I must admit. I love strolling into my office building’s elevator in the morning completely soaked, holding my travel mug with a smile on my face. You may have seen one of these creatures at your workplace. Apparently we are a strange breed!
Photo: Winston Hearn
Bike commuting is possible all year round. I’ve lived in three different cities with three different climates and rode through drenching rain, ice, deep snow and frigid temperatures.
In this article, I share a few gear and riding tips which I found have helped me through many sketchy weather conditions.
Go Mountain Biking
I highly recommend getting into mountain biking during the summer. I am extremely fortunate to live close to the North Vancouver trail system (North Shore) which offers some very challenging riding conditions. Here, we ride rain or shine and I find my wet weather riding skills come in hand for winter commuting. Mountain biking teaches balance and stability, how to navigate obstacles, how to ride a wide variety of conditions including wet and muddy conditions, and teaches you how to fall properly.
Leave early and don’t over-react
Like drivers, bike commuters should give themselves a little extra time to get to work in adverse conditions. In Vancouver, I find that the road conditions vary all over my route. At my house the roads could be fine, while further down my route I could experience icy or water-logged areas. Taking some extra time can help ensure a safe ride.
Also akin to driving, it’s important not to over-react to the conditions. While some may disagree, I tell people that snow (studded) tires are not necessary for riding snowy conditions. Just keeping a steady pace in snow or slush and making wide turns will get you through. Likewise, in slippy or icy conditions I keep my pace steady and if I experience some slipping, I just make a small correction to my body positioning.
Finally, trust your fears. If you don’t feel safe going down a hill which looks icy, better to walk it. Although that can be tough sometimes.
Don’t be lazy. Maintenance your bike regularly
I’ll admit. This is probably the hardest thing for me to follow. Having a busy family and work life usually means that bike maintenance sessions end up being few and far between. But you are better than me right? Of course you are!
Case in point. Above you can see that my laziness led to overly worn brake pads. The brake pads wore unevenly leading to a metal part of the pad housing digging into my rim. This caused a nice deep groove in my rim which will need to eventually be replaced…once I get around to it.
Seriously though, regular maintenance of the core areas of wear will prevent accidents and costly bike repairs. The amount of maintenance will depend on your bike type. One of the reasons I ride a single speed urban bike is because it requires lower maintenance than other bikes. The lack of derailleur means I only need to change the chain and brake pads most of the time. Once a year I usually re-route my cables and housing.
To me layering is an art form which I’ll admit took me a long time to nail down.
When I lived in Edmonton riding in winter meant braving -20°C or so weather (with much much colder windchills!). For the top I usually wore a tight fitting long sleeved synthetic undershirt followed by a thin sweatshirt followed by a GORE-TEX® jacket (shell). On the bottom, long johns and outer shell pants. Since I didn’t have any fleece, the first 5 minutes were uncomfortably cold. However, once I got through those 5 minutes and worked up some heat I was quite comfortable.
In Vancouver, even though it’s warmer, I find myself using the same dressing principle. I wear the minimum amount of clothes to protect myself from the elements (rain and wind). I am uncomfortably cold for the first few minutes but then become more comfortable after I warm up. This strategy works for me because I hate sweating.
It may take a while but eventually you’ll find a system that will work for you.
Well, I hope I have shown you that commuting by bike is possible during winter. By practicing your riding skills, reacting accordingly to the conditions, regularly maintaining your bike and dressing appropriately, riding in winter can be fun (yes I said it!). You will also command some serious respect in the workplace.
Have a tip? Please share your winter biking strategy in the comments below!