Thursday, January 3, 2019

Enjoy riding your bike in the winter — with preparation

Riding a bike in the winter can still be an enjoyable experience, if you prepare correctly.
Photo Courtesy: Andrew Escandon
By Mallory Goeke
KDOT Communications Specialist

Riding a bike during the winter is not as crazy as some people may think. We should know: We asked our social media followers who ride their bikes this time of year and received so many responses. Biking when it’s cold outside may not be for everyone, but according to these winter bicyclists, you can hop on those two wheels and take off with some planning.
Megan Merryman said one of the challenges bikers face is other drivers.

“Staying safe during winter cycling is a bit tricky and challenging,” Merryman said. “Drivers are not expecting to see cyclists out on the roads this time of year, and visibility can be questionable on any given day. Plus, conditions can change quickly. It can be perfectly clear all day and then the low clouds and fog can settle in late in the day, which makes my evening commute a little dicey.”

Merryman suggests wearing reflective clothing while riding a bike because the days are shorter and they increase your chance of being seen.

“For commuting, my bike panniers have large reflective squares on them, and my cycling jacket has a reflective stripe on the back,” Merryman said.
Nancy Naethe Baker agrees and adds that staying aware of where you ride is also important.

“Biking in the winter frequently means lower light, even during daylight hours, so I make sure my clothes are bright and reflective, and I have a headlight and taillight on at all times,” Baker said. “I'm also more cautious about which roads I ride and what times I'm on them -- the difference in light levels, different sunrise and sunsets, and angle of the sun all mean changes in when the drivers have the sun in their eyes and are less able to see a cyclist at the side of the road.  I am aware of these things in other seasons, but they're all more prevalent during late fall and winter.”

Vincent Needham said it’s important to have a kit you can mix and match to meet the conditions you are riding in.

 “Versatility is key here, since morning and evening conditions can be quite different,” Needham said. “Modern LED lights are small and convenient, and I never actually take them off the commuter bike. It concerns me when I see out students riding without lights in winter darkness, and I've donated several sets of lights in an effort to fix that.”
Andrew Escandon, a volunteer at the Topeka Community Cycle Project, said when it comes to winter biking, preparation is key and the clothes you wear can make a big difference.
“Staying warm and comfortable is almost as important as staying visible,” Escandon said. “If you don’t wear adequate gloves and your fingers go numb, your ability to brake in time for unexpected obstacles greatly decreases.”

Escandon said dressing properly is different for everyone, and it’s important to find out what works for you.
Protecting yourself from the elements is key to winter bike riding. Photo Courtesy: Andrew Escandon

“For my face, I try and think of dressing as if I were going sledding or skiing,” Escandon said. “When it’s really cold, I wear a balaclava, scarf or face mask. The one drawback to this is the warm air from your breath will fog up most eyewear. To solve this problem, I invested in a snowboard helmet and ski goggles. The lens is positioned farther away from your face, which reduces fogging, and you can wear prescription eyewear underneath them.”
Merryman said being comfortable while riding a bike in the cold is easier if you dress in layers that are easy to remove.

One factor that is important to remember is how easy it is to overheat, even in the cold weather.

“You’d be surprised once your core is warmed up from the exercise how much easier it is to overheat in the winter,” Escandon said.  “When it’s between 18-25 degrees F, I’ll wear a base layer, fleece jacket and wind layer. The wind chill at those temperatures can be really uncomfortable. Anything over 30F, and I tend to leave off the wind layer, as it traps heat and makes you sweat more. The worst part is usually the start. It feels a lot colder than you will be once you’ve been pedaling for 15 minutes. More often than not, I end up over-dressing and have to stop to remove layers.”

One common caution we heard from winter bicyclists is that riding in the snow and ice can be tricky, especially when it comes to braking.

Baker said while she chooses not to ride on snow and ice, there are times when she’ll run into an icy patch on the road.

“I do not ride on ice, but if there's a patch I didn't expect and can't avoid, I coast over it -- no pedaling, no brakes, and no attempts to steer as any of those things can cause the bike to slide out of control,” Baker said.

Out of the many responses we received, only a small handful said they would try to ride their bikes if there were snow and ice on the roads. Most said they choose to wait until the roads are clear.

If you do choose to try to ride in the snow and ice, wider tires are available that can handle snow, and you would also want to use tires with studs in them to increase traction when it’s icy. Following the same rules as driving a car during inclement weather can still be followed:
  • Slow down
  •  Don’t brake suddenly
  •  Maintain a safe distance
  • Plan for more time to reach your destination.
Thanks to everyone who answered our questions! Do you think you’d ever try riding a bike in the winter?

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