Winter Biking After One Season

We have at least one more solid month of ‘sincere’ winter here, but since I biked through my first rain storm since November, I figure I can be optimistic and say winter is ending – if not over entirely. Looking back on four months solid of cold-weather biking, I scratch my head a little at why people are so scared of it. Sure, I was scared at first, but it’s actually surprisingly easy.

The first thought I have is that hybrid bikes are the best option for most winter situations. I started the season with the only bike I’ve ever owned: a Schwinn Mesa MTB. I figured, if nothing else, it was a safe ride for the winter and by spring I could afford to buy a better bike. My lovely Alchemist insisted on buying me an early 30th birthday present, which is how I ended up with my second bike: a Trek 7500 FX.

I gave it one ride and fell in love. At the time, though, the roads were clear and dry. The tires have very light tread on them. How in the world would they perform on slush or snow? As it turns out, hybrid tires have more grip than MTB tires. The thinner profile cuts through the snow to the pavement. While I have fishtailed some, it’s a lot less prone to that behavior than my old MTB. As a final bonus, the lighter aluminum frame makes it easier to recover than the heavy steel frame. All bikes save the ridiculous “balloon” tire models will struggle in deep snow but hybrids are a great choice for road work in the winter.

My area has had a very cold winter, like much of the country, which has definitely tested my ability to stick with commuting and fitness riding. The bare essential gear you need for sub-freezing biking consists of:

  • Windproof gloves
  • Insulated boots (though feet wrapped in plastic bags can potentially “fix” standard boots/shoes)
  • A rain/wind shell (all the layers in the world mean nothing if wind and moisture cut through them).

For all the stories about getting “frostbite in X minutes” the only temperature danger happens at is below -10F. And once you hit that point, you can easily remain on the bike with additional preparation. This means a fleece face mask (on my shopping list for next winter), additional layers top and bottom, and a support network if you get stranded (friends/family, biking on or near a public transportation route).

If temperatures in your area reach a sustained -20F, it will also be a great idea to replace your standard lubrication with low-temperature snowmobile grease on shift/brake levers, rear derailleur, and the freewheel.

Don’t be scared of biking in the cold. It’s challenging but rewarding in a way that cozy gym exercise isn’t. Ask questions. Experiment. Resist the temptation to buy gear unless you truly need it.

Bike as many days as you can, even if it’s short distances. I spent most of the season biking 3-4 days a week. Over the past week I’ve biked every single day, and my body feels great. I can’t fit longer rides in 7 days a week but my stress level is so much lower now that I ride every day. When you skip a day, it’s so easy to skip another, and another because ‘it’s snowing’ or ‘it’s cold’ or ‘I’m tired’. NO. Bike every day, if you can. Even if, like this morning, I gave up after 9 miles and 40 minutes because the rain was so bad I had a half-inch of water in my boots.*

Did you bike this winter? How’d you fare?

*Boots are waterproof, but my pants weren’t. Sigh. Used some of my personal money to order rain pants after I thawed out. 33F rain is COLD.


2 Comments on “Winter Biking After One Season”

  1. I’m ashamed to admit that I almost never ride my bike. Not only do I not have a bike trailer for the little guys, there is nowhere that we go regularly that it would be safe to bike to with a trailer.

  2. David says:

    What isn’t “safe?” Obviously it’s your call individually, and I only bike with my kids in summer time because I can’t fit three in a trailer and the older two are only willing to bike in fair weather. (I can custom weld one but the combined weight becomes an issue.)

    But when it comes to “safe” routes I bike myself on pretty much anything short of restricted freeways where it’s illegal.

    See the poll I started over on MMM:

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