Winter Biking is Fun: We'll Show You How
By Ron Beland, Doug Mink, George Ulrich, and David Wean
Dealing With the Cold:
- Layers are best. Use moisture-wicking material like wool, or synthetics
but not cotton, which tends to get wet and make you colder. Keep your core
warm. Actually, cotton is fine in dry cold weather. Denim pants are good
at blocking the wind and protective if you fall. Wear something else
between them and your skin, though.
- Shoes for winter cycling should be a generous fit to allow thicker socks (like smart-wool) and to allow good blood-circulation in your feet. Neoprene or fabric bootees will help keep your feet warm.
- Using non-cycle specific clothing is fine except for the following:
- Water-proof, breathable jacket with pit zips (look for closeout sales)
- Knee warmers, tights, or long underwear below 30-40 degrees
- Reflective pant clips
- Keep your head warm with a helmet liner, a hooded jacket, thin wool toque, or beret.
- A neoprene face mask or a balaclava help if you ride under 20 degrees.
- Goggles help on really cold or windy days when no skin should be exposed
or any day if your eyes water in wind or cold.
- Fleece gloves with leather-like palms or wind proof shell mittens are
fine but lobster-style or ski mittens work best when it’s really cold.
If sweat condenses inside the glove, your hands will get cold. Multiple
- A rain jacket with a hood worn under your helmet can keep you drier.
- Chemical hand and foot warmers work well in very cold weather. You
can seal them in a zip-lock baggie to stop the reaction and reuse them
on the ride home.
- Stuff sacks with draw strings are useful for storing layers you take
off as the weather warms.
- Usually you can wear your semi-dressy work clothing to commute in
the winter as perspiration is much less an issue, particularly if you
wear a merino wool undershirt or base layer.
- Under-dress a little: if you are toasty warm at the start of your
ride, you are probably overdressed.
Dealing with Darkness:
- Use a white headlight! If you ride mostly on streets, an inexpensive
LED light will help other traffic see you. If you ride away from street
lights, invest in a rechargeable battery-powered light or one powered by
a hub generator.
- Helmet lights are OK if you are away from other traffic, but you can
blind oncoming traffic if you shine the light in drivers' or cyclists' eyes.
- Use a red taillight. Brighter is better, but almost any LED light on
the market is enough.
- Reflective clothing, even pant clips, helps.
- Other reflective material on the bike, such as reflective tire
sidewalls or wheel reflectors, helps people recognize you as a bicyclist.
- Carry a backup headlight or at least backup batteries.
- Always be well-lit after dark.
Dealing with Snow and Ice:
- On ice, technique is as important as equipment. Make no sudden moves.
Hold your handlebars straight and steady.
- Snow can cover potholes and icy patches. Being familiar with the
surface of your route can help you avoid hidden obstacles. Stay away
from the edge of the road where the pavement in the city is usually in
- The freezing and thawing cycle causes potholes to appear overnight. Watch out!
- Sand wears parts quicker. Lubricate your chain frequently.
- The city of Boston plows its paths; hopefully the DCR will as well.
They can be a respite from icy, congested streets.
- Sand leads to flats and can be as slippery as snow. Be careful!
Equipping Your Bike:
- Use your good bike only when the roads are clear of salt, slush or snow. An older-technology bike (beater bike) with a 3 speed internal hub or a 12 speed non-indexed derailleur will handle the inevitable grit and corrosion better than newer-technology bikes with their closer tolerances.
- Nexus 7 or 8 speed hubs are great, though pricey.
- Use 32mm wide tires at minimum, 35mm or 1.5" are better.
- Use lower tire pressures in cold weather as the rubber is stiffer
(60 lbs front, 70 lbs rear for 700mm or 27" by 1 ¼ " tires).
- Studded snow tires can really grip on ice and snow but they do slow
- Fenders with a front mud flap are essential for keeping dry.
- Bring a plastic bag to cover your seat to protect it from getting
wet if you must park outdoors.
- Take care of your chain! Wipe it with a rag after a wet ride and
lube it frequently with a lubricant made for bike chains. Be sure to wipe
off the excess lube.
- If the chain gets stiff or rusty, spray it with Boeshield T-9, whichris longer lasting than WD40 and does not leave a residue.
- Purple Extreme lubricant works well in abrasive, cold, wet or acidic
- White front and red rear lights are essential. They are more for
being seen than actually lighting up the road, but if you ride in dark
areas, get more powerful headlights. Good LED lights with replaceable
batteries are usually around $30 - $40 and halogen lights with rechargeable
batteries can be $150 and more.
Riding and safety:
- Wear bright colors and reflective materials – adhesive strips are good.
- Be conspicuous and confident, for you have as much right to the road
as any other vehicle.
- Communicate with drivers – hand signals and eye contact is best.
- Using a mirror is helpful, especially in adverse conditions when
looking backward is difficult.
- Plan for the fact that stopping can take longer with stiff brake
pads and more slippery surfaces.
- Walking your bike over particularly icy sections can prevent a fall
but if you ride, don’t use the front brake or turn on ice or sand.
pedals with mountain bike style toe clips are best.
a backup way home: train, bus, carpool
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