Winter bike commuting

Tiffany Yang

It makes me really happy to see all the bikes parked outside SPH. At the start of fall term I have to fight for a parking spot but as winter approaches I have choice pick. I think a lot of people automatically assume you can’t or shouldn’t bike in the winter. I’d like to dispel this myth a few easy rules to follow. I personally bike year-round and might miss 2 or 3 days throughout the year due to bike maintenance issues. It can be pretty daunting to think about riding in the cold and snow, but it’s gotten easier every year and I kind of enjoy the challenge. Here are some of my personal commuting rules:

Rule number one: cover up your bits. Frozen earlobes suck.

Rule number two: Dress in layers; you’ll need less than you think. Really, there’s no need to look like you’re leaving for a winter expedition. However, rule one always trumps rule two and if it’s below zero, you bet I’ll be pulling on a balaclava. Your legs and core will warm itself up as you bike but your body’s weak spots include fingers, toes, ankles, throat, and ears. Winter essentials for me include wool socks, tights, boots, a scarf, long hair or a hat around my ears, and “choppers”. Choppers, mittens made from deer hide with a removable wool liner, are essential to my personal commute. They are wind-proof and mittens always win over gloves because your fingers get to keep each other company.

Finally, rule number three: no synthetic materials. It just doesn’t breathe! Nobody wants clammy feet and smelly clothes. Natural fibers feel better, they look nicer, and it’s another step towards convincing other people that you don’t need to be “geared out” to ride. Maybe you’ve seen bikers in the winter who are so padded out they look like they should be on a snowmobile out in the woods…that is not for me. There is no need for special clothing (other than a balaclava if you’re going to venture out when it’s way below freezing) and the only bike-related suggestion I would make is to get a studded tire so that you’ll have a better grip on the road when it’s icy.

Of course, helmets are a must. Always, always, always wear a helmet! I have seen so many people riding in and out of the SPH bike parking area without a helmet. Come on…this is totally a public health issue and if you can’t practice what you preach then how are you going to convince others? Does it look dorky? You bet it does! Has it protected my skull on more than one occasion? You bet. Please use one.

Also, if you’re biking in the dark, please use flashing lights (rear and front) and always be on your guard. You’re not as visible as you may think you are and you can’t totally blame a car for hitting you if they can’t see you. On that note, please also ride in the street because that’s where bikers belong; riding on the sidewalk (except when absolutely necessary) 1) make pedestrians mad, not to mention it is very dangerous and, 2) further cements the false idea that bikers don’t belong in the road. The more bikers ride where they’re supposed to (in the road), the more visible and normal it will seem to cars for us to be there. Follow the rules of the road (that means no blowing by stop signs and red lights) and we can all have a safer place to bike.

Happy commuting!

2 thoughts on “Winter bike commuting

  1. Hey Tiffany, I like your blog post a lot. I try to walk and bike in all seasons. However I will say I am wimp about biking on icy streets. And last winter I watched a bicyclist take a horrifying spill on the ice at the 7th Street /West Washington. Any further suggestions about how to be safe on the ice.

  2. Thanks for commenting! Slipping on ice is definitely not fun, but it is something that can happen. I find that my studded tires help, but being aware of the road conditions matters the most. Street intersections are generally in worse condition than the actual road, so I’ll slow down in anticipation. It takes a bit of practice to get comfortable riding in the winter. I’d suggest bulking up on clothing and taking your bike for a spin around the neighborhood and trying various ways of stopping, starting, etc. until you get comfortable doing so. I hope this helps!

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