Winter is here, but you don’t need to hang your commuter bike up until springtime. Many benefits of commuting by bicycle become more noticeable in the winter: staying fit while avoiding packed gyms, no weather-related traffic backups and no scraping ice and snow off your car.
When riding in cold and adverse weather, layers are your friend, especially an outermost layer consisting of a windproof and waterproof barrier. Keeping the cold wind from cutting into your skin will make for a more enjoyable experience. Although your hands feet and head lose heat first, keeping your torso warm with a base and secondary layer under a wind jacket or vest allows your extremities to stay warm even longer.
Wool socks with their wicking and warming abilities keep your feet comfortable. As with your torso, the outer layer on your foot, your shoes, plays a major role in overall warmth. Avoid lightweight running or gym shoes, as their well-ventilated design is not ideal for keeping in warmth. Instead, consider Lightweight boots that double as good all-around winter walking shoes. Wool is also great for your hands, especially as the first layer of protection. You can wear one of several waterproof glove shells over a wool glove liner to provide maximum heat retention and keep your hands dry.
Since winter hours means less daylight, visibility becomes even more important. Front and rear mounted blinking lights help cars see you in the dark, especially if you get caught in a snowstorm.
To protect your winter steed, keep it free from wet snow and ice. Fenders stop snow and slush from getting everywhere and will make a world of difference in your commute. Even if the pavement is a little damp, water and dirt will trail up your tires and fling outwards, coating your frame, legs and back. Fenders keep all of this contained on the tires, keeping your clothes and bike clean.
Even with fenders, dirt, grit and water will inevitably work their way onto your bike and into your chain when riding on saturated roads. If water and grit settle too much on your equipment, it will cake on and be much harder to clean, possibly leading to rusted and seized-up components. To prevent this, keep your bike under shelter as much as possible, either in a garage, at the bottom of a stairwell or even under a tarp. Keep an old rag and a spray can of bike cleaner near where you store your bike. Just before you put it away for the day, spray the drivetrain down and wipe the chain clean with the rag. Baby wipes are also a great thing to keep on hand to quickly wipe down a dirty frame. Remember to keep your chain lubricated, but do not over do it (think bi-monthly versus daily), as excess chain lube can force in dirt just as much as not having enough on to start.
Don’t let cold riding overwhelm you by taking it step by step. Start on a milder day to gauge how your body handles the cold and continue to hone your strategy of getting through another Chicago winter, this time on the bike!