10 Tips For Winter Biking
Neither snow nor slush nor freezing temps should stop you, just follow our guide.
In the normal midwestern fashion, it’s easy to wake up and realize you’re well into your routine of mindlessly coping with a Milwaukee winter. But why not challenge the weather than simply cope with it? Often lost amid the throngs of travelers that rely upon four wheels to commute to work is a rise in the number of two-wheeled winter riders: those brave and adventurous cyclists.
Yes, it can actually be fun. But Wisconsin winters tend to waver between spring-like flirtations and frigid snowpocalypses. So it’s wise to prepare yourself for anything. Here are ten steps that will help keep you riding throughout the winter:
1. The Right Clothing
The first step in becoming a winter bike commuter is letting go of fashion and doing whatever you can to stay warm, dry and flexible. Wearing layers can help you adjust as the day’s weather can change markedly. Different commutes require different gear, but it’s always safe bet to have waterproof gloves, a hat or headband and a scarf or a face mask. Wear water resistant jackets and pants to stay dry when traveling in the sleet or rain. For lower temperatures, wear wool socks and non-cotton base layers for warmth. Ski goggles or clear glasses will prevent those frozen tears on your cheeks and help you see during blizzards or harsh winds.
2. The Right Bike
Salt and constant moisture is hard for a bike and its components. With that in mind, owning a bike that’s able to take a little more wear and tear is something to consider. For those that don’t have a bike set aside, winterizing your current bike is an alternate option. That means swapping components for cheaper parts and investing in a wider tires or studded tires. The snow acts as a blanket on the road, hiding sharp objects that could puncture your tires. Always travel with a extra tubes or patches and a pump to ensure you can still get to where you need to be.
3. See and Be Seen
One of the most important things impacting your safety on the road is how others see you. As the sunlight decreases in overcast days or in late afternoon, your chances of being seen diminish by the hour. Investing in reliable front and rear lights could save your life – don’t go without them.
4. Map Your Path
Winter brings out the reckless in every commuter. Variables like ice and snow create frightening opportunities for you to lose control of your bike, or for a driver to lose control of their car. Educate yourself on routes that have bike lanes and are well-kept.
5. Know Your Local Bike Shop
When your bike’s derailleur breaks or your wheels fall out of true, knowing a skilled mechanic can save your day and your ride. Milwaukee is full of neighborhood bike shops, pro shops and local collectives – find one close to home and make friends with your local mechanic.
6. Find Your Friends
Something that makes a winter commute less miserable is traveling with others. Find friends that are heading in the same direction or who will meet you halfway. Make the best of it by trudging through slush and dirt with someone riding right beside you.
7. No Sudden Moves
Just as if you were on your feet or four wheels; you need to plan ahead when approaching snow, ice and salt. Be mindful that salt and snow can conceal a slippery surface. You’ll need to anticipate breaking earlier, especially when taking sharp turns. Be alert and on the defense when facing other cars – don’t surprise them and hopefully they won’t surprise you.
8. Hydration and Snacks
Just because you’re moving slower on the wintry roads doesn’t mean you’re not susceptible to fatigue and dehydration. Try to keep your snacks in your pockets so they won’t freeze. You can also begin your travels with warm water in your canteen in an effort to make it freeze slower.
9. Don’t Over Think It
Most of the pain in winter biking is mental. Yes, it’s cold, yes, it can be rough going. Probably 90 percent of the work is talking yourself into leaving the warm house. It’s true that once you’re on the bike, it’s not that bad. There’s an element of strength and city slickin’ toughness for those who do it. The rewards are both physical and mental – heck, who doesn’t respect a pedaling icicle?
10. Wear a helmet
Always. The life you save may be your own.
Emmy A. Yates is a freelance writer and bicycle enthusiast