Safety: Winter Bicycling
Many of us in New York have already experienced our first snow of the season. That doesn’t mean you have to put your bike away, but it does mean you’ll need to prepare yourself in order to keep riding. Ken Crandall, our new Education Director, is a year round bike commuter. Here are some thoughtful winter bicycling essentials:
- Most bikes will work, but your carbon time trial bike probably isn’t the best choice. A mountain bike or hybrid is a much better choice.
- Fenders are great for keeping your feet and your drive train from getting gunked up with snow, slush, and salt.
- Lights are essential, the brighter the better. With fewer hours of daylight, you don’t want to be caught after dark without lights. Make sure you have white front and red rear lights and that they have fresh batteries. Rechargeable lights are even better.
- Wider tires are better unless you’re only going to ride when the roads are clear and dry. For the really die hard winter commuter, you can even get studded tires for riding through snow and ice.
- Wide, platform pedals are best. While clipless pedals are great, being able to wear warm winter boots is best. Flat pedals, especially BMX style, allow you to wear your winter boots and provide a solid surface that won’t slip.
Special clothing isn’t really necessary. Wear what you normally would for other winter activities. Remember, you’re bicycling, so you’ll warm up from the exercise. You should feel slightly chilly when you start out. Over dressing can cause you to sweat excessively, which will make you colder in the long run. Here’s some basics to get you started.
- Start with a wicking base layer that absorbs sweat and draws it away from your body. Wool and fleece are great because they keep you warm even when wet.
- Go Bright, Get Reflective, Be Seen! Make sure your outerwear is bright or has some kind of reflectivity to it. You can put on a reflective vest, or use arm or ankle bands to help make you more visible.
- Wools socks for your feet will keep them warm and dry.
- Waterproof boots or shoe covers. Wet feet are cold feet.
- Waterproof gloves. Consider wearing a thin glove inside a thicker insulated glove.
- Scarf or balaclava. Even at slow speeds, the wind can cause damage to exposed skin. Cover your face and ears.
- Goggles or glasses. The cold wind and debris can be tough on your eyes. Cover them up, but be wary of fogging.
Riding in the winter means taking closer care of your bike. Road salt, snow, slush, and dirt can do damage to your bike if you don’t take care of it.
- Wipe down your bike after every ride.
- Clean your chain, freewheel, and cranks frequently.
- Check your cables and brakes often.
- Clean your wheels. Clean rims mean more effective braking. Dirt and salt built up on the rims will reduce your braking power and wear down brake pads more quickly. For disc brakes, clean the rotors with isopropyl alcohol on a tissue (first aid wipes are handy).
- Plan ahead. Check the weather and make sure it’s suitable for riding. Avoid riding in heavy snowfall or extreme cold.
- Take it slow. Give yourself extra time to reach your destination.
- Hold your line. Avoid unnecessary swerving and turning which can cause you to slide.
- Brake lightly. Avoid panic stops which can cause you to slide.
- Remember, you can always dismount and walk if conditions make you nervous.
Winter bicycling is fun and a great way to experience the season. Few things are as satisfying as a peaceful winter ride where the sounds of traffic are muffled by the falling snow. Take this opportunity to get out and experience New York’s winter wonderland on a bicycle!