Things I Learned about Winter Bike Commuting
I took the plunge this year and I decided to continue to ride my bike to work through the winter like I do in the summer. This decision was brought on by a couple of factors,
- I upgraded to a E-Bike which makes by 8 mile round trip commute much easier
- I had the financial ability to upgrade my winter biking wardrobe and bike equipment
- It is much more pleasant commute than driving and I wanted that to continue
- I wanted to save some money and do better by the planet
But despite these factors I was nervous and I had thoughts going through my head about how safe will this be, will I be to cold, will the weather let me, etc etc. These are all real concerns in a community where the car is king, drivers are aggressive and shoveling sidewalks is an afterthought.
But I have persevered so far and while I know I have a lot of winter to get through yet what I have learned so far will see me through.
Lesson # 1- Slow and Steady
You know that old story about the tortoise and the hare where despite the hares speed the tortoise wins in the end. Well like the tortoise I have found that slow and steady wins the winter bike commute race as well. I learned very quickly to slow down and pay much more attention to the path ahead of me. In the summer I can cruise along and typically make it home in about 15 minutes now in the winter it takes around 25 minutes especially at night when I get off work. This is mainly because there are more obstacles to work around like snow drifts, ice patches and the condition of my route can change over the course of the day.
Lesson # 2- The Clothes Make the Commuter
Obviously when you commute by bike in the winter you have a different set of climate conditions to deal with than you do in the summer. The key things to keep in mind with winter biking is that you need layers and you probably won’t need as much as you think. If you try to rely on just a single layer to keep you warm one of two things will happen,
You will get to warm, sweaty and smelly
You will be to cold
Neither result is exactly good since one leads to your coworkers hating you and other leads to you questioning your choices in life. For most of my commutes I will put on the following,
Long sleeve button up
Light or Heavy hoody depending on temperature and wind
Fall or Spring weight jacket that is windproof
Wool Face mask
Leather boots or regular shoes depending on temperature and wind
Regular work pants
Sweatpants over work pants depending on temperature and wind
This ensemble has had me borderline sweating by the time I make it home or to work and that has been at around 5 degree Fahrenheit at the coldest. This wardrobe also has the benefit of being what I wear to work so when I get there I just have to take off the extra outer layers and I am good to go.
Lesson # 3 — Little Upgrades Go a Long Way
When I first thought about doing this my first gut reaction is ok how can I do this cheaply as possible. I hate spending money when I don’t have to and this desire nearly destroyed my plans to winter bike commute.
At first I thought I would just cram a stocking hat under my summer helmet and that would be fine. Well it wasn’t fine because it was uncomfortable, it didn’t sit on my head right which is unsafe and frankly my head was still cold.
I also thought well I will just use my headlamp for a light instead of getting a headlight for my bike. Also not a good idea because it moved with my head which is distracting nor was it very bright which make it harder for me to see out and others to see me. It also meant I did not have a red tail light which is a good thing to have when biking on dark residential street.
You can see where I am going with this by trying to be cheap all I was really doing was making myself unsafe and miserable. Buying the little things like a helmet designed for winter use and a dedicated headlight/taillight has made my commute more comfortable which in turn makes it safer since I am not distracted by minor discomforts.
Lesson # 4- Worth the extra effort
The final thing I learned about biking in the winter is that when done right with the right equipment it is worth the extra time it takes to do it. Not only do I get the satisfaction of not driving my car in the rat race of rush hour traffic. I also get exercise built into my day and I get to tread lighter on the planet which is important to a guy that has a website like the Green Living Library.
So if you are a bike commuter yourself in the summer consider trying it out in the winter it’s not as bad as you think trust me. If you want to get into bike commuting but you think it might be too hard or too far consider a e-bike. Getting a e-bike has changed my life and converting a regular bike to a e-bike is not that difficult or expensive when compared to buying a quality e-bike in the store.