Dave Schlabowske
Bike Czar

Commuting at -8 Degrees

Sounds tough, but it's really possible to travel quite comfortably. Here's a guide.

By , Bike Federation of Wisconsin - Jan 9th, 2015 11:21 am
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It was still dark and six below when Liz pedaled off for work at 6:45 today. The temps actually dropped to -8 when I left after I published this blog post around 8 AM. Photo by Dave Schlabowske.

It was still dark and -6 degrees when Liz pedaled off for work at 6:45. The temps actually dropped to -8 when I left at around 8 AM. Photo by Dave Schlabowske.

Winter commuting limbo started this morning with an actual temperature of six below zero when my wife Liz pedaled off to work. She now teaches at a neighborhood school, so her commute is short, but she rode through the winter months when she taught at a school five miles away. By the time I published this blog post and left at 8 AM, it was eight below zero.

Too slippery for Oma today, so Liz grabbed the studded Courtney from the family stable. Photo by Dave Schlabowske.

Too slippery for Oma today, so Liz grabbed the studded Courtney from the family stable. Photo by Dave Schlabowske.

Her secret to staying warm is a cool (in a stylish way) red vintage snowmobile suit, a Bern helmet with the winter liner, warm boots with platform pedals and thick mittens. Because it snowed yesterday just before the temperatures plunged, the side roads she takes to work were still icy and compacted, rutted snow. Normally Liz rides her Workcycles Omafiets, but given the slippery conditions, she pulled the Courtney lugged, single-speed mountain bike with Nokian Mount and Ground studded tires from our stable.

Now that I have a second fat bike, I keep this one set up with fenders and rear rack. Shown here it has Surly Nate tires, but I am currently running 45Nrth Dillenger studded sneakers. I swap the studded tires for Endomorphs in the summer and this becomes my beach bike. Photo by Dave Schlabowske.

Now that I have a second fat bike, I keep this one set up with fenders and rear rack.It has Surly Nate tires, but I am currently running 45Nrth Dillenger studded sneakers. I swap the studded tires for Endomorphs in the summer and this becomes my beach bike. Photo by Dave Schlabowske.

Regular readers know I now have a dedicated “Bring It Mother Nature” commuter bike in my Schlick Northpaw fat bike. I have my Schlick set up with full coverage fenders from Big O Manufacturing in Minneapolish, Dillinger 4 studded tires from 45Nrth, Shimano Alfine dynamo hub powering a Supernova E3 and Gates Center track Carbon Belt Drive to an Alfine 11 driving the sled.

I ride platform pedals, so I can vary my footwear, and my kicks for today are Keen Summit County boots. I have Bar Mitts (I love the new Extremes, worth the extra money), so I only need regular fleece gloves to keep my fingers warm. On my head is a Bern helmet, a Wisconsin-made red plaid winter cap from CognitionWhat I like about it so much is the hat is made from thin wool, and the only places they put fleece is on the brim (which I keep folded down to cover my forehead) and the ear flaps. That lets the heat and perspiration out so way my head doesn’t overheat. To keep my neck and cheeks from frostbite, I really like the Facemask from Trash Bags in Minneapolis, which has fuzzy fleece, ventilation holes for breathing and secures with velcro at the back. I also use a pair of inexpensive ski goggles to further cover my face and keep my eyes from tearing.

Cognition doesn’t make these anymore, so I hope mine never wears out.

Cognition doesn’t make these anymore, so I hope mine never wears out.

At five below, my lower body is fine in long underwear and a pair of regular pants. Merino wool turtleneck from Minus 33 and a couple wool sweaters keep me warm and also breath better than high-tech stuff, but I do keep a breathable Marmot Precip rain jacket with pit zips in case of precipitation when I need a shell.

People who don’t bike to work in the winter sometimes find it hard to believe, but it really isn’t all that difficult to stay warm if your commute is under 10 miles. The real trick is to learn how to dress so you don’t get sweaty riding to work and have to sit in damp clothing until it dries. I actually find it easier to ride in extreme cold than extreme heat. Once it is over 80 degrees, I can’t figure out any way to ride my bike and not sweat.

What is your system for staying warm when the mercury plunges? Do you have a lower limit for commuting? How about a record low temperature you have ridden your bike? Let us know in comments.

I passed these all weather outdoor friends on my way in on the Hank Aaron State Trail. The geese stay warm by turning their heads around and tucking their bills in their feathers. Photo by Dave Schlabowske.

I passed these all cold weather outdoor friends on my way to work on the Hank Aaron State Trail. The geese stay warm by turning their heads around and tucking their bills in their feathers. Photo by Dave Schlabowske.

This story was originally published by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

Categories: Bike Czar

2 thoughts on “Bike Czar: Commuting at -8 Degrees”

  1. Neal says:

    I have been bike commuting this winter and the best thing was the bar mitts. Otherwise I was able to piece together a biking outfit from things I already had. I don’t have a fat bike (riding a Surly Disk trucker) or even studded tires but I just slow down and am a bit more cautious when there is snow on the ground.

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