Monday, December 5, 2011

Yes it is possible to bike in winter

We’ve had a very mild fall this year which has made for good bicycling conditions. Lots of cyclists are still out there riding, especially those who use bikes for transportation. As temperatures continue to drop, many cyclists will put away their bikes for the winter. However, there are a number of cyclists who ride year round.

Personally I prefer cycling in cool weather. Cyclists generate a lot of body heat, so it doesn’t take much additional clothing to keep warm on cooler days. A common problem is overdressing and getting too hot. A key to dressing in colder weather is to use layers that can be removed as you warm up. A good wind-resistant outer shell is very effective at keeping the cold out and the heat in. When temperatures drop below about 40 degrees, our extremities tend to get colder than the rest of our body. Keeping feet warm is a challenge. Wearing heavy socks may seem like a good idea, but if your feet are constricted, blood flow is reduced and you’ll get cold anyway. One solution is to wear a shoe cover that keeps out the wind and holds in body heat. I am currently using sandals (yes, sandals) with windproof socks or neoprene socks. The sandals stretch a bit so my feet aren’t constricted and body heat is retained well.

Keeping hands warm is another challenge. I have 3 or 4 different types of gloves depending on the weather. If it’s cool, light full-finger gloves are all that are needed. As the temperature drops, I’ll use thicker insulated gloves that are also waterproof. When it’s really cold, below freezing, I have to resort to using insulated mittens. There are many good cycling-specific glove options available at your local bike shop.

You’ll also want something to cover your ears and face. I use a light headband that covers the ears and fits easily under my helmet. When it’s really cold I’ll use a fleece cap. For my face I use a neck gaiter which is a fleece tube that goes around the neck and can be pulled up to cover the chin and mouth if necessary.

People who use bikes for transportation also need a good lighting system, especially in the winter. There are two types of bike lights, those that allow you to be seen and those that let you see where you’re going. Lighting technology has improved greatly and a good lighting system, including a powerful front and bright rear light, can be purchased for under $100. Newer lights are very bright and can be recharged using a USB port.

When riding in the dark it’s also helpful to have bright, reflective clothing to improve your visibility. Most good bike gear has reflective bits embedded into the fabric. As bicycling has become more popular, some clothing manufacturers have developed very fashionable clothing that has features that appeal to cyclists who don’t care for spandex and gaudy colors.

There will be a few hardy cyclists who will ride in just about any weather conditions. Even when there is snow on the ground, if trails are cleared of snow, cyclists will ride. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, not known for mild winters, trails and bike lanes are plowed and cyclists ride throughout the winter.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which maintains the W&OD Trail, recently purchased a snow plow and they plan to plow the trail for winter bike commuters.

If you don’t ride in the winter and plan to put the bike away for the winter, now is a great time to get it tuned up and ready for spring.

I’ll be out there riding this winter for most of my short trips. The thought of driving on our often congested roads is enough to keep me on my bike. It’s not that hard, it just takes a little preparation and planning.

This article is cross-posted on the Reston Patch.


Wait, they're going to plow the W&OD? Sweet! Not sure how I missed that, great news.
I try to ride all winter - but I have a folding bike for the really rough days - if I think I can ride, but it turns out to be too icy or cold, I can just hop on the train with my bike. I've really been enjoying this fall though...much nicer than last year.
Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority: The W&OD did purchase a small snow blower attachment for an existing tractor. It is not a plow and will not allow our staff to undertake full scale snow removal operations on the trail. This equipment will be deployed after significant snow of great than 6" to supplement the melting process. We hope by using this equipment the amount of time the trail remains snow and ice covered will be greatly reduced.

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