The colder season is not necessarily the time to
hang up your wheels or entrap your bike in a wind trainer! This is the perfect
time to take advantage of abandoned bike paths and cool weather that allows
you to ride to work without sweating through every layer of clothing. Remember
the wise tale: "there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."
The new conditions that you must deal with during winter
- evening commutes in the dark
- lower temperatures and overall nastier weather
- interesting pavement conditions
Riding in the dark can be frightening, considering that riding in the
city in broad daylight is frightening enough. Today’s lighting systems,
however, take away some of this fear by providing lighting that not only
makes you visible but makes the world around you visible as well. Lighting
systems are a whole dissertation in themselves, so I’ll go over the basics.
Entry level, being seen
- Generator systems: Unless you have a capacitor setup with your generator
system, you’re completely dark when stopped at an intersection-;a very
dangerous situation. However, these systems win the clean energy award
by being generated by your own power.
- 2.5 watt lamps with regular batteries make for good back-up systems
for those who normally mange to squeeze their ride into the dwindling daylight
hours. Otherwise they tend to grind up batteries for not much in return.
- These basic systems incorporated with a reflective vest or other reflective
doodads are your minimum investment for nighttime riding.
Big Leagues, seeing
- Rechargeable systems that use 10 watt or higher lamps are your best
bet for not only being seen, but for being able to see where you’re going,
especially when encumbered with the bright lights of oncoming auto traffic.
- Your choices of these lights have grown from the Bright Lite and Night
Sun to many other systems, among which Night Rider seems to dominate.
Ask your local bike shop to explain the differences between all the
models so that you can pick a system that meets your budget, riding time,
and particular visibility needs.
Bringing up the rear
- Flashing rear lights like VistaLite’s line of flashing LED rear lights
are not only inexpensive, they go for hours on just a pair of AA batteries,
but yet produce a very attention-grabbing light. These little gems are
great to have even if you don’t normally ride in the dark. They can save
you when you find yourself behind and caught out on the road with the sun
Dressing yourself and your bike for cold weather riding takes more time
than when you’re doing your 70 degrees-with-a-light-breeze commute.
As with any cool weather activity, layering is the key to success:
- Start with a wicking layer such as polypropylene, thin wool, etc. Avoid
cotton, unless you’re allergic to these other materials.
- Add an insulating layer to trap air next to you. This is usually much
thinner than what you would use for downhill skiing or hiking since you’ll
be producing much more heat.
- The outer shell keeps the wind-chill (exacerbated by your movement
through the air) off your skin. This shell can be your basic windbreaker
to the most expensive high-tech fabric parka that is both waterproof and
breathable with ventilation zippers to vent out extra heat. And the more
reflective striping, the better.
- Shoe covers and booties keep toes warm and come in a fabric variety
equal to that of parkas.
- Avoid the temptation to leave your helmet at home so that you can wear
your favorite ski hat. Instead, use ear bands and balaklavas made of the
same thin and breathable material as your shorts and tights. This wind
barrier in combination with the insulating foam that makes up most cycling
helmets provides plenty of insulation without sacrificing head protection.
Dressing your bike
Your bike needs to be protected from the perils of winter as much as
you do. Winterizing your bike will not only help prevent untimely "mechanicals"
that make you late for work but will also protect your investment from
undue wear and tear. Winter in DC means wet roads covered with road salt
and grit. Aside from pouring sand on your drivetrain and pouring acid into
your frame tubes, no other combination is as deadly when considering your
bike’s long term health. Here are few ways to protect your bike:
- Fenders are still your best line of defense against what Winter has
to throw at your bike. Not only do they help keep you dry, they also keep
the crud from the road surface off your bike.
- Use a very light lube on your chain in icing conditions. This helps
keep your chain and rear cassette from turning into an ice block.
- Use regular pedals with toeclips or Power Straps. Clipless pedals tend
to ice up in wet and freezing conditions, turning your pedals into non-functioning
Even though Winter commuting takes more time and more caution, you’ll
find that keeping your riding habits intact over the winter makes the season
go by more quickly with you in better shape for when the temperatures come
back up. Besides, riding to work beats sitting in traffic or riding on
your trainer -; but you knew that already!
This article was reprinted with permission
of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
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