Folks who bike commute when the weather’s fair are pretty cool, anything that cuts down on emissions and helps keep cars off the road is a win in our books, but people who are dedicated to riding to work all year ‘round deserve a special prize.
There’s something especially rewarding about bike commuting in the winter, it’s a great way to prove your supremacy over the elements and show your dedication to the cause. But getting started bike commuting when the weather is wet can be a little daunting, it’s hard to even know where to start.
Fear not though, we’ve ridden through our fair share of slushy morning commutes and rainy rides home, and we’re here to get you out of the car and onto your bike. There are a few fundamental principles to keep in mind while you’re bike commuting.
Everything you do, everything you’ll wear serves these goals, and you can tweak them to suit your climate. Generally, you’re thinking about how your choices affect your bike, your body, and your work clothes.
How to Prep Your Bike
The most obvious changes start with your bike, there are a few tweaks that can make a big difference in your experience.
First of all, good fenders are a must. Look for both front and rear tire fenders that have as much coverage as possible. The goal is to keep as much spray from reaching you as you can.
Usually, rear fenders will strap onto your seat tube, and front fenders will have a two-part system that straps onto your fork, and your downtube to provide a wider barrier.
Once you’ve got your fenders sorted, it’s time to think about lights. Even if you only commute during daylight hours, or your route is lit, you should still invest in decent bike lights.
They’ll help other riders and drivers avoid running into you in the twilight or if it gets foggy. They add a lot of safety at a small price.
Get a small red flashing light for your seat post, and leave it on any time you’re riding. The batteries last forever and make a huge difference in letting drivers know where you are. Also, get some kind of white front light.
If it is never that dark during your commuting hours, you can just use a flashing light on your handlebars as well, but if you’re riding home after dusk, a bigger option will keep you much safer and allow you to see where you’re going.
Some riders like a brighter headlight mounted right to their bike helmet, too, this helps you see where you’re going - a nice perk if ride in a dark area.
If you live somewhere where it gets wet and cold at all during the winter, it’s worth investing in pogies. Pogies are built-in mittens that fit over your handlebars and keep your hands warm, while still allowing you to operate your shifters and brakes easily.
They also do a great job of keeping your hands dry. You might feel a little silly the first time you ride with them, but you’ll soon realize how much warmer and dryer you are during your ride.
And on really cold days you can double up with gloves underneath. If you haven’t tried riding in the winter with pogies, you’re really missing out.
If it’s often really icy on your commuting route, it may be a good idea to consider studded tires. They add a lot of grip and can keep you from having a catastrophic fall.
Finally, tuning your bike every fall is a great way to prep it for the winter. The wet winter season puts different demands on your bike, and it’s worth having a good bike repair shop go over it and make sure it’s ready for the change of seasons.
Your four main areas to get looked over before winter are bearings, drivetrain, brakes, and tires.
Choosing a Bike
One thing to note is what bike you are riding during your commute. For the most part, you can commute on any bike, from an old mountain bike to a road bike. Think about matching your bike to your commute. Long miles?
Maybe something more efficient like a road bike, bad roads? A gravel or mountain bike is your ticket. A growing number of people have been switching over to ebikes to cut down on commute time.
Less time commuting in the winter directly translates to less time battling the elements outside. If you’ve never tried a bike with pedal assist before, consider trying out an electric bike rental to get the general feel for how it would change up your daily ride.
How to Dress
The best thing you can do for yourself, and your coworkers, is not ride in your work clothes. They can get wet, sweaty, and stinky.
Instead, if at all possible, change once you’re at work. Dedicated riding clothes will make your commute easier, and dedicated work clothes will make the rest of your day better.
Layer like you would for XC skiing or winter running, a bike shop will often have bike-specific clothing to accomplish this.
Start with wool or synthetic base layers, wear an insulated layer appropriate for the temperature, and wrap things up with a waterproof shell.
Remember that the weather often changes between your ride to work and your ride home, so always pack an extra layer. A bike-specific waterproof coat will have a longer fit that keeps your wrists and back dry when you’re riding, and a hood that works well with your helmet.
And waterproof bike pants won’t catch in the chain but will protect your legs from both rain and spray from the tires. If it’s really nasty out, consider waterproof neoprene socks and insulated shoe covers, they’ll keep your feet warm and dry.
How to Transition to Work
If you’re able to change into work clothes once you’ve made your commute, it’s important to make sure you’ve got clean, dry clothes to change into. A waterproof backpack specifically made for riding in is key here.
It will fit well, and keep your clothes and electronics safe even if it’s pouring. And pack extra clothes for the ride home. It sucks to work all day only to have to change back into moist socks and base layers to ride home.
Keep a few dry items on reserve, just in case you need them. While you’re at it, pack some deodorant too, nobody wants to sit in a meeting with the sweaty guy who smells like wet dog.
Committing to bike commuting all winter can be daunting at first, but it just takes some quick tweaks to your bike, your clothing, and your work routine to commute comfortably all winter long no matter what the weather is doing.