wool cycling caps are both warm and thin, offering
a great alternative to a winter hat that will fit
beneath a helmet.
winter is in full swing, there’s no reason to suddenly
stow away your bike. And until snow hits the road, you
certainly needn’t swap your fresh-air commute for a
slower and sedentary one by car or public transit.
to riding through the winter comes down to the proper
gear. Think of it this way: Invest in quality options to
keep you warm and dry, and you won’t need to spend as
much on public transportation, or gas, for years to
suiting up, winter cycling is all about adhering to a
few basic safety principles. Get those lights flashing
(front and rear) and put these tips to use to keep you
cruising into spring.
layers with the right materials.
the right apparel, you can ride in any temperature or
any climate, and you can do it comfortably,” says Sean
Burger, product specialist at Philadelphia Bikesmith and
Main Line Cycles, and a city commuter of six years.
“Yes, it’s getting very cold, but there are other
places that are colder and people ride year-round —
there’s apparel designed for all temps.”
says a good rule of thumb is to find breathable fabrics
that wick moisture away from the body while being thick
enough to strike a balance between warmth and mobility.
a lot of merino wool from brands like Smartwool and
Ibex,” says Burger. “It transfers the moisture from
your skin into the next layer of your clothing rather
than soaking it up and leaving you wet and cold.”
next choice is synthetic fabric used for a lot of
athletic thermal gear by such companies as Under Armour,
the North Face, and Patagonia. Like merino wool, the
fabric is designed to wick away perspiration, unlike
cotton, which readily absorbs it. (Cotton can absorb
about 25 times its weight in water).
gear can often be very thin yet also super-warm,”
range of athletic- and outdoor-oriented brands make
apparel from both merino wool and synthetic fabrics.
Whether it’s fleece, a long-sleeved shirt, or a vest,
check the tag before buying.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good-quality jacket
is essential, particularly for longer rides, but
investing in a heavy-duty winter jacket will make life
easier and more comfortable. Burger suggests one filled
you’re going to hit the trail for a couple hours,
you’ll want to layer up and get a lighter softshell
jacket to throw on top, but for city commuting, an
all-in-one winter down jacket is the way to go,” says
Burger. “Down jackets are breathable yet warm, even if
you get a little damp.”
temperatures below freezing, Burger recommends something
you’d wear on a ski trip. Look for a
synthetic-insulated coat that has an inner thermal layer
and a wind-resistant outer layer. If you start to get a
little sweaty as you pedal, make sure to zip open and
get some air five minutes before reaching your
legs could use an extra layer, too.
the easiest layers to add to a wardrobe is a pair of
leggings or winter cycling tights, both of which can fit
comfortably under work clothes.
from Uniqlo has been a game changer,” says Ashley
Vogel, a regular commuter and development associate at
the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. “The
leggings keep heat in when I’m outside but aren’t
too hot or uncomfortable when I’m indoors.”
offers a variety of options for men and women in its
Heattech collection, all made from soft material
that’s easy to hang out in all day.
classic synthetic cycling tights, look to athletic
apparel brands like REI, Specialized, Pearl Izumi, and
Cycling caps and balaclavas will allow you to wear a hat
and a helmet comfortably.
you’ve ever tried to strap a bike helmet on top of a
thick winter hat, you know that uncomfortable smooshy
feeling. It’s also not particularly safe. Fortunately,
there are alternatives to keep you warm and protected,
and bike experts across the board consistently recommend
the balaclava as one of the best.
are great — they cover your head and neck with this
fleece-lined spandex that keeps you warm but is thin
enough to fit under your helmet,” says Burger.
balaclava works as part hat and part scarf, covering the
head and face — leaving only the eyes and mouth
exposed — as well as the neck.
alternative, Burger recommends merino wool cycling caps.
Although they don’t double as a scarf the way
balaclavas do, many have coverings to protect ears and a
short brim to keep the sun out of your eyes.
any other merino wool layer, they work as a thin thermal
insulator that wicks moisture away from your body and
keeps you dry,” says Burger.
Instead of a scarf, consider merino wool from Buff
headwear from Buff is a well-regarded substitute for a
essentially a big merino wool tube that goes around your
neck,” says Bicycle Therapy owner Lee Rogers. “On
days where it’s extra-cold, you can pull it up right
beneath your nose to cover your face, or you can just
wear it as a scarf.”
of retailers sell Buff products, including REI and L.L.
Bean, as do online marketplaces like Amazon. Most
options are priced between $20 and $30.
Heavy-duty gloves — regular or “lobster” — are a
are mandatory for keeping your fingers from going numb,
and there are a few factors to consider when choosing a
want to look for something that’s rated for zero
degrees or below,” says Burger. “If you can’t find
the rating from the glove manufacturer anywhere, then
you probably don’t want to buy those gloves.”
favorite brand of five-fingered gloves is Sealskinz, but
he and many other bike professionals also recommend a
put your last two or three fingers together into a
mitten shape, and leave your remaining fingers
separate,” says Burger. “This way, you can easily
brake and shift, but your littlest finger gets some
to extra-cold fingers? Try Bar Mitts
with perpetually cold hands should try Bar Mitts,
available at select bike shops and online at places like
Amazon for as little as $25.
look kind of like oven mitts that live on the bike and
are positioned so that you can still use your brakes and
shifters,” says Ryan Filson, manager at Breakaway
Bikes. “Use them with a pair of gloves, and your hands
are guaranteed to stay toasty.”
frozen feet with merino wool socks
hands, feet are not to be forgotten.
are almost as important as your base layer, and,
similarly, you want to choose a fabric that wicks
moisture from the body and transfers it out of the
fabric,” says Burger.
other layers, Burger’s top choice is merino wool, and
his go-to brand for socks is DeFeet ($10.99 and up).
super-warm, but not too thick, so they’ll sit well in
any shoe,” he says.
clear of winter tears with athletic glasses.
you have 20/20 vision, glasses could become your new
keep the wind out of my eyes as well as some of the grit
that can get kicked up in the road,” says Amanda Woade
of South Philly, who wears glasses during daytime and
recommends glasses with yellow-tinted night driving
lenses. “They keep glare down at night and keep things
cheerier on cloudy days,” she says.
Consider swapping your tires
most experts agree studded winter tires aren’t
necessary for basic bike commuting, many advise
investing in a set of wider ones.
the biggest tire that your bike can fit, and choose
something that’s puncture-resistant,” says Filson.
“This can help smooth out the potholes — the streets
get pretty nasty during the winter — and maximize
your tire pressure on the low end of the recommended
lower pressure will give a larger contact area on the
road, so when it’s a little slushy, you’ll get a
better grip,” says Burger.
pressure creates a flatter tire that allows more of the
rubber to make contact with the street.
that, refer to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure
range (usually stamped on the sidewall of the tire), and
fill your tires until the pump reading just reaches the
lower end of the range.
your bike a shower before salt and dirt become
roads are often dirtier than summer roads, so it’s
important to clean your bike more often.
don’t want salt sitting on any part of the bike —
it’s corrosive,” notes Filson.
recommends using a bucket of soapy water to wipe down
the frame and to gently clean the drive train (the
chain, chain rings, rear cassette, and rear derailleur)
with a rag whenever dirt becomes noticeable.
consistent with lubricating your drive train
of bike lubricant, available at any cycling shop, should
be part of every cycler’s tool kit.
maximize the lifetime of your drive train and for a
smoother ride, you want to keep everything
well-lubricated,” says Rogers. “In the winter, the
constant wet conditions cause the chain to get dry even
few drops to the chain while spinning the pedals, using
a clean, dry rag to wipe off any excess lubricant.
Fenders are your friend for keeping clothes clean
streets are inevitable during winter, but they needn’t
ruin your work outfit.
fenders on your front and back tire,” urges Burger.
“They work to protect you from becoming a wet, brown,
soppy mess by preventing the water from flicking up onto
your pants and your back.”
Dry-Slide to prevent your lock from jamming up
a dry lubricant available at most bike shops, can help
prevent moments of panic caused by jammed bike locks.
just put a few drops into the area of the lock where
you’d put your key,” says Filson. “You can also
use a little bit of regular bike lube. It doesn’t dry
up as well, and you’ll need to reapply it more
Always use your lights — day and night.
leave home without your lights.
applies year-round, but particularly in the winter, when
daylight hours shorten. Your rear and front lights
should always be blinking,” says Burger. “You should
use them during the day, too, to increase your
it’s snowing and you don’t have to ride, don’t
cruising through cold temps is entirely doable, cycling
through cold precipitation is not advised.
doesn’t matter what type of bike you have, it’s not
safe to ride through snow,” says Rogers. “You
can’t turn like you normally would and the tires skid,
so it becomes dangerous.”
is falling, give your bike a snow day and rely on public
transportation if you’re able.
snowy conditions, ride in the tire tracks of cars
If you do
decide to set out on snowy streets, Burger says to steer
clear of bike lanes and instead center yourself in the
tracks that cars have left on the road.
the safest space for you to be when the roads aren’t
clear,” he says. “Everywhere else, there will be
snow and slush, and you’ll start fishtailing.”
you hit black ice, never turn your front wheel
after the roads are cleared, a few ice patches often
remain. They can be hard to spot and avoid, so keep the
following rule in mind in the event your wheels hit ice.
turn your front wheel. Hopefully, you have some room to
keep going straight,” says Burger. “Potentially
tripod your feet if you think you might fall.”
yourself additional time for each commute and always err
on the side of caution.
sun’s lower in the sky, and it’s typically dark when
people are on their way to and from work. The road
conditions deteriorate during the winter, too,” notes
Filson. “All of that affects the way people are
driving, so you need to be a little extra-aware.”
at a pace you feel comfortable with, and don’t worry
about what others on the road will think
experts across the region say that when it comes to
winter riding, you should pedal as slowly as you want.
Not only will riding at a relaxed pace keep you from
overheating, it will also give you time to be
extra-observant of road conditions and other commuters.
worry about the cars behind you — you have the same
rights as all of the cars in the city, so you don’t
need to feel rushed and you can, and should, ride in the
middle of the lane when necessary,” says Burger.