year-round riding, even in colder climates. Here are a few pointers Ian, our UX designer (and a regular bike commuter to our Chicago HQ), wanted to share about biking in the fall and winter. With the right preparation, you may discover that biking when it’s chilly can be just as enjoyable as any other time of year!
When I first began biking consistently to get around during college, even in the moderate winter of North Carolina, it struck me how much I warmed myself up just from the moderate exercise of pedaling. Provided a decent long-sleeved shirt or sweater in as low as 40-degree weather, along with a basic windbreaker as a shell, I could easily stay comfortable biking home or to class as I thoroughly warmed up within 5 or 10 minutes.
While a North Carolina winter may not seem too daunting, I confirmed that the same principles applied when I started living and biking during frigid months in Minnesota. As the temperature approached freezing, I still found that all I needed to stay warm was a reasonably thick sweater or hoodie, the same windbreaker, plus an indispensable pair of 180s ear warmers that fit comfortably and didn’t get in the way of my helmet.
As the temperatures entered the 20s, adding a scarf and pair of lightly insulated fleece gloves kept things very livable, bringing a new sense of adventure and freedom in the bike-friendly, park-filled, but awfully wintry, city of Minneapolis. As temperatures dipped closer to 20 and below, I definitely found the need for a more insulated jacket and a thermal base layer, but also learned how quickly a down-insulated jacket became oppressively hot within minutes of pedaling.
As temperatures reach the teens and below, I’ll admit a little more grit is required as the warm-up time is going to be slower and any exposed skin is going to feel some wind chill. In this case, however, biking isn’t out of the question if you wear a face mask or balaclava that fits nicely under your helmet. I recommend the brand Seirus for this kind of gear. I also find a thermal (preferably wool) base layer and heavier gloves or mittens to be crucial as the wind gets more penetrating. Check out Pearl Izumi for a pair of “lobster” mittens made specially for cyclists.
Once temperatures reach the single digits, the above winter gear can still do the trick if you’re up for it, but it’s worth mentioning the importance of safety in severe cold. Follow any weather-service advisories regarding extreme wind chill and never put yourself at risk of frostbite regardless of how much you learn to love winter biking!
To review, the key to cold weather biking is simply clothing preparation (plus a little gumption). On top of a normal fall or winter outfit, you may be surprised how far a light jacket or windbreaker plus a pair of ear warmers will go towards making biking in the cold thoroughly comfortable as you warm yourself up with the exercise in a few short minutes. As the temperature drops, just start adding a scarf and gloves, then a more insulated (but not too insulated) jacket, plus a thermal base layer and a face mask as you need them.
I mentioned safety earlier as far as avoiding extreme cold and potentially dangerous wind chills. Always check the weather and use another mode of transportation to avoid the risk of frostbite when wind chills go sub-zero. Just trust your judgment, and if you don’t feel safe, don’t ride.
This also applies to winter precipitation. I love biking year-round here in Chicago, but admittedly take a few weeks off in the winter for extreme cold, as well as whenever the roads are caked with snow, ice, or some treacherous mixture thereof. Getting exercise and having fun biking year-round definitely needs a break whenever roads and bike trails are obscured, uneven, and/or slick. With that said, after a day or two of plowing and salting after a snowstorm, I do find that roads often become quite bikeable again. And luckily, VeoRide’s bikes do have full fenders to keep you clean whenever roads are wet with snowmelt.
It’s also worth noting that VeoRide’s bikes do have sturdy tires made to provide robust traction in most conditions. (We also plan to release fat-tire bikes in the future for the ultimate in winter biking fun!) Nonetheless, use extra caution when biking in wintry conditions and always trust your judgment. Again, if you don’t feel safe, do not ride.
So here we have the basics of winter biking. Get out and enjoy the unique invigoration that comes with winter biking, but always be cautious and prepared and get around in a safer way if that’s what conditions call for. With safety and common sense in mind, just take a few simple extra measures to stay warm, and see how the cold needn’t keep you from fun, freedom, and exercise, as well as practical, flexible, and environmentally friendly transportation this winter!
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