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Winter Cycling

Updated on June 13, 2011

If you love cycling, but you are apprehensive about cycling in the dark with cars in the freezing rain, take heart. I have done it for years and I have some pointers for you. With the right gear and attitude, it's not half bad. And if you believe that, I have a subprime mortgage deal just too good to pass up....

Freezing Rain

As the days shorten and the morning dew starts to get a little crispy and brittle, it pays to acclimate yourself. Your first check will doubtless come when you get up at 6:30am and it's still dark. You'll sit over your coffee and reluctance will start to settle on you like a fresh blanket of new-fallen snow. The old thermometer says it's about 35 degrees Fahrenheit out there. But shake it off! It's not even cold yet! And there's a clear sky! Get off your butt and get out there! Don't be a wimp!

Don't make the mistake of wearing too many clothes, but if you are just too much of a sissy to suck it up and go commando, by all means put on your pajamas with the feet and get ready to go. But at least listen to me this far: bring something to put the pajamas in. No, I don't mean your Little Mermaid pajama bag. I mean a backpack or rack trunk so as you're biking and you get all sweatified you can peel off that extra layer and stow it.

Because you know what? You are going to make your own heat, the same way you always do when you bike. Check for the temp where you are and where you're going before you go. Keep track of what clothes you actually end up in at the different temperatures. That way you'll learn what clothes keep you warm enough and what clothes make you too warm.

My scenario looks like this:

  • Dry or wet weather down to about 60 degrees, shorts and a shortsleeve jersey is fine.
  • 55 to 60 degrees, I like a longsleeve jersey.
  • 50 to 55 degrees, a shortsleeve jersey over a longsleeve jersey in dry weather, a shortsleeve jersey under a rain jacket and full finger gloves in wet
  • 45 to 50 degrees, wet or dry, a rain jacket over a shortsleeve jersey over a longsleeve jersey, shoe covers and full finger gloves
  • 38 to 45 degrees, wet or dry, light rain pants or tights over shorts, longsleeve jersey, shortsleeve jersey, rain jacket, shoe covers, full finger gloves, neoprene balaclava
  • 30 to 38 degrees, wet or dry: shorts underneath tights underneath light rain pants, same top treatment as above, sub lobster mittens for the gloves, shoe covers, balaclava
  • 20 to 30 degrees, wet or dry: shorts underneath midweight fleece pants, add rain paints if windy, wicking tee shirt underneath long sleeve jersey underneath polar fleece, lobster mittens, insulated waterproof boots - add rain jacket and gaiters if there is wind and/or snow
  • 10 to 20 degrees: shorts underneath midweight fleece pants underneath light rain pants, wicking tee shirt underneath longsleeve jersey underneath heavy polar fleece underneath rain jacket, liner gloves inside lobster mittens, two pairs of socks, insulated work boots, fleece balaclava
  • zero to 10 degrees: shorts, polypropylene long underwear, midweight fleece pants, light rain pants; wicking tee shirt, long sleeve polypropylene top, heavy polar fleece, rain jacket: liner gloves, lobster mittens; two pairs of socks, insulated work boots, gaiters; neoprene balaclava, fleece balaclava, ski goggles.
  • sub-zero: okay, you win. You're crazier than me.

The Dark Side

As the sun begins to start its day first at 6:30 and then at 7am, and call it a day at 5pm, you might find yourself cycling in the dark with cars that can't see you unless you are lit up like a runway at LAX. So you do just that - light yourself up.

In the inky darkness of midwinter that little blinky light you got at Target is just not going to cut it. You need something like the Planet Bike Superflash taillight lighting your tail so it don't get run over. In fact, get two or three of them - one for your seat post, one for your backpack, and one for the back of your helmet. Then the genius behind the wheel just might see you. Doesn't mean he won't hit you, but at least he'll see you.

Now, if you don't want to be finding those cavernous winter pot holes the hard way, consider investing in a headlight system that will actually allow you to more or less see where you are going such as the NiteRider MiNewt.x2 Dual LED. Point the lights in slightly different directions - just like your fourth grade teacher Mrs. Loonenmeister's eyes - so they light up more of the road. Also useful is a helmet-mounted light like the Princeton Tec Aurora. It points where you look, so you can use it to say to drivers, "Hey, I'm bikin' here! I'm bikin' here!"

Reflective ankle straps are good, too. They help you get seen and keep your pants leg out of the front derailleur.

Disclaimers, Caveats

Now, I am not completely wacko. I do not bike if there is too much ice and snow on the road. There are folks that do - bike messengers, for example - but they are a lot younger than I am and have many more piercings and tatoos. Also it is possible to buy studded snow tires for your mountain bike, you crazy monkey, but since I ride only road bikes I've got to deal with the thin tire thing.

Skinny road tires are fine on snow and ice - unless you want to turn. Then you go down like a brick.

So use caution, take it slow, use appropriate lighting, and watch out for cars more than you do in summer, because in winter they are really not expecting to see you. Learn not to wear too little or too much, and take a lttle time to acclimate yourself. Keep your tires inflated and your chain waxed.

Wanna hear a secret? Water out of your water bottle never tastes better then when it's frozen.


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    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      That's right. Keeping the wind out and staying dry. Thanks, CyclingFitness!

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Great hub Tom. Best Things i've ever bought for winter riding is a pair of Assos Airblock 851 Bibtights and windstopper jacket. Keeping the wind out is a big part of the battle in keeping warm.

    • Mike's Corner profile image

      Mike's Corner 7 years ago from Maryland

      Great winter riding tips, Tom, thanks for the hub

    • Stolas profile image

      Stolas 8 years ago from Midwest

      Great article. Actually I was wondering about this because all year I love to bike but always take off in the winter. I think you have inspired me to give it a go. :)

    • profile image

      Cherry_top0 8 years ago

      A lot of useful advice. I actually posted an article on winter cycling too, since I do it wayyyyy up in Northern Ontario Canada. It covers maintaining your bike, especially in slushy weather and other things. If anyone want's to check it out, you can find it here

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Thanks Djsky. I would suggest a simple road atlas for cycling trip planning, with a little Internet research thrown in so that you don't end up on any interstate multilane highways by mistake. I also suggest investigating GPS systems for cyclists.

      Thank you, 2uesday. It seems your husband and I share a love of cycling.

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 8 years ago

      Good hub, my husband cycles to work in almost all weathers and only uses the car for the journey if he has to. Fortunately part of the journey is a cycle path which speeds up the first half of his journey. I'll show him this hub.

    • djsky24 profile image

      djsky24 8 years ago from Colorado

      New to here and have only been cycling for about 1 month. I'm in love! I want to ride across the U.S. this summer. Do you know anywhere I can get cycling routes?

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 9 years ago from United States

      The long underwear choice is certainly subjective. My wife bought me a pair of Gordini polyester and wool bottoms and they are pretty comfortable. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Hey Tom, Great hub. I'm going to print out your list of temps and recommendations and paste them inside the closet with my outdoor gear. I've recently switched from polyprope underwear to Merino wool and love it. I want to get a Merino cycling sweater. Got sell a couple more coaching spaces to afford it though. THanks for this. I really enjoyed it!

    • cycling gear profile image

      cycling gear 9 years ago

      Wow.. you're right.. Biking is a whole lot of fun if you wear the right gears and accessories.