Basic Guide to Riding in the Winter
The leaves and temperatures of fall may slowly drift downward, but that doesn’t mean your time on the bike has to decrease during the cooler months. With a little planning and preparation, you can comfortably pedal through the late fall and winter. Here are some tips to help you winterize your bike, and yourself, allowing you to become an all-weather cyclist.
PREPARE FOR THE CHILL
Winterizing your bike takes preparation, but the extra work in the beginning will greatly increase both efficiency and comfort. Follow these steps to ensure your bike stands up to the rigors of cold-weather riding.
Add Fenders: Your backside, and anyone who happens to ride behind you, will thank you.
Install Puncture Resistant Tires and Tubes: Changing flats is difficult with frozen fingers.
Inspect Brake Pads: Have your brakes inspected to ensure that your pads are thick enough to last for a couple hundred miles of riding. Grit and grime on winter roads wear down brake pads quickly, so check them often.
Use Heavier Lube: Your chain and drivetrain will be under increased duress during the winter. A heavier lube increases protection. Do not use WD-40. It’s actually a solvent, which will leave your chain bone-dry and susceptible to rust.
RIDE WITH CARE
Rain, leaves, ice and snow can all make for slick riding surfaces. The key is to stay relaxed. Avoiding tensing arms and shoulders and you’ll be able to react quicker and more fluidly to unexpected obstacles. When negotiating wet or icy streets or trails, take extra care to slow down on descents and corners, and shift your weight back when braking to prevent the rear tire from losing traction. Allow more distance for braking, and remember that cars and trucks must do the same. Invest in a helmet- or handlebar-mounted mirror to keep an eye on what’s behind you. On thawing days, beware of shadowed portions of the road; black ice may be lurking there.
After each ride on rainy or wet streets, clean your bike with soap and water, then dry it with an old towel. Be careful not to spray the chain, brakes or derailleurs too forcefully. Doing so can drive oil and grease out of working parts. After wiping down your bike, apply a fresh layer of lube to your chain and derailleur and brake pivot points. Once winter is over, have your bike tuned up at your local bike shop.
The right clothing mix can make the difference between an exhilarating winter ride and frost bite. Wear multiple layers of clothing with breathable, wicking fibers to help keep perspiration away from your body. Select clothing that blocks wind from the front, but vents under the arms or through a back flap. This prevents sweat from dampening your clothes, which will make you colder. Multiple zippers on multiple layers of clothing allow for different levels of venting, providing more precise temperature adjustment.
Your outer layer should be as bright and reflective as possible. If there was ever a time for neon, winter is it. Depending on the climate where you live, the best outer layer may be a wind jacket that fits over other layers, or a light vest that can be worn over a jersey. Arm, leg and knee warmers provide flexible outer layer options, because they are easy to remove and stash in a pocket if you get too warm.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR APPENDAGES
No matter how well your body is insulated, if your fingers and toes get cold, you’re in trouble. Never skimp on gloves. Look for a pair that blocks cold and moisture from your fingers and knuckles, yet aren’t so bulky that you can’t operate your shifters or brake levers. Also, invest in booties or toe covers to protect your shoes and block the wind. Wear a thin hat, skull cap or balaclava under your helmet and over your ears, taking care that you can still hear traffic.
Also, remember that though the sun may not be out in full force, sunscreen and eye protection from UV rays, road debris, and splatter is as important as in the summer. Sunglass lenses for winter riding are offered in dark, amber and clear, and can be easily swapped-out to accommodate various light levels.
EAT AND DRINK
While colder temperatures may not make you feel like gulping down lots of water, staying properly hydrated and consuming adequate nutrition are just as important during cold-weather rides. Regardless of the outside temperature, your body is still burning calories and losing fluids which need to be replenished if you want to maintain energy levels.
Be sure to carry a water bottle and enough food to fuel your time on the bike. Insulated water bottles are ideal for keeping contents from freezing. If your route allows for it, stop for a hot cup of tea along the way to warm yourself from the inside out.
OTHER TIPS AND TRICKS
- If your bike frame is made of steel, paint over any nicks or chips to prevent rust. Clear nail polish works well.
- Depending upon where you live, there may be salt residue on the road from snow melting sprays. In such cases, it’s even more critical to clean and re-lube your chain after every ride.
- If you use clipless pedals, spray them with a Teflon-based lubricant to keep dirt and snow from clogging them up.
- Carry a soft cloth or undershirt to wipe glasses. Rinse lenses with water to clear abrasive debris before you wipe them dry.
- Chemical heat packs used by hunters and skiers work just as well for cyclists. Use them in gloves and shoes.
- Pre-open energy bars and place them in the pocket of an inner layer close to your body. They’ll be protected from the cold and easier to access and chew.