Winterize Your Bike Commute
By Simone Temporal, m.simone.temporal at gmail
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When I first arrived in Philly, I planned to make my bike my main mode of transportation. But as the temperature dips so does my resolve. So I went to my neighborhood bicycle shop, Bicycle Therapy, and spoke to DJ Janavey, one of their bike gurus, to get tips on how to deal with the winter weather to keep up my bike commute throughout the season. DJ has been commuting by bike in Philly for over a decade.
Motivation: There are advantages to continuing your bike commute during the winter
- Happy New Year! One of the top New Year’s resolutions is to either lose weight or be more fit. Biking is a less expensive way to meet your resolution compared to joining a gym.
- While we’re on the topic of money, biking can save you money on your commute. It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly than taking public transportation or driving.
- Lastly, it’s warmer than waiting for a bus and faster than waiting for your car to get warm. So read on to ride on!
Winter Armor: Dress to combat the wind and low temperatures.
- Gloves are the most essential winter cycling gear. DJ explained, “Your hands are where the wind is going to hit you during your ride”
- Choose gloves based on flexibility to be able to operate your bike, especially to brake. Five-finger gloves offer the most flexibility while fewer finger gloves, like mittens, provide more warmth.
- DJ uses two pairs of five-finger gloves to adjust for the temperature. He wears liner gloves for Fall-like temperatures & layers them with thicker, waterproof gloves when the temperature drops.
- Baselayers/thermals in merino wool or wool/polyester blend (a less expensive alternative) fabrics will allow your body to breathe and move. Stay away from cotton, which DJ pointed out, “will soak up your sweat and make you colder when you’re exposed to the low temperature.”
- Face cover protects you from the cold wind and can be searched under the following queries, “merino wool multi tube;” “soft shell neck and face warmer;” “neck warmer;” “neck gaiter.”
- DJ prefers thin, breathable fabric similar to that of the baselayer as opposed to tight masks, which “can keep the condensation from your breaths.”
- The one he modeled has the bonus of multiple configurations. “I start wearing it around September – October as a neck warmer and then I modify it to more like balaclava when the temperature drops.”
- Jacket with wind resistance is best. “The wind will cut through your clothing despite the many layers.” It’s not necessary to shell out money for a cycling jacket if you only commute occasionally. In addition to wind and water-resistance properties, cycling jackets are designed to be longer in the back to cover the rear and avoid unintentional mooning while you ride.
- Head cover can be a simple beanie or a thin cycling hat to wear as a liner under your helmet. It’s not necessary to buy a winter helmet, which is usually just a regular helmet with a matching liner.
- Socks in wool are best for the same reason as baselayers – breathability and warmth.
- Eye wear is the least essential buy though they can help protect your eyes during inclement weather.
- DJ wears clear woodshop safety glasses that he got for $7 at Home Depot. A great alternative to $100 and above sports glasses such as Oakleys.
- Place the arms of your glasses under your helmet straps to avoid your glasses from shifting when your helmet moves.
- Other pointers:
- Tuck and layer loose fabrics to prevent the wind from entering
- Wear brighter colors and/or reflective fabrics to remain visible with the shortened daylight.
- For the guys, DJ recommends the Levi Commuter Jeans, which he is wearing in the pictures, or Cadence, a biking lifestyle brand because it has reinforced crotch and pockets to avoid paying for your commute with your jeans.
- For the gals, Ali Carr Troxell in her “Outsider Magazine” article recommends the Outlier Women’s Daily Riding Pant because it offers stretch, breathability, warmth and – wait for it! – water resistance!
Your Ride & equipment: The following are slight adjustments to your ride for the winter.
- Inflate your tires 5 to 10 pounds less pressure to increase your traction on the road.
- If possible, change your tires to the widest possible width to further increase your traction.
- Snow tires are a splurge item since it doesn’t snow often enough in Philly to warrant them.
- Buy locks with cylinder covers to prevent them from getting wet, freezing and rusting. Occasionally, spray your locks with WD-40 to further prevent rusting.
- Buy front and backlights to increase your visibility.
…and Its Maintenance:
- Occasionally, clean your tires with a simple wipe to remove salt, which can eat the rubber of your tires.
- Occasionally, clean your brake pad to remove dirt and glass and ensure optimal braking power, which is essential during inclement weather when the road is wet and slippery.
- Don’t over lubricate your drive train (chains) or do it less often with a thinner lubricant during the winter. “If it’s wet or over lubricated, your chain will pick up more dirt…a thinner weight lubricant won’t hold on to as much dirt” explained DJ.
- DJ’s own yearly maintenance schedule to prime his bike for the winter:
- Bring your bike for maintenance in the Spring
- Also change your tires during this time “So they’re nice in the summer and lasts throughout the winter.”
- Wash your bike in March to remove the accumulated winter gunk and in September to prepare it for the upcoming winter.
Road Challenges: Much like a car, it’s inclement weather such as snow, sleet and rain that poses a challenge to your commute:
- Bike lanes may be more slippery since salt and debris get swept by the wind and collect in this area.
- Snow will limit the bike lanes and the available road since bike lanes are not consistently plowed or it’s where snow plows push the snow
- Be cautious of trolley tracks. Snow can hide tracks and further narrow an already limited road.
- Potholes! If you find yourself unable to avoid one, DJ advises to “slow down, if possible and travel with it. Slack out your knees and elbows to absorb more impact. Don’t tense up” to decrease possible injuries.
Overall, maintaining your bike commute in Philly doesn’t cost nor require a lot of special equipment. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the most essential one isn’t bought – motivation.
How do you bike through the winter? Share your winter biking outfit on Twitter with hashtag #BikethruPhillyWintr