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WinterRidingTips

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Since we wrote this page in 2008 we have been updating it with the best new tips from later years' symposia by inserting them under the categories below. If you have read this page before and just want to find those additions in this very long article, just search by pressing the Ctrl and f keys at the same time, and put the word "new" and/or the appropriate year in the "find" box.

On October 15th 2008 we held the 4th OCBC Winter Cycling Symposium. We shared some vegan chili (recipe below) and a lot of excellent advice from members, trustees, staff and friends. Here are some of the most interesting tips from this and past symposia, so if you're considering riding your bike this winter and need technical help or just a little moral support, have a look, and join us at the next symposium this October!

Clothing

Opinions on clothing differed, and your choice in clothing will depend on what sort of riding you'll be doing (vigorous training, short commuting, all-day touring, etc.). Here is a collection of thoughts:

Overdressing/Underdressing

  • Being dangerously cold (hypothermia) will probably not be a problem, as long as you are riding, wear a reasonable outfit, and stay reasonably dry. A cyclist generates a lot of heat, and it's much easier to be overdressed (and get soaked in sweat that can't evaporate as it does in the summer) than underdressed. If you're new to winter cycling, this is an important point - you probably already have the clothing you need: you'll just need to experiment with the combinations of garments that work for you.
  • Frostbite, however, is definitely a danger when the air temperature is below freezing, and just getting cold extremities (ears, toes, fingers, and face) is a very uncomfortable problem below 50 F or so. New 2010: It is somewhat comforting to know that, no matter how uncomfortable you get, you can't get tissue damage from frostbite if the temperature is above freezing (and windchill is not a factor) — just be careful of hypothermia (cold extremities is an early sign): it can impair your judgment, putting you at risk for other serious injuries (like running into parked cars)!
  • Because cyclists travel so much faster than walkers or runners, they have to deal with much more sever wind-chill. This bears on both the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia.
  • One of our panelists has a philosophy of never sweating in the winter months. This usually means being cold for the first mile, then comfortable for the rest of the ride.
  • Another panelist prefers to wear an extra layer for the first mile, then remove it. This makes the beginning of the ride easier to take, but requires stopping to remove the extra layer and having somewhere to store it.
  • Jim's favorite way to ride in weather that is cold but dry is in a wool sweater with a extra-large, long sleeved cotton t-shirt over it. He says it keeps warmth in still air but allows enough ventilation on the bike. Be advised, though, that it makes you look like the Michelin man. New 2009: Jim has swapped the long sleeved t-shirt for an extra large button down dress shirts: this looks a lot classier than the Michelin man look, and has the advantage of being removable without removing headgear.

  • The big consensus addition to this section from 2007's meeting was: PIT ZIPS! Good quality active wear (biking, skiing, running, etc.) upper-body shells often have these underarm ventilation zippers, and they will eliminate all the messing around with removing layers for overheating.
  • One panelist carries clothing for all weather in his panniers. He can be ready for anything, but his bike always weighs 40 pounds. This is one way to go.
  • Some people just don't get cold - one of our panelists doesn't wear any special footwear, doesn't wear decent gloves, and wears only a headband all winter. If this sounds like you, you really don't have any excuse for not riding in the cold!

Feet

  • Your feet may get cold, and this is an important thing to deal with. It's not something that should prevent you from riding, but it might if you don't take the necessary steps. Some people never get cold feet, but if you do, you may need to buy some high-end socks and possibly boots. All agreed that not cutting off circulation is important — too many socks is not a help without bigger shoes. It is important not to let your feet stay cold, as they are hard to warm up, so a good trick is to get off the bike and walk for a bit at the first signs of cold toes: walking motion pumps blood through the feet better than cycling, and there is less wind chill.
  • Some panelists like to use waterproof shoe covers over non-waterproof footwear. This doesn't add very much to warmth, but provides a windbreaking effect. If your shoes are warm enough already, this may be enough. Burley used to make an excellent version of these for non-cleated shoes, but have discontinued them — New 2010: they are now being produced and sold at the Eugene Bicycle Works of the Center for Appropriate Transport: http://www.catoregon.org/?page_id=577 (external link) Plastic bags that newspapers are delivered in are a good waterproof layer that does not add bulk. Various theories about cleats/toe straps/flat pedals were proffered, each with advantages.
  • Feet are almost impossible to keep warm if they are always getting sprayed with water, so fenders, with a spray flap on the back of the front fender, are key to warm feet. New 2010: Jim showed off his prototype spats — a bit different than these from caradice: http://www.carradice.co.uk/index.php?page_id=product&under=other&product_id=67. (external link)
  • If you like riding on cleated pedals very much, you can get bicycle-specific boots that take cleats for about $200. Alternately, you can mount cleats to some non-specific boots. There is a page at freewheel.com (external link) with more information on this. new 2010 only 2 out of ~30 attendees use clip-in pedals in the winter. Most use flats, a few use toestraps.
  • One panelist suggests having a winter helmet - if you take all of the pads out it should fit over whatever head garment you prefer, although this will make it almost useless for wearing without a hat or headband. Most newer helmets have adjustable sizing bands, so you can quickly change helmet size to fit whatever hat you are using.
  • Another panelist suggests covering the vents on a helmet with tape or a cover. Modern helmets are design to have excellent ventilation, which you probably won't want when it's below freezing.
  • Several panelists suggested wearing a headband or thin hat instead of a heavy winter cap, and one showed off a hat with longer flaps to cover ears, which are the part most likely to get cold.
  • Most agreed that when it's very cold, a balaclava (external link) is nice to have (most modern balaclavas have one large hole for the eyes, rather than two small ones). Ski goggles are good for intense cold, as they don't fog easily, but restrict peripheral vision.
  • One innovative solution to a cold face is a face shield. Cut out the middle section of a 3-liter bottle and tape one edge of it to your helmet, letting the rest cover your face. It's fairly easy to see through and keeps you very warm. This tip came from an occasional member who was not present at the symposium, but who used this on a Sat. Social ride last year, and who deserves credit, if only we knew his name... New 2010: Tom! He used velcro tape, so his face shield was removable. It gave him kind of a "riot police" look, but was definitely cool...or warm, rather.

Legs

  • Several of our panelists use tights in the winter months. Several use waterproof/windproof overpants. The two choices both keep the rider warm, but the tights require more work at the destination. Tights are also a bit better suited to riding than two pairs of pants, so this is a tradeoff. Rain pants are easier to get off if they have full-leg zippers, but their Gore-tex coatings tend to get worn out in the knees. Winter tights, with wind-proof fronts, are nice if it's not too wet.
  • The windshield we made for Peter does a good job of shielding his legs
from wind, and keeping them warm. Jim rides with a less-full-coverage windsheild in just cotton pants down to temperatures in the teens.

Hands

  • Several panelists expressed their happiness with mittens. If you have cold fingers, you will never be happy on days below freezing without them! The need for individual-finger mobility is over-sold, and mittens turn any rude gesture you might later regret into a friendly wave.*A windsheild has the greatest effect on fingers, allowing the use of fingerless gloves in cold weather. New 2009: fleece technology has come a long ways in the last few years: most is now very warm and breathable, making gloves a much more viable option.

Your Bike

  • Most people (including our panelists) don't want to ride an expensive bike in the winter and ruin their pricey parts. You should be riding a bike that you enjoy, but this is not the time for your $100 rear derailleur.
  • All of our panelists agreed that you must have fenders. Fenders are not an "accessory" for winter riding. You can make fenders out of PET 2-liter bottles, and you can use old take-off metal fenders (available at the co-op). The best idea by far, though, is to spend $27 on a pair of new fenders. They will work better and be easier to set up. BE SURE they do not get jammed by knobby tires though, especially the front, and cause a crash. A little more $$ gets break-away mounts.
  • One panelist much prefers a singlespeed for winter riding. He appreciates not having to maintain derailleurs and doesn't mind getting there a bit more slowly. Most use knobby tires in snow, but some swear that skinny tires cut through snow down to the pavement — definitely true in heavy, soft (warm) slush with lots of ruts. Diversion hazards from car-tire ruts are the most common winter handling problem, but easy to anticipate, unlike black ice...


It doesn't come up in Cleveland much, but if you're worried about those extreme days, get some. The traction is amazing: you'll be riding circles around the cars sliding all over. The ones that are good enough to be worth buying are about $100 a pair, but they last. If you can only afford one. put it on the front and you'll get 80% of the benefit. You don't want to ride studs on clear pavement, as they are heavy, have high rolling resistance, and it wears the studs faster (if cheap steel rather than carbide), so spare wheels are nice, so you don't have to change cold dirty tires on the morning of the big storm. One caution: a panelist had a bad crash caused by a front blowout from a separated valve, apparently due to the studs' high rolling resistance on pavement, compounded by a loose-fitting tire and inflation at the low end of the range (trying for even more traction). So talc your tubes, and keep the pressure up! New 2009: we have several commercially-available models in the OCBC library to try before you buy (as well as the home-made ones below).

*Home-made studded tires:

We have used small sheet-metal screws to stud a few tires for our ski-bikes. They work well, but don't have enough mileage to tell how they last. The secret we learned was to pre-drill small holes into the lugs (knobs) from the outside of the tire, so you can get them exactly where you want (the tires we used had convenient little dimples in the center of the lugs which made starting the hole easy). We chose to put them in the row of lugs more toward the edges of the tread — to help with cornering, theoretically. The holes will be visible from the inside, where they are a huge help to get the screws started, too. (We screwed from the inside out, and used a tread cut from a smooth tire as a liner to protect the tube from the screw heads. Heads on the outside might avoid that extra weight, but would have to be very short to not puncture the tire casing and tube, and thus would likely pull out. Someday we may try an automotive stud gun.)

Visibility

Visibility is a major issue in winter, largely because you will definitely be riding in the dark. If you commute, at least one way will be in the dark. If you ride after work, it will almost certainly be after dark.

Lights

  • All of the panelists agreed that it's best to have multiple front and rear lights.
  • One panelist mentioned that the out-of-phase effect of two lights will better capture the attention of motorists. New 2010: we are now Stocking the Planet Bike Superflash: http://ecom1.planetbike.com/3034.html (external link) and good, 5-LED penlights for the front (which mount with a rubberband).
  • If one battery fails and you don't have a replacement, you can ride home somewhat safely (and at least legally) with your second light.

Reflective vests

  • Several panelists are fans of reflective vests. However, vests aren't very high up on the fashion scale. The sacrifice may be more worth making in the winter when it's dark during rush hour.

Locks

Locking up is a little bit different in the winter than the summer. Our panelists had a few tips:
  • Leave your lock at your destination, even in winter.
  • If you cover your lock with a plastic bag, it won't be able to get filled with water and freeze - a good lock shouldn't freeze on its own, but ice inside will still keep it from working.
  • Graphite powder in the lock may prevent freezing as well. New 2010: some light oil in the key hole regularly is not a bad idea!

Maintenance

  • One of our panelists does maintenance on his bike twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday. This is probably the best idea.
  • Another maintains his bike every two weeks - this will usually be enough.
  • One panelist just wipes the water off after riding on wet days, lubes the chain when it needs it, and otherwise doesn't do anything different from summer maintenance. If you do less, your parts may not last as long, but you can always get new parts.
  • One panelist mentioned that paying close attention to keeping cables lubed can keep them from freezing in the winter.
  • Chain needs extra lube in the winter, especially in salty places. You may want to use a thicker oil on the chain that will last a bit longer in wet weather. "Tenacious oil," chainsaw bar and chain lube, or even motor oil, will work fine for this; drip a drop on each roller along a horizontal section of chain, then move the chain after it settles in. Wipe off the excess, which will serve to also coat the outside of the links and inhibit rust there. The next ride after you apply thicker lube will pretty much always be messy, after it squishes out from inside the rollers — wipe it again, and clean the rear rim and brake pads (with alcohol) if necessary.

Psychology

Riding in the winter isn't very hard - the bike still works fine and it's really not all that cold. But sometimes it seems hard, so we have a few tips to keep you riding on those days when it really doesn't seem like fun.
  • If you don't want to ride in the winter because you're worried about ruining parts on your bike, think about the money you'll save. If you commute all winter, you can afford to buy a $100 drivetrain (or a $400 bike!) with the money you'll save on gas alone. If you just ride for pleasure, you might still be saving a $20/month health club membership (how else can you get exercise in January?), or maybe some medical bills. You can find a way to make the money back, but you'll never find a way to buy a wonderful 30-degree Sunday afternoon ride through a snowstorm.
  • Speaking of snowstorms, don't miss them. As long as traffic is light, they're some of the most fun riding of the year. They're not that bad in traffic, either.
  • If you have a speedometer on your bike, you'll probably want to take it off before Thanksgiving. Just pretend the battery died or something. If you know how fast you've been going all summer, you probably won't want to see how slowly you're going in the winter.
  • The tip above about wearing an extra layer for the first mile is one that makes the shock of the cold easier to take - if you put the extra layer on ten minutes before you leave, you'll probably even be too hot. That will make you want to get outside!
  • Ride a bike you like! It will be easier to get out there and ride if you are going to enjoy it. People like to ride cheap bikes in the winter so they won't ruin something nice, but you have to ride something nice enough to have fun. Compromise.
  • If you ride to work in the winter, your coworkers will think you're crazy and probably annoy you to no end. The panelists didn't have a solution for this issue (though one who rides to work every day in the winter makes a point to drive his car on the first really nice day of spring, just to keep them guessing...) New 2009: the same member (Ralph) uses this wise employer-relations strategy (also applicable in the summer): build an extra 15 minutes into your bike commute to stop at the coffee shop nearest to your workplace. That way you have a relaxing cool-down period just before you get to work; and if you have a flat or other delay, you just miss a coffee stop instead of giving the boss another reason to think your bike commuting is a stupid frivolity). So in case you're a coworker reading this: really, we're fine.


Chili

Served at this and many of our other cold-weather events. Serves 30+.
  • In 16 qt. pot, sort, rinse and soak:
5 lbs dried beans: kidney, pinto and red is a good mix, but any will do.
  • Boil, then simmer until most are barely tender, and add:
2 lbs dried lentils
  • Cook another hour, stirring to check the lentils don't stick and burn. The pot will be about half full. Then, using ~2 qts of the cooking liquid (or hot water if there is not enough liquid), thin and mix together:
24 oz. tomato paste
~2 cups chili powder
~1 cup onion powder
~1/2 cup garlic powder
~1/8 cup salt
~1/8 cup pepper
~1/8 cup lemon juice
~1/8 cup vegan Worcestershire sauce
~1/4 cup molasses
~1 1/2 cups olive or other oil (obviously salt and oil can be reduced, but why?)

  • Stir this flavoring into the beans and bring to simmer, stirring from the bottom frequently to avoid scorching. Add water to adjust consistency. Adjust seasoning, and the chili is done, for pickey eaters.

At this point you should put the pot in a water bath: set it on a metal trivet, wire rack, or a few spoons in a deep pan mostly full of hot water, or you will have to stir almost constantly to prevent it from burning while finishing and serving.

  • For more interesting chili, add:
12 bell peppers, diced the size of the largest beans. Yellow, red or hungarian are nice, green are cheaper.
~ 6 cups corn. Fresh (12 ears worth) is best. a #10 can will do.
  • Heat thoroughly, stirring frequently, to cook the vegis until just done, or a little crunchy if you like. (If using a 16qt. pot, you'll want to remove about half the chili to another pot, to make room to stir all this together — you can return the rest of the chili to the pot when done (it should all just fit).

Adjust seasoning.

Serve with:
~ 4 cups (two large) onions. fine diced
2 lbs. cheddar cheese, coarse grated
3 lbs. sour cream, and/or guacamole
1 quart hot sauce, salsa, or other spicy stuff
1 cup (1 bunch) chopped fresh cilantro
3 lbs corn chips
Cornbread, rice, saltines.
5 lbs chorizo sausage, cooked and sliced, if you want to placate any carnivores. They probably won't miss the meat, though: this chili tastes pretty much exactly like what you'd get in any diner, minus the gristly little bits.


Created by: pgarver. Last Modification: Monday 13 of December, 2010 21:25:14 UTC by JSheehan.