Well, the weather has certainly been challenging in November! I know that it caught a few of my fellow cyclists by surprise. That first heavy wet snow that created stubborn icescapes was a challenging big wet raspberry to potential winter bikers. Lucky for me, I was (somewhat) ready for it.
MY RIDE: After a great deal of contemplation and several test rides, my winter bike of choice is a singlespeed All City Nature Boy. I just want to acknowledge my privilege here right off the bat; I have three bikes and I love them dearly, two of them were purchased brand new and the Casseroll was a Craigslist find that has turned out to be my favorite fair weather long ride choice. In other words, I have the ability to spend more money than a lot of people are able to on my bikes and gear. Still, I'm not in the multi-thousands of bucks club. I bought the Nature Boy in the fall of 2013 for a little less than $1000. Prior to that year, I had been riding a heavy hybrid 21-speed KHS (lovingly dubbed “The Warhorse”). That bike was fine while I was dabbling with biking and still relying mostly on a car to get me around. But an empty nest, Grease Rag and an intense desire to get rid of the car had spurred me to hunt for better (for me) bikes with higher-end components, and after riding my Vaya and Casseroll during the less inclement months, I decided to purchase the Nature Boy for my winter commute. The NB is a great bike. I am just not confident enough to ride fixed--in fact, the thought terrifies me. I need brakes. I need to coast. Without the complications of derailleurs and shifters, I like the single speed option. [Note: When it got sub-zero last year, my factory-greased freehub froze up. I had to limp in to Freewheel--where I purchased the Nature Boy--to have it repacked with extreme cold-tolerant lube. They did it quickly, with a smile and at no charge.] After a winter of riding with drop bars, I replaced them with flat bars this summer. (I replaced the brake handles as well, going with some Pauls.) I use platform pedals, and I ordered some Xpedos that are nice and grippy. That’s m’ride.
A LI’L WINTER ACCIDENT: I mentioned before that I test rode a lot of bikes before deciding on the Nature Boy. I tried HARD to like fatbikes, and I was prepared to go that route. But I just didn’t enjoy pushing so much rubber around. I guess it’s because, as much as I’d love to be a rad river bottoms adventurer, I’m more of a point A to point B commuter. Down deep, I’m scared of falling. I took a BAD spill last winter. Looking back on my DeroZap account, I can see exactly when it happened. December 4. Hellacious ice storm. Several inches of frozen glare ice cemented to the street, with brown sugar on top. I decided to stand and pedal--and that’s when I ate it. My bike and leg careened out from under me at a crazy and unnatural angle. I stretched things and had crazy deep tissue bruising that didn’t show up for a week. As the back of my leg turned angry purple, I hobbled around, barely able to do stairs. That taught me. SLOW AND STEADY. That’s my mantra.
SPECIAL GEAR: There are just some things that make life so much more liveable, you know? Here’s a list of gear that I have come to love and count on to make riding outside in the Minnesota winter a veritable JOY!!!!
STUDDED TIRES: Kenda Klondike K1014, 700x40 with 100 studs, steel bead clincher tire. I really don’t know how they compare to other tires, as I’ve used them now for 3 winters. Upon inspection when I installed them this year, there were STILL no studs missing. Impressive. I feel secure when riding on these. Still, I take it easy. (These were the tires I was riding when I took my bad fall last winter, but I don’t blame them for my bad judgment. I should have gotten off and walked up that hill.) Around $50 a tire.
POGIES: 45NRTH Cobrafist bar mitts. These are so amazing. They are huge and install directly onto your (flat) handlebars, with bar end caps that secure them on and in place. It seems like in winter, you either sacrifice warmth in your hands or nimble handling of your bike (including signalling and braking while negotiating icy ruts and distracted drivers). With these pogies, I have the best of both worlds! I don’t have to wear huge mittens to stay warm, and they allow for easy signalling without too much hassle of getting your hand back in. They were spendy ($125), but that’s your VEHICLE for the winter. I love them.
Tidbit: Minneapolis is the only major metropolitan area on planet Earth at the 45th Parallel. To the right is the 45th Parallel plaque at Theodore Wirth Park. We are exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole!
BOOTS: 45NRTH Wolvhammer platform boots. If you’re aware of winter gear at all, you’ve heard of these super-expensive but totally worth it boots that keep your tootsies warm during winter at the 45th parallel. I didn’t pay the full retail price of $325, possibly because they were from last year. Look around. Maybe you’ll find a deal.
BALACLAVA: 45NRTH Lung Cookie. I know, I’m starting to sound like a 45NRTH groupie. I may or may not be obsessed with their products… But I’m telling you, for a person who wears glasses and can’t do goggles, the fact that they DON’T FOG UP while keeping one’s face warm is a really great thing. Also, you can pull the loose-fitting face cover away easily when you get warmed up, as inevitably happens. Merino wool goodness abounds. $45.
GLOVES: Gore Bike Wear Radiator Windstopper Lobster Gloves. These are pretty good when combined with the pogies. Not the warmest when you’re just walking around in the cold. That’s the trick with winter active gear, right? If it’s warm enough to stand/walk around in, it’s probably going to guarantee overheating about 10 minutes into your ride. Here’s the deal: I have--like--8 pairs of gloves. Usually I have 2-3 pairs of varying warmth/type that I carry around, because my hands are PICKY. I have my eye on these (you guessed it) 45NRTH Sturmfist4 (four finger) gloves, which I was able to try at a promotional event a couple of weeks ago. Here’s some info on those gloves, if you’re interested. Again, spendy ($130) but promising!
BUFF: I have this merino wool buff that I love because you can do almost anything with it, and it keeps you warm and yet it stays relatively clean and dries quickly. It’s light and easy to stow. I don’t know how much it costs because I won it in a monthly prize raffle of my school’s Cycling Wellness Group. People make them. Get crafty! Get thee to a Grease Rag craft-making event.
HELMET: I wear a Bern helmet during the winter. I wear it as much for falling (thrown) ice and snow (Greenway goblins) as for the potential hard fall on the ice. It’s heavy and doesn’t have much venting, which is perfect for me in the cold.
BASE LAYER (LEGS): I bought this merino wool blend long underwear from Costco, at somewhere around $15 for a two-pack. I wear it under everything, every day. It’s super sheer and yet warm, and I don’t notice it under the pants I change into at work.
SOCKS: I wear knee-high ski socks from Smartwool. I raid the bargain bins and closeout sales from REI and Midwest Mountaineering and stock up. They work great and aren’t too heavy. They keep me warm, because I wear riding knickers year round.
KNICKERS: I have an arsenal of Bontrager riding knickers that I wear year-round. I don’t miss the longer pant legs, even on the coldest days. I like them because they have a pocket for each important “thing” that I need to be sure I have before going out the door. (Cell phone, keys, u-lock, hankerchief.) They were pretty spendy, but I got many on sale from the interwebs and sales at Freewheel.
BASE LAYER (TORSO): I have picked up several long-sleeved wicking jersey-things from REI sales. They are good. No idea on price. I have 3 or 4 I rotate through.
WARMTH LAYER (TORSO) : PhD SmartLoft Divide Full-Zip Jacket. From manufacturer: has a front nylon panel quilted with wool insulation to keep cold and wind at bay, while merino wool next to skin breathes, insulates and wicks moisture naturally. I LOVE THIS THING! It is light but cozy, is great in less frigid weather by itself, and when paired with a wind-resistant shell, it’s perfect for me.
WIND-RESISTANT SHELL: A NorthFace jacket I totally got for super cheap (like $50 or so) on clearance from REI. It has plenty of venting to open up if you get too warm, but does a good job (when combined with warmer layers) of being “just right.”
As Forrest Gump said, “That’s all I have to say about that.” What are your favorite pieces of gear to make winter wonderful on two wheels? Chime in here!!!
Keep the studded side down.