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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 09-07-05, 09:22 AM   #1
rs_woods
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Winter up north

I live in northern illinois now. This is my first winter up north. Everybody here is telling me that winter gets too cold to commute by bike on, even though the town I'm living in is no bigger than 2.5 miles across. I'm sure somebody out there cycle commutes in the winter (i've seen the pictures of bikes here outfitted for winter commuting) so it can't be impossible. I intend to at least try it. Anybody have any advice, recommendations, proverbs, etc.?
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Old 09-07-05, 09:44 AM   #2
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I live in Madison, Wisc and work about 7-8 miles from home -- across the isthmus.
I am gearing up for my first serious cold weather commute (I"m sure I"ll wimp out on some mornings, and every three weeks - 3 weeks on/3 weeks off - I have my HS age daughter who requires a ride to school -- which is on my way to work..*sighs*) And I"m no spring chicken at 50+ yrs old.

It is cold up here, but it is all relative. The fact is, this is not nearly as brutal as say another 150 miles north (central Wisc/Minn/Mich) As a matter of fact, it has been downright mild and snow-free the last few winters.

do some winter bike clothing research and get on out there.
your biggest prob may be that your ride won't be long enough to get warmed up.
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Old 09-07-05, 10:09 AM   #3
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Check out the 'winter cycling' category and icebike.org

I commute in calgary, my coldest was -27c.
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Old 09-07-05, 10:30 AM   #4
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I recommend getting a 3 speed beater, as fancy aluminum parts and deraillers dont like the muck you get on winter roads. A thin knit hat that covers your ears can be worn under your helmet. Get a windproof jacket, with plenty of ventilation (under-arm zips).
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Old 09-07-05, 10:36 AM   #5
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...just ordered Pants for the colder weather this morning!

Should be here Saturday! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Oh well... means Ski Season is almost here!!!!
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Old 09-07-05, 11:10 AM   #6
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"Winter" as in snow is not the same issue as "winter" as in cold. If you are able to travel on main streets, they can be nice and dry soon after a snowfall, and remain that way until the next. Therefore, you could commuter "all winter" and just have to take a few days off while the streets get plowed.

I have not personally ridden in show (yet) but I have done cold down to zero degrees, and I never have been "cold" except for the fingertips; I wear leather mitten shells over double wool liners and I still get cold fingers from the wind chill. I have not yet solved that problem. My "brother the biker" reports that rabbit-fur mittens are the warmest he has found.

The head is a problem. I use a pull-over hood that covers the head except for the face, a tube of stretchy fabric that covers the neck (they make long hoods that cover the head AND neck), a mask that covers the mouth and nose (especially the nose) and fastens behind the head, and ski goggles to cover the eyes. I have found that when wearing that full get-up I have to carry a box of Kleenex and take a "nose break" about half way.

My feet have been OK in insulated hiking boots over wool socks over those "wicking" socks that skiers use.

If it's really cold, long underwear over double pants should (over)do it, but you also can find, at military surplus stores, heavy wool paratrooper pants that have plastic wind shields in the thighs.

If the roads are not perfectly clear, you will get some slushy, dirty throwup from the wheels. That will make the bottoms of your pants a mess. I use gaiters in conditions like that to reduce the laundry load.

For the rest of the body, it is a matter of tuning the layers of clothing to match the termperature, exertion, and metabolism. You actually can work up a sweat on a bike in cold weather.
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Old 09-07-05, 11:38 AM   #7
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I commuted on my bike every day last winter. Riding on fresh snow is actually rather awesome. Everything is sooo quiet. The real problem is the slush, which is what the snow turns into rather quickly if cars are on the road. I recommend proper winter weather clothing for the temperature regardless of whether you're riding a bike or not, outerwear that is waterproof/water resistant including boots, and some fenders to keep the slush from getting on you any worse. I also wore some clear safety glasses (not the chemistry lab dork kind) to keep the snow out of my eyes when it was falling, it hurts. My bike was officially a piece of crap after the winter. It took a lot of cleaning and some repairing this summer but I can make it one more winter on it. The internally geared 3 speed sounds like a good idea. I should have cleaned my chain more often last year. I would also recommend studded tires because if you turn on ice, there is a good chance of crashing. There are studded tires that have the studs on the edge, kind of pointing out at a 45 degree angle. They don't touch the ground when going straight but do when you turn, helps out a lot. I made my own out of old MTB tires and sheet metal screws. Had 2 flats over the course of the winter. Worked out well. One last thing, I got myself some good lighting for my bike this winter as I didn't feel I was as visable as I should last year. Since its so snowy, its often overcast and dreary. I got some bright flashy LEDs to make sure cars can see me. Sorry if that was a bit rambly, I just wrote as things popped into my head. Good luck.
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Old 09-07-05, 11:55 AM   #8
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I wear a face mask for when it is under 20 degrees (I am only in st. louis - winter is not a huge deal most of the time) - i hate frozen sinuses - the accessory I use most in the winter is stuff on my glasses so they don't fog up.
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Old 09-07-05, 01:22 PM   #9
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Yah - Riding on fresh snow is great fun. Non-cyclists think we're crazy but I never skidded or fell or anything like that. Knobby tires good. Studs better (if you ride on ice.) Just ride sensibly.

Face mask and ski goggles for the real cold stuff. Watch out for glasses as the nose piece can freeze to your face.

Gloves, boots, layered clothing. Good high vis reflective stuff, especially.

I rode for most of last winter (Northern Vermont) and only had one bad day late in the season when I had to plow through inches of mashed-potato sloppy snow (on trail) that just killed me. I deployed the phone and called The Wife for an evac in the car after about 2 miles of it.
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Old 09-07-05, 03:10 PM   #10
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I rode all last winter. I bought some Nokian studded tires, for the gravel part of my ride (which is packed snow, essentially ice) they were necessary, but if my ride was all pavement, I could have commuted about 2/3 of the days with road tires.

Still, the studded tires are pretty burly, they kinda have a "screw you, mother nature" feel to them that's kind of fun.
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Old 09-07-05, 03:11 PM   #11
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Cold weather riding is very doable and not that uncomfortable, it can even be very enjoyable on those clear crisp mornings. For me a wind breaker over a fleece jersey was sufficient for my coldest Cleveland morning. I used wind proof Lobster claw mittens and wind proof pants a few days when it was really cold, but most days this was too warm. A layer or two of cycling tights, winter weight jersey with wicking base layer, windstopper cycling gloves, a light skull cap that covers the ears, and a couple pairs of wool socks and shoe covers. The only thing I might try different is using one the winter cycling shoes.
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Old 09-07-05, 08:08 PM   #12
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You are all much braver than me.

Once the temperature drops below freezing, I'll be taking the subway, and perhaps walking home on a good day.

Yours wimpishly
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Old 09-07-05, 08:28 PM   #13
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I bike commuted 12 months a year in backwoods New England. However, I did have a super bus system to fall back on until the snow was plowed, or during freezing rain. Also, I have a policy that I always live within an hour's walk to work.
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Old 09-08-05, 05:37 AM   #14
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This is my forth year of all year, all weather commuting in Northern Vermont and upstate NY. If I go to work, I ride my bike. My commute is 8 miles one way in the winter. Every year, I ride through -25 F mornings with additional windchill and at least a couple of winter storms. Folks, it isn't as hard as it would seem.

For cold: Layers. I ride with a wicking undershirt, fleece layers as needed (not as many as you would think wither, you generate a lot of heat riding) and a light windblocking coat over it. I've tried face masks and don't like them. A light hat for under the helmet. Feet are my biggest issue when it gets cold....shoe covers from the LBS help, lots of socks. My toes still get cold, but I just cope with it.

For snow and ice: Really not that big an issue. Most days it doesn't snow and when it does, it gets packed down and cleared pretty quick. I ride a cx bike with narrow 700c tires. I have a treaded rear tire and a Nokian studded for the front.

For safety: you need a good blinkie or two and a headlight. It is dark when I ride to work and dark when I ride home. These are essentials.

For colleagues and family: Everyone is going to think that you are nuts or have lost your license. It's great to come up on a group of people complaining about how cold it was to walk from the parking lot as I wheel my snow and ice encrusted bike by....haha!
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Old 09-08-05, 06:58 AM   #15
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i've been riding through the winter (in madison, wi) for about...well...let's just say for quite a few years now.

the way i see it, winter presents three challenges, sometimes all at once.

1. cold. this is easily dealt with by wearing the proper clothing, etc. i'm a big fan of wool (smartwool, ibex, etc.) and anything from sporthill.

2. road conditions. this means ice, snow, slush, and that unnatural, gelatinous, and slimy mixture of snow, dirt, and road salt. for this, i use tires with a slightly more aggressive tread (not too much or the tread just fill up with crud) or with studs if it's really icy. otherwise, it's just a matter of riding style -- more conservative. but road conditions are never quite as bad as you would think that they would be.

3. darkness. for those of us that live in the north and work longish days, the commute is going to be all or part in the dark (...it's already dark when i leave the house). for this, i run two rear LEDs in the rear (one blinking, one steady), one white LED in the front (blinking) and a double halogen in the front. the LEDs are to be seen, the halogen is so that i can see. i'm also a big fan of 3M reflective tab -- the red/silver striped stuff.

given all that...i think that late fall and winter are my favorite times to ride. the bikeways are generally empty, it's nice riding as the sun comes up, and riding in the snow is often great fun. there's nothing like heading out for work in softly falling snow illuminated by nothing but the odd streetlight and your headlamp.

later on, when the ice forms on the lakes, i'll throw on the wheelset with the studded tires so that i can buzz the ice fisherman.
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Old 09-08-05, 09:30 AM   #16
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I live even farther north than Illinois and it get colder and more snow than Illinois. Still, I have been bicycle commuting year round for many years.

There has been so much written about it, I won't repeat - check out past threads. There is a lot of excellent information and advice.

I remember reading about a fellow from Norway who rides around in complete darkness in winter and in terrible cold and snow. If he can do it, surely any of us in the lower 48 of the USA can do it.
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Old 09-08-05, 10:56 AM   #17
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Its gonna be slow. Every possible variable from the cloths that you wear to the grease in your hubs will be increasing your resistance and slowing you down when the temperature drops. But I still enjoy it. Budget more time for the commute, a bit more preparation time, and no problem.
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Old 09-08-05, 11:09 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rs_woods
I live in northern illinois now. This is my first winter up north. Everybody here is telling me that winter gets too cold to commute by bike on, even though the town I'm living in is no bigger than 2.5 miles across. I'm sure somebody out there cycle commutes in the winter (i've seen the pictures of bikes here outfitted for winter commuting) so it can't be impossible. I intend to at least try it. Anybody have any advice, recommendations, proverbs, etc.?
ok yes you can do it. i live in minnesota and i have biked here every winter for the past 13 years. i have had jobs up to 16 miles away and still biked in every day. even on crappy ghetto bikes. but here is what has kept my body healthy

face mask baklava : covers nose and ears, but you breath like you would without a mask and no wetness or ice crystals

ski goggles to protect the eyes from winter and cold.

i like wearing the winter boots (sorrels) if you need to have your clipless peddles you can cut out a place to put the cleat. you can do it in many dress shoes too, but we won't talk about that now because i bet that ain't you thing.

use your normal biking gloves, but get the lake brand lobster mittens to put over them. they keep your hands warm up to 10 below. and socks. get the burton socks. seriously those knee highs are awesome. (oh, i am getting excited for winter gear) i like hiding under all the layers and being outside on my bike) i just got a tingle up my spine.

i enjoy the studded tires on a icy day, but if it is not icy, just snowy studded is bad. if the snow is hard mountain bike is great, but on snow that you can cut through skinny tires are great. and believe it or not a hybrid or cruiser is enjoyed much on snowy winter days because your balance is upright instead of any lean into the handle bars. at least for me. others could disagree and you can find your own prefference. don't be hindered to try anything new.

but i do have to say a fixed gear would be good in the winter. second single speed. third internal gear shifting.

smell ya later
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Old 09-08-05, 11:18 AM   #19
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2.5 miles is a walk in the park. Try it, it's not a big deal if you are dressed for the temperature. I rode to work every day last year-10miles each way-no big deal. Got down to -24 C a few days (-11 F).
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