Winter Bike Commuting 101
Words: Jes Slavin | Interviewees: Sarah Knight, Rachel Gehringer-Wair | Main Image: Matt Pearson
Winter Bike Commuters are always seen as completely badass, rolling into the office seemingly unaware of the windchill or snow outside despite having just biked through it. How do they do it? Do they have superpowers? I consulted two badass bikers from Lincoln, Nebraska to share their secrets:. I chatted with long time bike advocate and beast of the winter bike commute, Sarah Knight, and a cyclist currently crushing her second season of winter commuting, and Rachel Gehringer-Wair.
1. Anyone can be a commuter.
The first step to becoming a wintertime biking badass is to not worry too much about the gear when you first start. “Any bike you commute on is a commuter,” says Sarah Knight. She recommends getting fenders to keep yourself clean, but you can do without them. Rachel says to “work with what you have, because you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, then you can invest in new things. That’s my general cycling motto, try the thing first and then spend the money where you feel it’s necessary.”
2. Cover your face.
Good lights and sunglass or goggles are definitely necessary. In the winter, both of your commutes may be dark and once it gets cold you’re going to need to cover your eyes. Rachel has made sunglasses work with two different buffs to cover her face while Sarah is team ski goggles. It all depends on what works for you and the temperatures in your area.
3. Choose the right tire.
Rachel and Sarah parted ways in their opinions on studded tires. Rachel hasn’t seen them to be worth the cost and has had minimal spills while Sarah pointed out that “studded tires are expensive, but they’re cheaper than an ER visit.” I think it depends on how icy the roads and sidewalks are where you live, if you’re constantly battling lots of ice definitely check them out. Sarah noted that you can find studded tires at a big discount as spring closes in.
4. Shell out for great gloves.
The only exception to the “you don’t need fancy gear” rule that both Sarah and Rachel agreed upon was bar mitts. As Rachel said, “they changed the game and saved my life.” Although, I will note, if you don’t have the cash to fork up for bar mitts, gloves will do you just fine - that’s a promise.
5. Master the layers.
The second step on your winter bike commuting journey is all about the layers. When asked about her first winter bike commuting Rachel said “it was sweaty because I overdressed all the time.”
So, she started her winter cycling spreadsheet to help stifle the urge to put on more clothes than she needed. It was a pretty in-depth endeavor where she noted the perfect layers for commuting, racing, and training at 5 degree temperature intervals. Her efforts paid off at the beginning of this season as she noted that, “you always want to over layer at the beginning of the winter. You want to wear all the clothes but you’re wrong."
While I’m not advocating the spreadsheet method for all, definitely take note of what layers are working at what temperatures. Sarah noted that you’ll start to notice what parts of your body get cold faster, pay special attention to those as you layer up. You should always be slightly cold before you start to ride, you’ll warm up fast! If you’re toasty in your coat as soon as your step outside that’s going to be the beginning of a very sweaty situation.
6. Pick the best route.
Once you’ve got the gear and your layering on lock, it’s time to think about route. Sarah cautions that you won’t necessarily want to ride the same route you’d drive. “Look for trails or quiet residential stress paralleling the main roads,” she advises. Sarah also notes that practicing different routes while you’re not commuting will give you a good sense of time, just make sure to add several minutes to account for traffic. Rachel says that in the winter you have to be flexible with your route and have a few alternatives. Depending on plowing and ice, some routes can be better than others depending on conditions.
7. You’re at work. Now what?
Worried that you’ll look like a mess when you get to work? Sarah says, “you don’t need a damn shower”. As a huge bike more, drive less advocate, not having a place to shower is her personal least favorite bike commuting excuse during any season. Take some wet wipes to work or extra deodorant, just a few minutes in the bathroom should work wonders, especially if you layered for minimal sweat! If you’re worried about helmet or hat hair, use Sarah’s secret tip - part your hair anywhere but it’s normal part, after your commute just whip it back to it’s normal part and all that mashed up helmet hair will be long gone!
While there is a lot of consider when it comes to winter bike commuting you don’t need any superpowers. These tips will get you well on your way to being a winter bike commuting badass. You don’t even need to tell anyone how easy it can be, just let them think you’re a superhero because you’re riding a bike you already are.