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Winter Cycling Don't let snow and ice discourage you this winter. The key element to year-round cycling is proper attire! Check out this winter cycling forum to chat with other ice bike fanatics.

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Old 10-13-08, 05:39 PM   #1
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Winter In Chicago

I've lived in Chicago my whole life, and the winters here are tough. I have to wake up at 7:00 every day to go to school, and during the winter these are the hardest wake-ups. Sometimes I go through weeks without any sunlight. There are no snow days. None. Even when we have massive storms and it is impossible to get anywhere. Last year was a terrible ice season. It rained very frequenty in the daytime, and then froze at night. Last year was also a terrible pothole season. Precipitation, plowing and salt destroyed the roads, and they are still recovering. I don't expect this year to be any better. I've never tried commuting by bike in the winter, but this year will be the year I do it. I'll be commuting on my Giant Rainier mountain bike, but I'm still rather worried about ice accidents. And sometimes the wind here is so bad, especially in the winter, that I am afraid my bike will be blown of the road. The sleet and freezing rain is killer; it can completely annihilate your vision, breathing and skin.

I just need to know what I will need for this experiment.
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Old 10-13-08, 06:45 PM   #2
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Here's a good info page for starters:

I still haven't been able to bring myself to ride once freezing temperatures arrive. I give you a lot of credit for giving it a try. Like you said, Chicago winters can be brutal.
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Old 10-29-08, 09:43 PM   #3
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I'm gonna do it too. Check out the working bikes yahoo group. One of their afiliate shops has free workshops about winter riding, dressing, and maintenance.
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Old 10-30-08, 07:43 AM   #4
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As a resident of Northern Wisconsin let me say that bicycles are excellent all year vehicles, yes, including the entire winter. The trick to winter cycling is to have the right gear. With proper gear, you will likely find that riding your bike through the winter, down south in Chicago, is a very easy, safe, enjoyable and convenient method to get around.

If you are concerned about ice or snow, look into getting either chains for your bike or studded tires. Either will help you ride safely through just about anything winter can throw at you (at least they seem to work in Northern Wisconsin).

The biggest problem with cycling in the winter isn't being cold, it's being too warm. Bikes have excellent heating systems (your body) that will keep you very warm and snug while riding through just about any temperature outside. Just make sure to avoid wearing cotton clothing in the winter.

I wish you the best of luck cycling through the winter in Chicago.
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Old 10-30-08, 08:44 AM   #5
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You are right about the winter weather around here, damnit!

It's kinda early here, too, this year.

For the last three mornings, the birds have been walking on the birdbath, trying to figure out how to drink the hard water......

It's been kinda nasty riding around here for the last several days, bu, it looks like it will be warmer for the next few.....

I'm looking forward to spring already...........
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Old 10-30-08, 01:34 PM   #6
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How many miles will your commute be?

Good luck.
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Old 11-08-08, 08:37 PM   #7
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Sure it's a challenge, but hook up the right gear and enjoy the awed looks of motorists and co-workers (fellow students?). This will be my second full winter commute in Chicago. Ice is certainly the scariest prospect, but luckily if you can get yourself to main roads and have the guts to take a lane, and take your time, you'll be fine. The problem is side streets the first day or two after a snow.

Maybe I'm crazy or foolish, but I use the same 700c x 25 slicks I use in the summer. If I get freaked out I do have the cyclo-cross type tires that came with my new bike, but I liked the feeling of cutting through the mush to the road with the slicks.

Keep your bike clean, wipe it down well every day once snow and salt start if you care about it.

Clothing: key is breathable layers. Wool and capeline are your friends - it can be an investment at first but I wouldn't wear anything else. Get a good, breathable hat to cover ears and forehead and a face mask. A balaclava thing seems great as long as you don't wear glasses! I swear by ski gloves once the snow starts. They're expensive but necessary.

Route: Know your route. Ride it now, notice where the big potholes are. They will only get bigger, but as long as you know where they are you'll be fine. Expect to leave earlier and earlier as the roads get worse; my 15 min commute becomes 30 - 35 in nasty snow and slush. I'd rather leave early and deal with less traffic, even though getting out of bed is the hardest thing I do everyday!

Get out before or right after the plow? Lucky us, snow gets pushed into the bike lane. I, for one, can't ride in 5 inches of snow and slush. On really bad mornings, I take the space where motorists right wheels have cleared the path, and move over now and then if I seem to be holding up traffic. I feel bad doing it, but sometimes it's the only way. This is another good reason to leave earlier - less traffic to fight with always helps.

And if my small self hasn't been blown off the Chicago street bridge, I'm sure you'll be fine!

Good luck, feel free to PM with any specific questions, I'm happy to help! I actually prefer riding in the winter here - it's such a comparatively small group of cyclists it's kind of a fun little community of crazies!
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Old 01-04-09, 05:48 PM   #8
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Winter Riding in Chicago

This is my second winter in Chicago but my first winter riding. I ride fixed with 700x23 tires; I haven't had any falls - yet. I do avoid riding when it is raining hard or if there is more than 3" or so on the ground, and try to avoid riding when it is below zero, but I just ride to commute

My clothing consists of a base layer, such as a fleece or a long sleeve shirt if it is above 35 (Fahrenheit), with a Craft rain jacket that is neon green or yellow, this combo keeps me warm for the entire ride, which is 30 mins one way. For my legs I wear long johns under my jeans with two pairs of socks and toe covers on my shoes. Below 15 or so I will add a pair of leg warmers over my long johns. I strongly suggest a ski mask/balaclava if it is below 35. I have two pairs of gloves, thin ones when it is above 40 and a pair of lobster gloves below 40.

Winter riding can initially be costly but I believe it is worth it. I've spent around $250 for gloves, balaclava, skull cap, Craft jacket, fenders, toe covers (might upgrade to full shoe covers for really wet days), and leg warmers.
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Old 01-06-09, 04:42 PM   #9
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I live a few hours south, but I can tell you about the weather: it's not bad. All my clothes are cotton, though I'm trying to change that (I'm not paying $80 for a shirt -- maybe for 4 shirts!), but so far on my 3.5-mile commute it's been okay since I have a mostly wind-proof jacket and I wear three layers. Below 15-20 degrees I have to work harder to stay warm. I got a cheap polyester fleece on clearance at Meijer the other day and even though I'm still wearing cotton underneath, it's made a huge difference! I get home and my shirt is wet, the lining of my jacket is damp, but the fleece (between them) is dry. Blows my mind. And I'm definitely warmer.

Longjohns are awesome. I got a pair of windproof pants, also on clearance at Meijer, to wear over my jeans on windy or wet days.

With my normal outdoorsy boots on, only on the 10-15 degree days have I had trouble with cold toes -- and cold fingers if I take too long to unlock my bike and put my lights on outside. Now that I wear an extra pair of socks if it's cold, I don't seem to have the toe trouble.

My jacket and my fleece have hoods. I wear a tight-fitting hat, wrap my scarf around and tuck the ends into my fleece, put the hoods up and pull the scarf down a bit, and cram my helmet on top (I need a bigger one for winter riding). Around 30 the jacket hood isn't necessary, and above 35 I leave the fleece hood off also.

Honestly, most days there isn't a lot of precipitation. You can get baseball-cap-like things with a neck/face wrap built in or put an adjustable baseball cap over your hat.

I've learned all this since October/November when my car broke down. Mostly I've learned it by realizing as I was on the road "I am too cold" and making a mental note of the temperature. But I only really spent about five commutes total being too cold.

Last edited by Nettabird; 01-06-09 at 04:43 PM. Reason: clarity
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Old 01-06-09, 05:15 PM   #10
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Keep reading posts on the Winter Forum. Read some of the older posts too. Start budgeting your money so you can buy clothing gear. When you see something you like, do a search to see who has the best price. I look for stuff all year round. I've bought alot of my stuff at 50% off just by searching around. Campmor, Cabelas, Sierra Trading Post, Land's End, LL Bean and others are good places to look for good quality winter gear. I bought a pair of Sport Hill Infuzion II pants at Amazon for $44, they retail for $85. I bought a pair of Snowboard mittens here in town at a local store for a close-out price of $20, that retailed for $35. Its stuff like that, that if you look around you'll find some good bargains out there.....Good Luck.
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Old 01-07-09, 05:12 AM   #11
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I'm in Chicago too and this is my first full winter of bike commuting. It's actually not been too bad. I've fallen some but haven't killed myself yet. I'm doing it on a Gary Fisher mountain bike with fairly thick tires (I don't know the numbers... I'm not that technical) that I bought specifically to use through the winter. Thought about getting studded tires but after buying the bike and some winter gear, didn't want to spend any more money. The cold has not bothered me at all. I just layer myself good, grit my teeth, close my eyes, think of Britain, and take off. Even a few weeks ago when it was five below I biked to work.
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