Cold Weather Commuting Tips from KC Cyclists

4272676716_6e0d0ff1e8_zTemperatures are dropping. There are fewer hours of sunlight. Snow might be just around the corner. Some may be tempted to store their bicycles away in the garage for a few months of winter hibernation. Not so fast.

Give riding your bicycle in winter a chance. With the right clothing and gear, you’ll forget how cold it is. Sara Ramirez, a librarian, bike mechanic and all-season bike commuter, says convincing yourself to get out of the door is half the battle.

“Keep a positive mindset because once you get moving, you warm up,” Ramirez says.  “Riding in the cold makes me feel all empowered and in awe of the beauty of winter.”

What to Wear:

Toes, hands, and face get coldest the fastest. “Wool socks, gloves, and a facemask have been my three best investments for winter riding,” Ramirez says. “Facemasks seem to be better than hoodies because hoodies seem to limit my view.”

Ramirez also suggests layering, wearing an outer layer that can be unzipped or zipped depending on how cool/warm she gets.

Maggie Priesmeyer, BikeWalkKC’s Education and Outreach Coordinator,  recommends investing in a pair of waterproof, lined gloves. “And by invest I mean spend no less than $20,” Priesmeyer says. “You can always wear multiple pairs of gloves, but that messes with your handling skills a little.”

5392502855_b2025c95fb_zFor women, Priesmeyer says “leggings and tights are your best friends.”

“Shy away from cotton, it will hold sweat and won’t dry as fast.”

Priesmeyers layers as follows when wearing a skirt: tights, leggings over tights, leg warmers on top. When it comes to footwear, Maggie recommends wool socks and boots.

“Don’t be dumb and ride in flats or shoes with little lining,” Priesmeyer says. “Unless you’re wearing wool socks, then maybe. ”

tikascarfPriesmeyer also recommends wearing a scarf or popping a collar. “Scarves make a huge difference in preventing a draft down your neck!”

Tika Wrisner, a car-free cyclist, has a unique clothing technique. She wears everything in twos, i.e. “two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, tights and leggings, a jacket and a coat, and 2 scarves worn around your mouth and nose.  “Having a scarf over your mouth and nose creates a natural “heater” for your face with your own air and breathing,” Wrisner says. “Wearing your helmet keeps all of this in place, strapped down, ready to withstand the wind!”

Eric Bunch, BikeWalkKC’s Education Director, recommends wearing lobster gloves to keep hands warm. “I also recommend windproof over‐mittens, which can be worn over the lobster gloves for really cold weather, or over mid or light weight gloves.”

Another way to keep your fingers toasty are by using  Pogies, which are essentially giant mittens for your handlebars. They attach directly to the bars and you just stick your hands in for a little hand-warming oven.

How to Prep Your Bike:

Once you’re properly outfitted for a ride in the snow, it’s time to pay attention to your bicycle. Eric Bunch has some suggestions for how to convert your everyday commuter into a lean, mean winter riding machine.

“No amount of Gore Tex is going to keep you and your feet dry from road spray on a wet or snow covered street,” Bunch says.  “So fenders are an absolute must for any regular bike commuter despite what season we are in.”

For added traction on icy, slippery streets, Bunch suggests studded snow tires. He also suggests swapping out clipless pedals for platform pedals.

“Riding in my first Denver blizzard back in 2009 I found myself constantly digging snow out of my cleats,” Bunch says. “Eventually my shoes became so snow packed that I could not longer clip in. Plus riding on platforms allows you to easily wear the snow-proof hiking boots.”

To keep his hands warm, Bunch wears mittens. “My hands are the most needy part of my body when it comes to the cold and I’ll sacrifice a little gear shifting dexterity to keep from frostbite.”

With fewer daylight hours, you’ll probably end up riding in the cold at one point or another, meaning it’s time to invest in a good set of lights. Don’t be afraid to spend more than $50 on a good set of lights. They’ll last you season after season and keep you safe.

And last but not least, safety first. Always wear a helmet, and be sure to give yourself extra time to brake in case there’s any moisture in the air that may cause ice to form on your brakes.

Clothing and bicycle gear aside, sometimes the biggest challenge to overcome when biking in the winter is psychological. “Try it a couple times before ruling it out,” Ramirez says.

Have your own tips for how you stay warm in the winter? Send your comments/suggestions/photos to rachel.krause@bikewalkkc.org

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