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Riding your bike in winter

Winter riding. Maybe you do it because you want to, or maybe because you have to, and either way, people will think you’re crazy. But the thing is, the people who think you’re crazy don’t realize that winter riding doesn’t need to be a terrible experience. In fact, it can be a great one. Here are a few tips to help make your winter rides better.

Photo of a winter cyclist by TheArcaneFlame on flickr

Probably first in your mind is how to dress. Before we get to details, remember, it’s easier to overdress than you might think. If you’re a little cold at first, that’s fine. Your body is going to heat up plenty after just a few minutes.

Start with a base layer that will keep you warm and also pull sweat away from your body. Most athletic wear brands have clothes that are made to do just that. If you’re looking for a deal, check thrift stores for wool sweaters. Wool is naturally warm and will keep you dry. Avoid cotton if possible. Cotton keeps sweat close to your body making you cold and uncomfortable.

For your outer layer you’ll want something that will protect you from the wind and any rain or snow. A light jacket and some kind of waterproof shell pants will be great. Watch out for overly thick jackets or insulated pants. A heavy coat only works in the coldest weather while a light one can work in all seasons with more or fewer layers underneath. This is one area where I would also suggest seriously considering an investment in cycling specific clothing. Jackets and pants made for cyclists often come in easy-to-see colors with reflective panels. They also offer vents that can be adjusted to let air in if you start getting warm. The jackets are also usually cut longer in the back so they don’t ride up when you lean over your handlebars.

Photo of winter cyclist by Beth H on flickr

Now to think about your extremities. Don’t forget to keep your hands and feet warm. I could write a whole article about all the options for keeping your hands warm, but I’ll just stick to the basics. You need to keep your hands warm while also being able to use your shifters and brakes properly. If you want to get advanced, look for lobster gloves or bar mitts. On your feet, you can’t go wrong with a pair (or two) of nice wool socks. If you’ve got a pair of waterproof shoes or boots, try them out, especially when the weather is wet. Finally, don’t forget your head. Your bike helmet is full of vents, so isn’t great at keeping you warm. A thin cap that fits under your helmet will do great. If the cold air is hard on your face, try a balaclava. They’re warm and make you look like a ninja.

Dressing warm isn’t all there is to winter riding, though. With longer nights and shorter days, it’s more important than ever to have some good lights. Remember, even if there’s enough light for you to see, it may be hard for others to see you. Also, be aware of road and sidewalk conditions. If there has been snow, sidewalks may be blocked and road lanes may be narrowed. Be cautious and adjust your route as necessary.

Although it may seem daunting, riding in the winter truly can be an exhilarating experience. Dress up and give it a try!

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