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Winter Bicycle Commuting Advice

posted Nov 12, 2014, 6:00 PM by Ted Bibby   [ updated Nov 13, 2014, 8:43 AM ]
Winter has come again in North Dakota. I thought I'd share some of the things that I use to get through our sub-zero winters bicycle commuting. As with all gear, you really have to try out combinations of clothing/gear yourself to decide what truly works for you. Below is a list of items I use to leisurely commute to work and look like a normal person once I'm in my office, even though it may be near blizzard conditions.

  • Studded tires. Almost any bike with studded tires can make it through the toughest winter. I think a mountain bike is most versatile on snow and ice, but I happily commute on 700c road wheels with studs all winter. If you're gonna buy studs, go ahead and get carbide. They cost more but they last way longer and if you don't want them you can always resell them on craigslist.
  • Clear or Yellow snow goggles. If you have a problem with fogging you can pull the foam off of the top (above your brow), or drill small holes around the lens to let in extra air, or get a good mask that has a good nose seal and keeps hot air from exiting the bridge of your nose and into/onto your goggles.
  • Cold Avenger face mask. By far my favorite piece of equipment. Creates a great seal around the nose (make sure to use the stick foam that comes with it). The rubber face keeps your mouth free from obstructions and allows for lots of air to enter the mask. There's a green piece inside used to regulate air flow. Get rid of it. In -40 weather I was fine without it. The other "pro-tip" I have is to use a razor blade and cut a thin clean slit in the mask roughly the shape and position as indicated by the orange dots in the above picture. This slit comes in handy so you can stick your finger inside the mask and wipe away that annoying drop of snot hanging off your nose (some people just blow their nose really hard into the mask so the don't have to take it off, that's a little gross for me, unless maybe you're racing somewhere). The other benefit of the slit is so you can feed yourself while riding without taking your mask off, or drink some water from a camel-back. The balaclava version of this mask fixes this problem since you can simply un-Velcro the side to access your face, (but I prefer modifying cheaper things).
  • Insulated Pants. Pictured are two of my favorite insulated pants. 1)Mont Bell UL Thermawrap and 2) Montane Prism pants. Here's why I like them. These pants are ultra light and extremely packable. Both have windproof fabrics with primaloft insulation. They aren't bulky like traditional snow pants, nor are they too fluffy like extreme mountaineering pants. They have an athletic cut to them so pant legs won't catch on chain-rings. They are very comfortable/flexible and warm. I'm pretty sure the MontBell pants have a full length zipper (must have). I bought the Montane pants which were cheaper/ on closeout and I had a full length zipper sewn into the side of each pant leg. This way, you can dress like a "normal" person, shoes and all, then just slip the pants on. The full length zipper allows for any size boot or shoe to be worn while putting them on. I highly recommend either of these pants over ski pants, snow pants, or rain pants. They are also made of soft fabrics that are not crinkly or noisy. When you get to the office, open the leg zippers all the way to the hips, step out of them and BOOM you're "normal" again!
  • Pogies. It's amazing how much warmer your hands are in a thin pair of gloves and inside these basic handlebar covers. You can wear thinner gloves and thus, you have greater dexterity to shift gears, turn your lights on/off, manipulate your lock, and grab your keys. Sure they look funny, but the functionality is huge. You can even store small items inside them while riding like food, batteries, keys etc. There are a bunch of "bicycle specific" pogies out there. You can spend upwards of $100 on a pair of these BUT, I bought a pair of $13 ATV pogies on Amazon and they have been awesome. You can't beat the price (made by Quad Gear). "Pro-tip": add pillow stuffing to them by cutting open a seam to increase insulation for ultra cold use (like the Arrowhead 135!).
  • Jacket. Any good windproof jacket will do. What ever works best for you. I prefer a sort of catch-all over everything jacket/parka rather than layering. Mainly because I want to dress normally, throw on my insulated pants and a single insulated jacket and head out the door. I find this is better than putting on a base layer, then a fleece then a whatever then a shell then a whatever then a... You get the idea. Layering is great for winter sports where conditions change rapidly, but bike commuting, you'll pretty quickly get an idea what you need to wear to stay comfortable to get you where you're going.
  • Shoes: I prefer snow boots on platform pedals and then I change shoes when I get to work. Some people swear by clip-less pedals/shoes but I find my feet get too cold. Clip-less might be better suited for warmer temperatures and/or more aggressive biking. There's tons of opinions about which style footwear to use. I just want to keep my feet warm and be able to comfortably/leisurely push my bike through snow drifts (as occasionally happens) without getting snow in my shoes and cold toes. See my page below about choosing nice big griping platform pedals for snow biking.
That's it folks. I hope there are some helpful tips you can use this winter. Email me if you have a question or tip and I'll add it to the list.