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13 Winter Riding Tips

by on February 3, 2015

While some might say that cycling in Maryland is hardly “winter riding”, it has been cold enough that many regular riders simply opt for riding indoors on trainers or “take the season off”.  Here are some things I do to keep riding when the temperature dips below freezing and snow and ice cover the roads/trail.

  • Keep a clothing chart and make good notes – Invaluable to me is the clothing chart.  I look at the thermometer, consider the goal of my ride, then consulting the chart I know what combination of clothing works best.  A fast hard ride needs less clothing.  A slower ride needs more.  Every 5 degrees makes a difference!  That means that on some longer rides, there will likely be clothing changes in order to keep the chill off and the sweat to a minimum.
  • Layers – Everyone says it and it is true.  Wear light layers.  Have access to your clothing vents.  Even below freezing you may need to open vents or unzip a jacket.
  • Wool is your friend – The warmth of wool, even when wet or damp, is a lifesaver.  I like the feel of wool next to my skin.  I’m often wearing a wool jersey, wool socks, and wool glove liners when it is cool/cold.
  • Keep exposed skin to a minimum – I do wear a balaclava in the winter, leaving part of my face exposed.  As the temperature drops, I may add a layer of “chap stick” to my exposed skin.  I usually find that after a few miles, there is enough blood flowing to my face to keep my face warm … as long as it is above 10° F.
  • Loose fitting gloves are better than tight ones – They generate a warming air pocket and also leave room for a chemical hand warmer if necessary.  When using a chemical hand warmer, be sure it does not lay on exposed skin.
  • Wool glove liners – I mentioned them earlier but consider this.  With wool glove liners you can have your hands protected in the event of most mechanical incidents, including flat repairs.  Without them, you will have to do much of the mechanical repairs with bare hands.  When temperatures are in the teens and twenties, your damp hands will get cold before most repairs are completed.
  • Have good lighting – My morning rides are in the dark.  I want to see the icy patches and the other hazards in the road well before encountering them.
  • Be visible! – Reflective gear, lights on the bike, and the like are especially important in the winter.  You want to be noticed.  Car drivers are not expecting to see a bicycle out on the roads when it is cold.  Make sure they notice you.
  • No sudden changes in speed or direction – We ride on new snow, over patches of ice, on crusty snow, on salty roads and sometimes even in slush.  Generally we are cautious about any changes in speed or direction because that is when the two square inches of rubber are the most prone to slipping.
  • Ride with a partner – In an accident, the cold can be a killer.  Riding with a partner not only provides company and makes you more visible, it also is a good safety rule.
  • Think about your equipment – Wider tires with lower inflation can be helpful for traction.  Having said that, I’m riding a fixie with 23 mm tires most days when the surface is slippery.  You will need to lube the chain more often in cold/wet/salty conditions.  Your brakes will not work as well nor will the pads last as long.  Salt on components leads to rust or other corrosion. Rinse and clean the bike whenever you can.  If like me, you need to do that outdoors, it can be a challenge during a cold snap.  I’ve taken my bike to the self-service car wash to clean it.  Just use a low pressure setting and don’t force water into places where there are bearings.
  • Decide in advance that you are going to ride – It is way to easy to look at the weather/temperature when you are in bed and decide that this is a good morning to stay within the warmth of the sheets.  That’s where riding with a partner is an advantage.  If you don’t ride, they will be left riding alone!  What kind of friend would you be then?
  • Newly fallen snow and riding while it is snowing is the best! – The world is quieter, prettier, and when I’m riding on brand new snow, making the first tracks with my bike, I feel like a kid again.
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From → Cycling, Tips/School

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