A Guest post from Alisa about winter riding! Enjoy!
My first winter bike commuting
As winter in Minnesota is quickly drawing to a close (although I know Minnesota well enough to not put the winter bike away quite yet), I thought this would be a good time to share some random thoughts on my first winter bike commuting. I’ve been a bike commuter during the spring, summer and fall for the past five years, but I would put the bike away and start taking the bus after the first snowfall. It was the ice especially that made me nervous. During the past year, I tried to bike more and more to run errands and get around, and come November realized that this was the year I would become a winter bike commuter. The thought of having to wait to catch the bus at the end of the day – my least favorite part of my day – wasn’t a routine I was interested in getting back into.
My winter warrior: After doing some research on all my options, I decided to find a used, beater bike for my winter ride. Luckily, one trip to the Recovery Bike Shop was all I needed to find my winter bike. I decked it out with studded tires, fenders, a rack and new lights. I have to admit, I thought this bike was pretty ugly when I first purchased it, but I’ve come to appreciate it more and more as it’s carried me through a wide variety of winter conditions.
Biggest challenges: I wasn’t sure what my biggest challenges would be when I first started riding in the winter – the weather, road conditions, equipment, darkness, etc.? I faced all of these challenges at different times throughout the season. The road conditions were pretty tough after the first snowfall in November, but that just meant I learned a lot about winter riding in the first week. Although dressing for the weather has been surprisingly easy, I have often overdressed and occasionally underdressed at different times. In fact, I think I made a new rule of thumb for dressing for winter riding almost every time I ventured out. Remembering to charge my lights, struggling home in a brisk headwind, learning how to see in the dark with my rose-tinted goggles have all been challenges at some point, but overcoming these challenges have been a big part of the fun.
Favorite pieces of clothing:
I could go on and on about my different layers, but here are a few pieces that I couldn’t have gotten through winter without:
- Scarf: Figuring out how to keep my face warm while still being able to breathe was a huge challenge early on. Luckily, I dug out a scarf my grandma had made that had been sitting around for a few years. I can wrap this scarf twice around my neck, pull it up over my face and still breathe! It was great to have something lying around the house that I never really used become a critical part of my daily commute.
- Windshell jacket: I picked up this piece at the Grease Rag gear swap for FREE! I don’t wear it every day, but on the coldest days this thin shell keeps my surprisingly warm.
- Thin, fleece hoodie: Another key piece of advice picked up at the Grease Rage winter skill share was that thin hoodies can provide a nice layer of warmth to both your core and your head. I found a few at a good price at Marshall’s, and wear one every day.
- Lobster gloves: The cross-country skier in me already swore by lobster gloves, but I splurged on some biking-specific lobsters that provide a bit more wind protection. These have kept my hands warm enough at -30 windchills.
Least favorite riding conditions (early on): ½” or so of loose snow on top of the packed ice and snow. At first, my heart would jump into my throat every time my bike got a bit squirrely in these conditions. To keep me going, I kept reminding myself how much better I would be at mountain biking after this winter! Which leads me to…
Least favorite riding conditions (now): I got more comfortable and things got less scary. My heart jumps into my throat a little bit less, and my least favorite riding conditions in winter now are clear, dry roads. I like the sound my tires make when riding on some packed snow, feeling like my studded tires are being put to good use.
Least favorite weather element: The wind. It makes things so much colder and harder than it needs to be.
Least favorite days: When I wasn’t able to ride! I found that no matter the weather – snowy, 20 degrees below, salty, muddy, etc. – I would miss the time I got to spend on my bike when I wasn’t able to ride. Riding in the winter has really changed my perspective on biking weather - to me, there really is no bad weather for riding anymore.
Favorite rides: Some of my favorites rides this winter have occurred in all sorts of conditions – I never knew when a ride would become one of my best rides. A few of the magical rides I’ve had this year:
- -30 windchills when Minneapolis schools were cancelled. After deciding that no, I wasn’t crazy for riding my bike in this weather (I’d probably be colder waiting for the bus), I threw on an extra layer, made sure that I didn’t have any skin exposed and ventured out. Being dressed perfectly for some extreme weather made me feel invincible.
- Enjoying the increasing daylight in late February and hanging out with some bald eagles on the shores of the Mississippi River on my way home (on what just happened to be International Winter Bike to Work Day).
- Riding in newly falling snow at the beginning of March after a winter of yearning for more snow.
Least favorite label: Badass. I find that the conversations I have about riding in the winter with colleagues and friends tend to follow the same pattern. The person I’m talking to admires me for biking in the winter, but then expresses how they could never do it themselves. I find this so frustrating. I try to explain that they could – I’m just a normal, impatient person that loves biking and hates waiting for the bus! The more I have these conversations, the more I want people realize that biking in any season is very doable and not relegated to badasses (or at least, that anyone can be a badass!).