When road conditions are less than optimal, best strategy is to use "driver behavior."

Empowered for Unlimited Winter Travel

CyclingSavvy is “Empowerment for Unlimited Travel.” We mostly think of this as removing obstacles so we can cycle anywhere, but CyclingSavvy also empowers us to cycle any time, any day or season.No need to let cold weather separate you from your bike.

While many of our friends in southern latitudes are getting their bikes out after a hot summer, cyclists up north are putting their bikes away for the season. It doesn’t have to be that way! When cold weather threatens to keep you off the saddle, tell Old Man Winter you can take anything he can dish out and still get to your destination under your own power.

I’ve been cycling to work year-round in Michigan for many years now. With the right equipment and savvy cycling skills, my commute is stress-free. I get to my destination refreshed, warmed up, and ready for the day.

When road conditions are less than optimal, best strategy is to use "driver behavior."

Winter streetscapes are totally manageable and have a magic of their own.

There are of course unique considerations when the temperature drops lower than would be comfortable in your lycra shorts and jersey. As they say in Norway, though: “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær” (“There’s no bad weather, just bad clothes”). We can extend that to other equipment as well. If you plan ahead with the right gear and the right strategy for how and where to ride, Jack Frost can go nip at someone else’s nose.

Starting with gear, here’s a few additional items you’ll want to consider:

  • Lights. Remember that the hours of darkness are long in the winter. Also, the weather can change quickly. Don’t leave home without good lights! You’ll want lights strong enough to see the pavement in front of you. Your lights should make you look like a motorcycle from the front, and slow-moving vehicle from the rear. Point your headlight slightly toward the ground, so that you don’t blind oncoming drivers. If you use USB-rechargeable lights, make sure they’re fully charged. Regarding batteries: Alkalines won’t work well below freezing, but lithium primary cells like Energizer’s Ultimate Lithium are good down to that unique temperature where Fahrenheit and Celsius are the same (-40). It’s a good idea to have “redundant lighting” (two headlights and two taillights). You don’t want to be fumbling with batteries in the freezing cold.Take the road more traveled.
  • Tires. If there’s any possibility of encountering a patch of ice, consider investing in studded tires
  • Clothes. Wind is the big enemy. As long as you’re protected from that, you’ll likely be able to generate enough heat to keep comfortable. The trick is covering your face, ears, hands, and feet. There’s an impressive variety of masks, hats, gloves and shoe covers available to meet the need. Dress in layers, and find out what combination works best in which temperature ranges for you.

With the gear sorted, strategies really aren’t too different from how we’d ride in any weather, but even more important when the mercury drops:

  • Lane position. Drive your bike where other vehicle operators are driving their vehicles. Not only does this make you visible and relevant, but it also puts you in a position where other road users have cleared a path on the pavement for you.

    This bike lane is a slushy mess.

    Bike lanes may not be plowed in the winter.

  • Route. When there’s snow on the ground, the plow crews prioritize the main roads and school routes. Counter-intuitive as it sounds, it’s usually best to ignore Robert Frost’s advice. Take the road more traveled. As with lane position, this provides the best and cleanest surface to enjoy.

There’re many more nuances and details, but those are the basics. If you live in Michigan, Maine, Montana, Minnesota, or some northern state that doesn’t start with “M” and are ready to give winter biking a try, contact me or your local friendly CyclingSavvy instructor and get Empowered for Unlimited Winter Travel!

6 replies
  1. Katherine Tynan
    Katherine Tynan says:

    The clothes really do make the difference! Fenders are a close second, as they keep the road brine/slush etc off you and the bike. This winter I’m trying to work out my recumbent trike clothing go-to’s. The insulation and windproofing are important in totally different locations than on my diamond frame all-weather commuter. I’ve got winter bike clothes down pat. I do toss in the towel the few days a year when it drops below 0*F, ices, freezing rain, or is likely to refreeze into black ice for evening rush.

  2. Gary E. Madine
    Gary E. Madine says:

    Yes. Main roadways. They’re plowed first and cleared by traffic quite well. Yes on clothing being important yet easier than the doubtful would predict. It is easy to sweat. Open that windbreaker upon arrival. But don’t stand around chatting with the doubters.

  3. Harold Karabell
    Harold Karabell says:

    Bar Mitts have become indispensable for the riding that I do in truly cold weather. I recommend them highly–and in tandem with a good poor of warm gloves–for anyone who, like me, has truly poor circulation in his or her fingers. http://www.barmitts.com

    • Hōkan
      Hōkan says:

      Harold, I agree with the concept, but bicycle-specific pogies are expensive so I use ones sold for snowmobiles and ATVs. Most are bigger and some are much cheaper and are big enough to hold my hands and huge mittens.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] colleague Josh Stevens in Michigan wrote a great column last November which covers the basics of winter commuting very well, especially clothing, lights, and tires, so I need not re-invent […]

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