Dashing Through the Snow

Winter bicycling is more fun than you'd imagine

| November / December 2002

SINCE RIDING A BIKE is such great exercise and keeps extra cars off the streets, why exile your two-wheeler to the garage at the first sign of snow flurries? Iron Man or IronWoman status is not a prerequisite for staying in the saddle through the coldest months in northern latitudes.

Even in Minneapolis, where I bike three miles to work all year, the streets are dry and the temperatures above 20 most days all winter. That makes it easy to become at least a fair-weather winter rider. Leave your wheels at home only on those days when it’s icy or the forecast says snow or plunging temperatures. But if you want to go all the way, come snow or sleet or dark of night, here are a few tips I’ve learned through many seasons as a bicycle commuter.

Go slower. At low speeds, you can catch yourself on what otherwise would be a chilly spill.

Lower your seat. Quickly planting your boots on the road can be a power assist to your brakes. Also remember that the rear brake is what really stops you.

Buy snow tires. They make an amazing difference in providing traction on snow or slush.

Get a reliable light. Winter months are not only colder, they’re also darker. A flashing red light in back and a strong beam in front keep you safe.

Add fenders. You can plow through the snow on any kind of bike (hybrid and mountain bikes work best), but without fenders you’ll sport a permanent slush stripe along your backside.

Dress for warmth. I’ve invested surprisingly little in fancy outdoors clothing, but strongly recommend wickable silk T-shirts and long johns since you’ll work up a sweat. I wear a thermal vest and scarf under a warm leather jacket or (on subzero days) a down coat. A pair of thick wool socks, waterproof boots, and skier’s handwear (I prefer the clawed gloves) keep the extremities toasty. In ski shops, I have also found a good ear band and cap. On the coldest days, I add a stocking cap, face mask, and an outer scarf. I generally wear jeans, and I tuck them into tall socks when the snow is deep. Be prepared to unbutton or peel off some layers as you ride.

Have fun. From the seat of your bike, a bright sunny winter day with fresh snow on the ground is beautiful to behold.