154 comments

How To Ride Your Bike All Winter – And Love it

Yesterday, we had a second crazy fall snowstorm here in Colorado. The first one struck one week ago, and while it was fun at the time, I welcomed the warm sunny week that followed and returned us to normal conditions. But then, another storm came along and, DUMP, there were about seven inches of fluffy powder on all surfaces this morning. So while many of you are still enjoying lazy tropical temperatures in the Southern US and other warm places, some of us above 40 degrees latitude are actually starting to think about the approach of winter.

My son and I made the most of today’s snowfall by biking to school as usual. I ride the bike, he rides in the trailer. We did some deliberate skids around corners and crashing through snowbanks, and he hooted and hollered through the whole 4-5-minute ride (a little under a mile). Bike trailers are actually very cozy for the passenger, because the velcro-closing front window blocks any wind and water, making it almost carlike inside.

When we got there, we found that we were the only ones who had biked to school. I was not surprised, since we have already established in an earlier article that Mr. Money Mustache is the most badass resident of Longmont. But my son was very pleased with our top-of-the-school status nonetheless*.

Although I like to joke endlessly about my own badassity, the truth is that riding a bike year-round is actually an incredibly easy and trouble-free thing to do in most of the world’s populated areas. Even in the most brutal climates (I’m talking Siberia and Northern Canada here, not just balmy Minneapolis or Detroit), you can still crank out 8-10 months of it.

I’m not saying everyone should bike even when the snow is a foot deep, the snowbanks have eaten up the road shoulder and bike lanes, and the sidewalks are lumpy and unplowed. But these conditions only affect a tiny minority of the world’s population, for a small minority of the days of the fall/winter/spring season.

I am astounded every time I hear a resident of the Lower 48 talk about how they can’t possibly bike in winter, because in many ways it is easier than trying to drive a car. And in all ways, it is more fun.

My own winter biking experience began at around age 15, in a small town about 60 miles Northwest of Buffalo, NY. Winters are long, cloudy, and snowy there, and like everyone else, I assumed that bikes were only useful in summer.

But then I bought my first mountain bike using some of my minimum-wage earnings from working at the gas station. It was a bright orange Miele bike with gnarly wide studded tires and very nice quality components for the time. I bought it in late fall, and when it snowed I was eager to see how it could handle the conditions, so I took it out for a spin.

What I learned is that bikes do just fine in the snow. In fact, I had so much fun on that bike that a friend** and I were featured on the front page of the town newspaper with the headline “Teaming up for Winter Travel”. He was on a snowboard holding a rope which was tied to my bike, and I was providing the power to get us around town at high speeds.

Just as with a car, it’s all in the tire treads. A lowered Honda Civic with 18″ wheels and racing slicks will slide straight into the ditch when it hits the first inch of snow. But a stock Honda Civic with tall-treaded snow tires will clamp to the road and out-perform most SUVs running their stock all-season tires. Similarly, my road racing bicycle with skinny racing slick tires will topple when it hits any real snow. But my mountain bike sticks confidently to packed snow, floats luxuriously through powder, and smashes through snowbanks.

So we’ve established that grip is no problem, if you outfit your bike with nicely treaded tires. But what about comfort? Won’t you instantly freeze to death by even touching a bicycle if the outdoor temperature is below 68F or 20 degrees Celsius?

Yes, it can indeed be quite uncomfortable to ride a bike in cold weather. If you insist on riding in a bikini or a tanktop. Luckily for the rest of us, “Clothes” have been invented, which allow you to keep comfortable in any weather. I learned about “Clothes” by growing up in Canada, where they are required to survive the winter. Now that I live in a region of the US that does not have an actual winter, but rather just a season where the stream of warm sunny days is very occasionally interrupted by snowstorms, I regularly encounter people whose only strategy of dealing with cold weather is to hide in their cars.  This is an inefficient, expensive, and wussypants habit, and it’s time to break it once and for all. Your car is for inter-city travel. Not for keeping your lazy ass warm during local trips just because you’re not smart enough to figure out how to dress for winter weather.

So with that long introduction, I will now reveal Mr. Money Mustache’s Secret Wardrobe for all-weather cycling comfort. This has been battle-tested in the slushy streets of Hamilton and the crispy arctic tundra of Ottawa, Ontario, and it obviously makes a mockery of the light chills of Colorado as well.

California Winter Nights Chilly: 50-68F (10-20C): All you need is some jeans and a sweater or light jacket. A nylon shell coat works well, since these can be fairly rainproof. Remember, you’ll be pumping your legs and burning calories at about five times your normal rate, so you tend to be warmer when biking than you might expect.

Colorado Winter Days Chilly: 40-50F (5-10C): Now you add a normal hat (there are thin ones called “skull caps” that fit under a bike helmet if you like, although I prefer my Canadian Club hat that came with a bottle of Whisky I bought once), and some optional gloves if you tend to have cold hands. My hands are still comfy at this temperature, so I don’t use gloves unless it’s a long ride. Use a fleece sweater under your outer nylon shell coat now.

The Freezing Mark: 30-40F (-1 to +5C): Gloves become quite useful, and some people might throw a layer of thermal underwear under the jeans.

Winter Wonderland: 20-30F (-6 to -1C): You could upgrade the coat to a full ski or snowboarding coat if you like. If your face feels cold, you can use a scarf or a balaclava (shown in the picture with the word “Hind” on it).

Icicles In Your Beard And Nostrils Chilly: 10-20F (-12 to -6C): You might want to upgrade your shoes to some nice insulated hiking boots as I have in the picture.

Canadian and Russian Winter Chilly: (10F/-12C and below): The clothing above is very powerful and it is hard for any winter weather to defeat it. But for complete invincibility, I throw on my snowboarding pants over the jeans (and subtract the thermal long underwear since that would be overkill). This is an outfit that keeps me warm even sitting stationary for 10 minutes on a ski-lift at 13,000 feet in January with winds above 50MPH. So when doing something as relaxing as riding around on the city streets with such nice clothing, you’ll be extremely toasty.

Most of my winter clothes are higher-end stuff from REI or similar mountaineering/outdoors stores – but I bought them all from REI Outlet during the 50% off sales where you get the odds-and-ends from the previous season for less. That Ground jacket, for example, still cost me $90 and is normally a $180 coat. I had never had such an expensive piece of clothing before, but damn, now I can see why the higher-quality gear costs more.  It’s worth it, because the higher comfort level encourages you to get outside more, and high quality clothing lasts much longer. The coat is over 5 years old, the Grandoe gloves are 10, and the other things are somewhere in between.. and they get used every day during the chilly season.

The nice thing about this clothing setup is that it is still worn right over your street clothes. Even in the worst weather during my working days, I would bike to work in the full outfit, then could strip the outer layers off within two minutes and would be dressed as a regular office worker. The time to dress up, and the time to strip down, is less than the time it takes a car driver to scrape off his windshield or find a parking spot or shovel his driveway.

The last issue regarding winter bicycling is that you’ll often be doing it after sunset. Biking is not statistically more dangerous than car-driving (more on that in a future article), as long as you follow standard safe riding practices, and one of those is making sure you are just as visible as a car at night. Luckily, this is easy: A flashing red LED light mounted to your seat post, another one on your backpack if you like, reflective leg straps and standard bike reflectors, and a bright LED headlamp on your handlebars and/or your head. These days my favorite is the Niterider Minewt 150 Combo from Nashbar (or its even brighter 250 lumen brother). Mrs. Money Mustache and I used to do the 35-minute uphill bike ride in the dark on our way home from work all winter, on fairly busy roads. We made sure we were a rolling light show when seen from any direction, and cars were able to see us from literally almost a mile away, because we looked like police cars. LED lights are cheap, bright, incredibly low in battery consumption, and indestructible, so there is no reason not to have some fun with them when setting yourself up for night riding.

I will admit that all of these steps, when taken together, do take an initial round of using your brain and putting in some effort. And I’ll even admit that while you’re figuring out the whole system, you might even experience brief periods of discomfort because you might be too cold or too warm and need to make clothing adjustments. But guess what? You don’t score yourself a happier life by running from all forms of discomfort. It’s just the opposite – you get happier by ramming yourself right up against obstacles like this one and then smashing through them.

You are NOT ALLOWED to stop riding your bike just because it is cold outside. So if you’ve ever used that excuse before, shut your whining trap, put on your coat and gloves, and I’ll see you on the streets this winter – every day!

 

 

* Honorable mention goes to my friend Luc, who ran to school that day while pulling his daughter on an old plastic sled. Technically, that out-badasses biking.

** Coincidentally, this guy is now an MMM reader. Do you remember this story Adam ;-) ?

  • Brave New Life November 3, 2011, 6:47 am

    Rode my bike in to work yesterday. As usual, everyone was shocked that I did- but continued to argue that I’ll never make it through a Colorado winter without a car. The office pool on when I buy a car is alive and well. I have “never” and I don’t like losing.

    Do you clean your bike after each snow ride to reduce corrosion? If not, what do you do to maintain your bike long-term?

    Reply
    • MMM November 3, 2011, 8:54 am

      I am placing my bet on YOU Brave, since you are retiring in 575 days and you have a great little bicycle commute.

      I’ve never had any problems with bike (or car) corrosion since I moved out of Ontario – because they don’t use salt on roads here in Colorado. So after a rare snowstorm ride, I just wheel my bike into its usual home in the warm garage and the snow melts and dries very quickly. In fact, I find the snow WASHES my bike. Since precipitation is quite rare here, it only gets wet a few dozen times a year anyway. Note that yesterday’s snowstorm has already melted away from paved areas so the roads are dry and clear already today.

      But with a commute on gritty or salty roads back in the olden days, I would indeed take a pitcher of warm water and dump it over the drivetrain of the bike to clear it off – then spray on some fresh bike lube to keep it rust-free. In the worst case, you can replace the chain every year or two for $10-$20. The rest of most bikes these days is aluminum which doesn’t rust.

      I think it’s worthwhile having a commuter bike that is not overly expensive, so you don’t waste mental energy fretting over every last detail. My city bike was only $299 at Nashbar and it has now finished 3 years of maintenance-free city riding and still feels brand-new.

      Reply
    • John Fritzen November 3, 2011, 4:46 pm

      If you have a steel/chro-mo frame you can spray a product called ‘Frame Saver’ or a lithium grease spray into the frame and fork. Most frames rust from the inside out.

      Other parts should get a regular cleaning. Fenders are a must. I used some scrap rubber stair tread to make a mud flap on the front fender. This helps keep the drivetrain clean no matter the weather.

      Reply
      • Richard Masoner (@cyclelicious) November 4, 2011, 2:46 pm

        +1 on fenders.

        I bought a steel bike in 1985 and rode it year round in all weather conditions (including on highly salted roads in Illinois and slush in Longmont) before the frame finally broke near the head tube three years ago. I looked inside and the failure was from manufacturing heat stress.

        Reply
      • Alex June 18, 2013, 12:23 pm

        Agreed. Getting a decent set of full-coverage fenders (SKS or Planet Bike are good options) revolutionized my winter and rain biking. The fenders keep you and, most importantly, your bike clean and dry. Precipitation from the sky isn’t so bad, but the dirty water from the road can be nasty and full of drivetrain-gunk-inducing crap. Fenders will not only empower you to new heights of badass biking in inclement weather but also will drastically increase the longevity of your gear! (especially if you live in an area that uses enough road salt to turn the local watershed into a saltwater ecosystem)

        Reply
  • JP November 3, 2011, 7:17 am

    I didn’t make it all the way through the winter last year, even though I live in the Southeastern US, but I’m beginning to realize that I really just didn’t have the right cold-weather gear since I spent most of my past winters indoors. I finally got myself an adjustable balaclava that can actually be cinched closed against the wind or left more open to combat head heat, and I’m already much more comfortable this season. I think I’m going to suck it up and invest in cold weather cycling gear as it gets colder this winter instead of giving up bike commuting when it gets colder. If even you think it’s worth the money, then how could I go wrong?

    Reply
  • rjack November 3, 2011, 7:41 am

    The “This light set at Nashbar” link is broken for me. Does it work for anybody else?

    Reply
  • Frugal Vegan Mom November 3, 2011, 7:46 am

    I know people here in Minneapolis who don’t own cars and bike through the entire winter. The more people who do it, the easier it’ll get – cars will learn to share the road better and maybe we’ll even get dedicated bike lanes!

    Reply
  • Geoff November 3, 2011, 7:47 am

    Personally, I’m more concerned with summer in Texas. We’ve had years where the high temp doesn’t get below 100F for all of July, and you standing perfectly still outside for 5 minutes will leave you drenched in sweat. People tend to scurry desperately from air conditioned car to air conditioned office as fast as they can.

    Reply
    • MMM November 3, 2011, 9:07 am

      Yup, that kind of temperature with the added humidity would take a while for me to adapt to as well, being an English descendant built for 50-70F. But South Texas is simply an inverted set of seasons – the winter is beautiful for biking, and the summer has a tough period. You can start with biking in the coolest 9 months, then push yourself at the margin until you can do the whole year. I have made several visits to Austin during 100+ days and I still saw bikers out riding happily, so it’s well within human capacity.

      Reply
      • Mrs. Money Mustache November 3, 2011, 9:25 am

        Being part East Indian, I feel the opposite way. I would take humid and ridiculously hot weather over cold weather any day. Bring a lot of water and pour it over your head every once in a while. You’ll look shower-fresh when you get to work! ;)

        Reply
        • Dena Maddie January 3, 2014, 9:43 pm

          Also packing an extra set of clothes might be useful… I got my bike in September (still hot as frack in Texas) and every time I arrived somewhere I’d be drenched. Not good for a professional work setting, but around friends in a social setting nothing a change of clothes won’t fix.

          Reply
      • Ross November 3, 2011, 3:31 pm

        I used to bike about 5 miles (20 mins) to school/work (Graduate Assistant) each day for a whole semester (starting in August). I was generally on the verge of intense uncomfortable for 1+ hour amounts of sweat coming out but luckily I worked in the Computer Science group and immediately went and directed the Port-a-cool chiller air into my shirt and that kept things reasonable.

        Reply
      • Lee F July 23, 2013, 11:14 am

        I live in Texas as well. I know that I will be okay in the heat but my concern is for my 4 yr old. He has a handheld portable fan that he can take in the trailer but it is still scary. Did you commute with your son in extreme conditions when he was younger?

        Reply
    • FrugalCdnEliz March 27, 2014, 8:36 pm

      Suggestion for hot weather biking – wrap ice cubes in a damp washcloth in a Ziploc, along with your spare change of clothes. Lovely cool rub down before you get changed! :)

      Reply
  • sky November 3, 2011, 8:06 am

    I used to bicycle commute during the winter here in Great Lake lake effect country (MI). I fell a couple of times on sheet ice and decided that walking during certain climactic conditions is better than biking. Frozen pavement is very hard and you go down fast when you hit ice. The road salt a

    You can usually tell if there is ice under the snow. Most of the time snow is no problem, but if there is any ice on the road I recommend not riding.

    Back when I was in elementary school, my friend and I made a solemn pact that we would ride our 20″ Schwinns to school every day, no matter what the weather. That winter we had heavy snow and huge snowdrifts, and I don’t think we made it through the whole winter on our bikes. We would have had to drag them over snow hills to get to school.

    Reply
    • Mason Thompson November 3, 2011, 9:45 am

      Hi Sky. If you just do a google search for “studded bicycle tires” you’ll find a lot of options, called the “ice spiker” or the “spike claw.” If you’ve got the right equipment, it’s totally doable.

      Reply
  • Gypsy Geek November 3, 2011, 8:19 am

    I have the opposite problem. Winters are comfortable but summers are 105F and humid (every day). You can’t ride 5 minutes without becoming drenched in sweat and stinky for your next appointment. I usually bike with a backpack and an extra t-shirt/underwear. I wonder what everyone else does?

    Reply
    • MMM November 3, 2011, 8:58 am

      Awesome, Gypsy Geek! You have set an example for the rest of the “it’s too hot” crowd, and now they will have to follow you to avoid wearing the oppressive Badge of Wussypants for the rest of their lives ;-)

      Reply
    • FullFrontalJewdity September 30, 2013, 10:21 am

      I commute by bicycle year-round in Austin, TX. I ride a touring bike with a rack, so I can carry all belongings in my panniers instead of on my back. This makes it that much easier to bring an extra change of clothes for when I get to work. I also carry a product called Rocket Shower, sold at most bike shops, that can easily be used in the bathroom at work. It has an immediate cooling effect and makes me feel cleaner before I change into my extra clothes. I also tend to travel with a pack of face-wipes (sold at pharmacies as makeup-remover towels) so that I can at least clean my sweaty face when I get where I’m going. It takes a little extra effort to make it through the hot summers, but I definitely feel like a badass by not letting the heat keep me from commuting by bike.

      Reply
  • Gerard November 3, 2011, 8:23 am

    I live in St. John’s, probably the least bike-friendly city in North America: 3.2m average snowfall (10 feet), over 9 months, plus steep hills, high winds, and no snow clearing of sidewalks/edges — that’s right, in a city of 100,000, pedestrians walk in the road. And I still manage to bike 8-9 months of the year without any special gear. I just need to remind myself that just because *some* days are difficult to near-impossible, that doesn’t mean they all are.

    Reply
    • CJ November 3, 2011, 8:38 am

      Gerard,

      Do you have studded tires? I am also in St. John’s and I’m trying to put off buying a second car as long as possible.

      Reply
      • Gerard November 3, 2011, 4:02 pm

        I have a $100 Canadian Tire “mountain” bike with fat nubbly tires, but not real studs. I just avoid cycling most days January-March, although if we get a freak thaw in there I’ll go stock up on groceries. But I’m lucky, I live close enough to work to walk in on non-bike days.

        Hang in there with the car avoidance! (If you can…)

        Reply
  • Heather November 3, 2011, 8:35 am

    Studded bike tires work well for icy roads.
    We got a set of studded tires for my old mountain bike, then used it for training the sled dogs around the local roads. (Yes, this is true, the dogs pull the bike.) We usually only trained one sled dog at a time, but they weigh 75 lbs and run over 30 km (20 miles) an hour, and they don’t like to slow down for corners. The metal studs helped the bike hold on to the road when things got iffy.

    Reply
  • Andrew November 3, 2011, 8:55 am

    last year i made it to 20 deg F. i’m going to do better this winter by printing this out and putting it on my fridge.

    “You are NOT ALLOWED to stop riding your bike just because it is cold outside. So if you’ve ever used that excuse before, shut your whining trap, put on your coat and gloves, and I’ll see you on the streets this winter – every day!”

    great quote!

    Reply
    • MMM November 3, 2011, 9:00 am

      Excellent!! .. as further inspiration, it was 11F this morning (one day after the storm mentioned in the article) when I towed my son to school with the bike trailer. It felt great. I didn’t even need the thermal underwear.

      Reply
      • kiki November 4, 2011, 12:07 am

        “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” — Sir Rannulph Fiennes

        Reply
  • Mrs. Money Mustache November 3, 2011, 9:03 am

    Did you write this post for me, salts? Okay, you’ve inspired me — no more of this fair-weather riding nonsense!

    It’s funny how a blog post is much more effective than bugging me to bike in person…

    First I tackled biking to the grocery store and today I will tackle riding in the snow.

    You might soon have a contender for the most badass resident of Longmont!

    Reply
  • qhartman November 3, 2011, 9:34 am

    In my part of the world (Eugene, OR) the trouble in winter isn’t the cold so much as the wet. The solution I’ve found to that is a $10 pair of rain pants over your street clothes added to the normal jacket virtually everyone should have. The last remaining clothing problem is that your feet end up SOAKED from all the water running down your body, so you ought to have a pair of waterproof boots that can tuck up under the rain pants.

    Reply
    • bStar November 3, 2011, 12:35 pm

      I have the same problem (Southern California), and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow! Great timing MMM, as i just started commuting via bike this week, and have loved it due to our 70 deg F afternoons. Even though the weather here is mild, when it rains, it can pour… and usually leads to flooding storm drains. That’s my main concern, as they make up 50% of the bike lane on the busy street i ride.

      qhartman – do you do anything in terms of eye / face protection for rain? I was thinking about glasses, but then figured they’d get too blurry with water.

      Reply
  • El Beardo Numero Uno November 3, 2011, 9:44 am

    MMM,
    I haven’t commented in a long time, but I’ve continued to follow your most excellent blog. I’ve been a long-time bike commuter, riding the 17 miles (each way) from my old apartment to work about 3-4 days a week in the summer, and 1-2 days a week in the winter here in Seattle, where 38 degrees and rain can be pretty miserable for an hour at a time.

    This summer I moved even further away from work, to live with a fabulous lady in her wonderful house, complete with cat, garden, and garage. This stretched my commute to 23 miles each way, or 1:30 to 1:40 by bike. Four days a week of this left me way tired, but I had lots of time to meditate on how to improve the situation.

    As you know I’ve been hypermiling, but I wanted to do better. I wanted an electric car, but $30K makes no sense to me. Then it hit me – Electric Bike!

    Being an engineer, I spent a month researching & specing it out, finding a lot of help on the Endless Sphere forum. I built it up from parts, and I’m happy to say that I’m riding it 4 days a week now, even as winter sets in.

    It goes 32-40mph on the flats, which cuts my commute down to 50 minutes each way. This compares well with 30-45 minutes by car, and my cost per mile (including battery depreciation) is $0.04. It gets the equivalent of 750mpg, using the EPA conversion factor. The bike did cost as much as a used car, $3000, but I’m writing that off as a lab fee for my first self-taught electrical engineering course.

    As a side benefit, this whole electric bike thing is really inspiring me to learn about electronics! I’ve got an Arduino at home just waiting to be programmed & soldered-up to something powerful. This is truly an exciting time in the field of electric transportation – it’s like hot-rodding in the 1950’s. People are trying out crazy ideas. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit to pick. I’m having a great time.

    Today was my first commute with a full-face helmet. It’s much warmer, quieter, and safer than my bicycle helmet.

    Now, to shop for some studded tires… these valleys get icy. I think the Schwalbe Marathon Winter 700 x 40’s are in my future.

    Best Regards,
    -Beardo

    Reply
    • El Beardo Numero Uno November 3, 2011, 9:47 am

      Also, check this out – An argument that electric bikes use less energy per mile than human powered bikes, because of the energy used to produce & transport food.
      http://www.ebikes.ca/sustainability/Ebike_Energy.pdf

      Reply
      • Mason Thompson November 3, 2011, 10:24 am

        There’s also the argument that a real bike is much more badassian than a motorcycle

        Reply
        • El Beardo Numero Uno November 3, 2011, 10:33 am

          “Real bike?” Did I step on some Bicycle Snob competitive recreational cyclist toes?

          I’m talking about daily transportation that works for me; that saves me an hour a day, without burning any gasoline.

          Motorcycles are useful, but not as useful as electric bikes. I don’t get stuck in traffic, I don’t produce any CO2 (hydro power here), and I still pedal like a madman, so I get exercise. Only two hours a day instead of 3… but that’s enough for me.

          For sure, anybody who rides in the winter is a badass in my book.

          Cheers!

          Reply
          • Mason Thompson November 3, 2011, 1:45 pm

            No toes stepped on at all, I’m far too slow on a bike to be competitive. You’re just missing one of the huge benefits of cycling by riding a motorcycle – physical exertioin. It is a motorcycle – it’s a motorized cycle. That’s sort of the definition of a motorcycle. Do you ever get your HR up while pedaling? Isn’t the point of the motor so you don’t have to??

            I am a bicycle snob, I admit. So much that, at 215 pounds and way out of shape in July, I ditched my car with a 22 mile each way commute because cold turkey was the only way it was going to happen for me. I enjoy not only the financial benefits, which you clearly enjoy with your motorbike, but the exertion as well. I want that for you.

            Reply
        • El Beardo Numero Uno November 3, 2011, 2:18 pm

          Replying here again because there’s no reply button on your last post… we’ve gone too deep.

          Yes, I pedal. I’m a bicyclist, always have been. Coasting feels wrong, I used to ride a fixed gear, so I just don’t coast, even on the electric bike. My bike still doesn’t keep up with traffic on some stretches of road, so I pedal as hard as I can to keep up. I think I put out 60% max effort on my e-bike, compared to 80% on my conventional bike.

          So, no, the motor isn’t about not pedaling for me. It’s about not spending several hours a week cursing a headwind (which I did for 5 years). It’s about having enough time and energy to run with my lady in the morning, to go to the climbing gym at night, to ski and bike on the weekends. It’s about not driving. It’s about working late on exciting projects, and actually looking forward to the dark ride home.

          Congrats on dropping your car cold-turkey, that’s pretty badass. But seriously, open up your mind a bit. You’ve got all the time in the world on your commute to meditate on that.

          Reply
          • MMM November 3, 2011, 3:20 pm

            Awesome Story, Beardo!! That is amazing that you built your own electric bike. I agree – it is a perfect way to stretch your bike commuting distance without having to give up the benefits of exercise.

            In fact, at one point a few years ago, I was thinking of moving to a different house, but the problem was that it was just out of bike-trailering distance from the elementary school. A e-bike was my first thought on how to make it work without having to start driving a car for two roundtrips every day to drop off and pick up the little one. Luckily in my case, I ended up not moving, which made things even simpler.

            Anyway, your learning and innovation in this case is awesome – MOST MUSTACHIAN COMMENT AWARD!! :-)

            Reply
  • Laura November 3, 2011, 10:19 am

    I’m in Aurora, CO and started commuting by bike regularly right before our last snow-dump. I found it’s not the cold, snow or other drivers that make things difficult, it’s biking on ice. Luckily one of my local bike-enthusiasts shared this with me: http://www.treehugger.com/bikes/the-macgyver-approach-to-winter-biking-zip-ties.html

    How awesome is THAT!

    Reply
    • rjack November 3, 2011, 10:37 am

      Very clever idea!!!

      Reply
  • DP November 3, 2011, 11:03 am

    Great post! This morning while eating breakfast, I looked out the window at my neighbors’ cars with their frosty windshields. I smiled about my upcoming bike commute. No scraping necessary!

    Reply
  • Mike November 3, 2011, 11:06 am

    Great post! You actually stole my thunder, I was going to post about this as well, but now i don’t need to.

    A few additional tips (or opinions):
    -Fenders on your commuter bike are essential for winter biking. Especially in Colorado where the day after a snow becomes a melty slushy mess.
    -I agree that ski gear works great for winter commuting. I often wear my ski helmet and if it’s really cold and windy, ski goggles
    -I seem to always lay it down at least once or twice a winter. Normally when i’m out of the saddle or just not paying attention. I think this is a benefit, as it makes me a bit tougher, and helps me remember how to fall properly when skiing or mountain biking.

    Reply
  • DP November 3, 2011, 11:07 am

    P.S. Are snowboarding pants waterproof? I find the biggest challenge for me is not cold or snow, but drenching rain. Any tips on how to waterproof yourself in all temperatures?

    Reply
    • Laura November 3, 2011, 11:31 am

      Rain pants! I have some from backpacking, and they made a world of difference for me. They help cut down on wind too…and of course oh-so-stylish :)

      Reply
  • Valerie November 3, 2011, 12:41 pm

    Mr MM. You are definitely badass. AND you make it look so easy.

    Aaarggghhh.
    You may as well just send me my “oppressive Badge of Wussypants” right now.

    I have the cold weather gear and can withstand the coldest, windiest ski-lift in North America. The ‘Green Mountain Flyer’ at Jay Peak, VT. (I don’t like being cold. Surprisingly it took me a long time to realize that I don’t have to be cold – just because it’s cold out. GET THE PROPER GEAR!)
    I’m in London, Ontario, just an hour away from your chilly hometown, BUT London is regularly hit with lake effect snow off Lake Huron – especially now that the Great Lakes are warming up. Only the main, streets remain cleared to the pavement once winter hits. The snow comes faster than the plows can keep up and the rest of the roads are a bumpy icy mess. Bike trails and often sidewalks are quickly swallowed up in the snow, becoming non-existent.

    Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE it, and bundle up and take the dog out and walk in it EVERY day. And I applaud all of you winter bikers, but once the snow hits, I tuck in my tail to go hang my bike up for the season. I do not have the kahoney’s for winter biking.

    FYI.
    My favourite bike light is the Blackburn Flea Light. It’s tiny, SUPER bright, USB rechargeable, and has a velcro mounting strap. I do use THAT all year round! In the winter I attach it to my dog’s collar when walking in the evenings. Love it.
    http://www.amazon.com/Blackburn-Flea-Front-Headlight-Charger/dp/B0043G3ZGI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320345364&sr=8-1

    Reply
  • idris November 3, 2011, 1:01 pm

    Anyone have any tips for cycling while wearing glasses in the rain? Besides my jeans and runners getting completely soaked, this is my biggest problem. Rain falling on the inner and outer surfaces of the lenses severely impairs my vision, especially at night, not to mention the irritation of water splashing around the eyes.

    Reply
    • El Beardo Numero Uno November 3, 2011, 2:08 pm

      I wear a cycling cap under my helmet, with a visor big enough to keep rain off my lenses.

      Reply
    • Vince November 5, 2011, 6:14 am

      I have to wear glasses in the Michigan winter. I went to a pair of nice ski goggles, and they work well in rain or snow.

      Reply
      • Mathx November 5, 2011, 8:46 am

        How do you keep the goggles from fogging? If it’s cold enough to warrant goggles (about -17C/0F or lower), then you certainly are covering your lower face, meaning the mask over your nose/mouth is likely directing air up and out into the goggles – warm humid breath, so it fogs the goggles, if not inside, then out.

        Contact lenses dont fog… I just go for the slit between facegaiter and ear gaiter…

        Reply
        • kris February 23, 2012, 1:13 am

          There are products, like rainx for your car, to keep glasses from fogging up. What I have been using is bar soap. You just rub some on the inside and outside of the glasses and rub it in until you can see out of them. I guess it puts a layer of soap on because they don’t fog up anymore. But you do have to reapply it pretty much every day.

          Reply
        • LastBestPlace February 17, 2013, 9:59 pm

          A very mustachian solution from a swimmer and skier: spit on the inside of your goggles. Human saliva is a fantastic, free, universally available defogger. Also great for makeup removal (I know, gross but true).

          Reply
  • Executioner November 3, 2011, 4:07 pm

    Being a veteran of several years of winter cycling commuting myself (in New Hampshire), I’m surprised you didn’t go into detail about what is in my mind the most difficult part of cycling in winter: riding safely with the cars. Because face it, regardless of how warm your clothing is, how bright your lights are, and how grippy your studded tires are, most cars on the roads are NOT expecting to see a cyclist riding in January.

    From my own experience, I’ve learned to stick to the side streets whenever possible, even if that makes the journey longer. I also double and triple check that people can see me whenever I am coming up to an intersection. And I avoid riding when it’s actively snowing if possible — the extra layer of fresh snow on the road is enough to make it more difficult for a driver to control and stop their automobile. The last thing I want is for someone to skid into me because their own tire treads aren’t as grippy as mine.

    I do appreciate that you advocate using multi-purpose clothing for winter cycling, though. In my experience the gear that is specifically made for cold-weather cycling just doesn’t perform as well as stuff which is made for keeping warm in general. Just be careful that your baggy snowboarding pants don’t get caught in between the chain and the front gears!

    Reply
  • adam prinsen November 3, 2011, 6:00 pm

    haha…i totally remember the snowboard towing!

    thanks for the Caledonia flashbacks MMM…

    and i am remembering that nice Miele bike too…

    i forgot we made the newspaper for that…cool…
    Adam

    Reply
  • Bill November 3, 2011, 8:40 pm

    How many miles would be the limit you’d ride to work daily?

    Here is Google Maps bike route from a place near my home to a place near my work:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=1023+N+Royal+St,+Alexandria,+VA+22314&daddr=6564+Loisdale+Court,+Springfield,+VA&hl=en&sll=38.789683,-77.110462&sspn=0.073457,0.154324&geocode=FW5GUAIdjHJo-ym5M0857rC3iTG_FyXg_BmWXw%3BFY6qTwIdhVZm-yntFbIcWa23iTEA0ibhdsfY4w&vpsrc=0&dirflg=b&mra=prev&t=m&z=13&lci=bike

    I’m not sure I’m badass enough for it if it really is over 1 hour like Google suggests. Of course, I used to be able to run over 10 miles in an hour, so that has to be pretty casual riding.

    Reply
    • MMM November 3, 2011, 9:19 pm

      I’ve personally never ridden more than about 15 miles each way to and from work, and even that seemed like a long ride at the time. But many others are superior to me in this regard.

      I feel Google has a ridiculous bicycling calculator so far. First of all, there are often more direct roads that are plenty bike-friendly (which of course they don’t know, so you can’t fault Google there). But secondly, they assume a biking speed of 9.75MPH!? That is the speed an elderly tourist couple might ride a pair of rented single-speed cruisers down a beach boardwalk. But people riding to work have different priorities. I did about 9 miles of errand-riding in my own city today, and just checked the average speed on the speedometer including stoplights: 15MPH, which would cut your Alexandria commute down to 45 mins. On an uninterrupted bike ride on a road bike, I try to average 20MPH, which would eat up that mileage in only 35 minutes.

      If the ride is too long, there is still the option of only doing it every second or third day, and/or checking out an electric bike like Beardo did above. (Note, they don’t all cost 3 grand, or even one thousand – he just built a really fancy one).

      Reply
      • Tanner November 4, 2011, 10:20 am

        I read another good idea when I was beginning to research bike commuting. I moved and my commute went from 7 miles one way to 21 miles. One person recommended driving into work with your bike then biking home – biking to work the next day and driving home. That way it breaks up how much riding you do until you can work your way into doing it more often. My commute is 21 miles one way, 42 miles round trip. It was daunting at first, but once I got the right gear it made it so much easier. If you dress up for work I found Nashbar Commuter Pannier make it so much easier to carry your clothes nice, extra shoes, bike tools, your lunch, etc. So far I have only worked up doing it 3 days a week. It takes me an hour and a half, which isn’t too bad considering it takes me 45minutes to an hour to drive the same distance.

        There are also alternatives if I want. Phoenix has a light rail. So I could commute 7 miles to the light rail and take that the rest of the way. Also Pheonix has Express busses from the suburbs to Central Phx with fewer stops I could use on non biking days.

        Reply
        • Tanner November 4, 2011, 10:57 am

          I thought of a few other things:

          1.What about changing when you get to work? My work has a gym membership with a locker room for $20 a month. But part of the reason for riding your bike is to save money so why pay for a membership just to shower and change? The Phx summers are in the 100s in the morning and you need a place to cool off and wash down. I just use a mens restroom in the basement of my work building no one uses. I wash my hair in the sink which cools me off and change down there for free. It takes me about 10 minutes to change, wash my hair and look professional.
          <br
          2.Make sure you stay hydrated, even in winter. I notice if I don't drink enough water even when I think I am not thirsty I get super tired at night and the next day. I also usually bring an energy bar or an apple to give me some extra energy on the ride.

          3.Part of the fun of riding to work is finding the best route. You can usually find places that don’t see heavy traffic and are more serene than the typical commute. You end up noticing things you would never notice if you drove to work.

          Hope this helps

          Reply
        • Tanner November 4, 2011, 11:52 am

          Sorry not Spamming, but one last thing: If you’ve never ridden to work before, do a test ride on a saturday or sunday morning when you have plenty of time and know traffic won’t be as big of an issue. This will let you time the route, and test to see if there are better route options. I did this and it gave me a big confidence boost that I could make the ride.

          Reply
          • Mrs. Money Mustache November 4, 2011, 12:21 pm

            Excellent idea!! I did the same thing back in the year 2000 when MMM was bugging me to bike to work.

            I honestly didn’t think I could make it, but that weekend bike ride showed me that I could. Biking home was harder (uphill), but I walked my bike when I got tired and hopped back on when I was ready. After a few rides, I was able to bike all the way up the hill! After a few months, MMM and I would race up (he always won).

            Oh, and I lost 20 lbs.

            Reply
          • Mathx November 5, 2011, 8:53 am

            (1mi = 1.6 km keep that in mind here – ie add half, then add 10% to get km. Multiply by about 0.6 to go km -> mi ;)

            Certainly google is pretty wrong. And yes, finding your own route is part of the fun. It might take a few weeks, but you’ll dial it up. Many many considerations are not listed on google, such as how long/slow lights are, how dangerous intersections are, missing the shortcut thru the park or the schoolyard.

            I modified my route for pavement quality too many times, and this changed with resurfacing over the years as well. I got to the point where I knew where the potholes were just by feel. Google tries to avoid hills, but try it out a few times with extra time, explore alternates, and you’ll find something good.

            I budget about 22-25km/h (15-17mph) for relatively leisurely riding (walking energy level ) on my hybrid on a slightly uphill route with a big 50m (180′) hill (over 3/4 km) for 7km. Faster rides when im in good shape were 28-30km//h when cruising in shape. A real road bike would add 3-5km/h to that methinks.

            Took me 5 hrs of active riding for a very long 110km ride from Guelph to Toronto, 6 hrs total with rests/lunch. So when in average shape, 22km/h is quite doable, even with several deep river valleys in the way (which were readily felt as the biggest slowdown in my riding from them onwards… ow. Need more training!)

            Reply
    • Amicable Skeptic January 6, 2012, 1:58 pm

      I grew up in that neighborhood and lived in the Northern VA area for many years and I can tell you that those directions can be greatly improved upon. Here is an updated route that is only around 10 miles that you could easily do in under an hour. The only part of it that would make me nervous is the couple blocks going down Franconia road, but I’m pretty sure there’s a sidewalk there so you could ride on that if you didn’t want to risk one of the crazy NOVA drivers running you down.

      http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=1023+N+Royal+St,+Alexandria,+VA+22314&daddr=38.8069464,-77.0525609+to:38.8007702,-77.064725+to:38.79874,-77.1343+to:6564+Loisdale+Court,+Springfield,+VA&hl=en&ll=38.784733,-77.137241&spn=0.011173,0.026479&sll=38.805002,-77.052784&sspn=0.01117,0.026479&geocode=FW5GUAIdjHJo-ym5M0857rC3iTG_FyXg_BmWXw%3BFaIlUAIdcEVo-ymvr4sR_7C3iTGJ7ZKF_VbusQ%3BFYINUAId6xVo-ynJk-TErrG3iTFrEpH2z3EjVA%3BFZQFUAIdJAZn-yk1pvJ_Q7K3iTGeSYORH0LhFQ%3BFY6qTwIdhVZm-yntFbIcWa23iTEA0ibhdsfY4w&vpsrc=6&dirflg=b&mra=dpe&mrsp=1&sz=15&via=1,2,3&t=m&z=15&lci=bike

      Reply
  • Mathx November 4, 2011, 12:26 am

    Interesting thread. A few comments:

    I live in Guelph, not far from London ON (Canada) or MMM’s hometown Hamilton – and on the edge of snowbelt. I lived in Toronto for 20 years commuting some 50,000 km over those years, at least. I never stopped riding for winter.

    The only thing that stops me riding is heavy rain outbound. I just cannot stand rainpants. I find it very hard to ride slowly in summer when it’s dead hot outside (shorts no shirt, sandals and ride SLOW – leave extra time), dress (zip off shorts + unwrinklable MEC/REI nylon shirts!) when you get to work ( a cold facesplash and towel off works wonders too). Same deal with rainpants: however wet you would get with them off, I get with them on in terms of sweat no matter how slow i ride. I HATE them. And dressing a full extra suit of pants (and finding somewhere to dry them at work ,etc etc) is just a pain. So my rule is generally, if its raining out on the way out, I just take the subway or walk :) (This may not work for Seattlers or Vancouverites. Im just a wuss in that respect!) Wet on the way home? just ride harder/faster to keep warm and shower when you arrive. Some of my record times/fastest rides are due to rain. It’s not pleasant, but it’s not life ending or changing. It’s an experience, and makes being at home for the evening sitting on my ass feel that much more awesome. Anyone who says they feel that awesome sitting on their ass doing it full time is lying. A little adversity is healthy.

    Winter in Toronto: I did use my 38c 700mm tires on my Trek hybrid for the last 3 Toronto winters (light tread MTB tires the rest of the years on much wider 26″ tires), but they plow and salt like nuts, so it’s easy. Thin tires – light tread too – do suck on snow and ice, but there isnt that much in TO with the rabid plowing. Just don’t try to turn on ice, just float across it while holding your breath ;) I think I put my bike down once a season but Im not on it (one leg on ground), and only once or twice me+bike in 20 years (black ice in a residential area with burnt out streetlights, and an icy streetcar rail that was colder than the morning 1C air..).

    For safety I have always advocated staying off main roads – it’s a more enjoyable, less toxic and noisy and a more relaxing ride. The stop signs are annoying, but I dispense with bothering feeling guilty blowing stop signs, so long as they’re clear of cars and Im not confusing anyone (there are tricks to convince drivers to GTFO of the way faster – I often pretend Im turning right when Im not, to convince them they dont need to worry about me and they get out of my way faster, then I continue on straight, with only an ever so slight waver in my path and no reduction in speed.)

    Sidestreets in the winter are a tricky business however, plowed less often and too late. In Toronto this led to some bumpy riding occasionally, but no big deal (stand up riding absorbs the shock), or the occasional concession to ride a major road when necessary. In Guelph however with 2x the snow and 1/2 the plowing of Toronto (grrr!), sidestreets are for MTBs with wider tires only.

    For snow, I find thin tires just slide on the hardpack when you turn – you start snowplowing a pile of the top layer of the pack while still moving forward. This creates a bizarre balance issue: front gyroscope is now turned quite a bit (you keep turning the handlebars more since your bike isnt turning the corner you’re aiming at) and now you’re riding with the front wheel at 30 degrees turned, while still going straight. Then suddenly, the front wheel bites on something and you’re into your turn – more than you bargained for with the oversteer. So not committing to the surprise turns is important – instinctually you do this by leaning back, off the front wheel, and doing more of a side lean, like riding with no hands, which helps turn no matter what angle the front tire is at. All this results in alot of extra core work – my back and abs are always dead sore from my first long hardpack rides with thin tires (“everything is training”) in winter. But no more!

    This year Im going to fix up my MTB to ride winter. Only SNOW sticks to SNOW, so find tires with deep tread that pickup a lot of snow. The tiewraps and studs arent for snow – they’re for ice. I still dont find ice to be a problem, generally, it’s always snow. Hardpack almost never turns into ice around here, they sand a ton and salt a little, even when they dont plow. While riding in the mealy grit that can get up to 2-3″ deep is really a huge workout (“everything is training”), you dont slide and fall, you just spin your wheels sometimes – it’s just like riding on a beach for a few feet…. But definitely need fatter MTB tires.

    For evidence of my claim check the most ultimate winter bikers: The yearly human IDITAROD alaskaUltrasport bike/run/ski race. The longer leg is _1000 MILES_ thru icy wilderness. Check their bikes: they have gigantically fat tires on custom framed bikes because the tires are like 12-15cm across. Fatter tires = more traction in snow. Yes the bikes always come in first – skiiers, oddly, LAST.

    http://www.alaskaultrasport.com/alaska_ultra_home_page.html

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/noidletour/5517394821/sizes/l/in/photostream/

    As far as clothing, Im getting older and feeling the cold more (as much as I dont want to admit it). Wearing less than you think is necessary always seemed to be my problem, so I figured out dressing 5 min before you go out the door makes you hot, so you’re thankful to finally be in the cold. A light running jacket over a t shirt was good for me down to -3C (no crosswind, headwinds dont matter, you just tend to ride harder and generate more heat…), but I fear thats no longer the case, a light longsleeve shirt is necessary now. I wore 2 layers on legs only when it got below -15C it seems, but again, extra work once you arrive at work (certainly less than working longer to pay for parking and car upkeep and gas and wasting life in traffic).

    One thing to watch out for is NOT overdressing areas that you need to cool. This is your forearms but NOT your hands, your thighs but NOT your knees, top of your head but NOT your face. It’s nearly impossible to get frostbite on the top of your head, or thighs, or forearm – so I wear a ‘head gaiter’ – a fleece ring for my ears that fits just under the edge of my helmet. This leaves the top of my head for cooling. And dont wear snowboard gloves that go to the elbows. You’ll overheat, amazingly, in the wrong places. Gloves are important, esp on the backs of the fingers – they’re cutting the wind first – but forearm leave minimal coverage (t shirt under jacket works great – i often push my sleeves up with gloves on when I get too hot in winter, bare skin, its a bit uncomfortable but nicer than getting soaked with sweat). For gloves, I like the fingerless wool with the foldover mitt so I can get at my bike controls if necessary (usually fiddling with keys unlocking and putting paniers on :) – often i wear nylon liners for fall/spring, and in serious cold the nylon liners inside the mittfoldovers.

    Pitzips also important – cant get frostbite in there either. Crosscountry ski jackets are ideal for that – downhill gear isnt for high output, so it doesnt have the necessary cooling (also since you’re going 60km/h downhill and expending 1/2 or 1/3 the calories of xskiing at 10-15km/h). So a light thin-fleece lined pit-zipped ultra-breathable NON WATERPROOF (but slightly water resistant) thinshell jacket is ideal. I got one at MEC.ca and swear by it. Was maybe $60 10 years ago. It has doubled as my regular non-fancy jacket for when Im not biking too.

    No matter how much i read about high tech waterproof breathable gear NOTHING can give you enough breathability to dissipate 250W+ worth of heat output and accordant perspiration if you arent nearly freezing yourself head to toe (risking frostbite somewhere..). Some area of your body will become hot enough to be sweaty without good airflow. So I do not recommend any waterproof gear – you’ll notice most ski jackets are not waterproof breathable when meant for actual real cold. If you arent in real cold but freezing-level-and-snow-might-rain-at-any-time I cant argue with you on this (I’d hate that, no dry snow winter riding?), but if you are in a snow zone in winter, then non-waterproof is necessary. Remember, snow is dry until it gets > 0C. So it bounces off nylon shell jackets and you stay dry.

    If you do wear waterproof gear, youll find a layer of rime ice or just wetness from perspiration somewhere in your gear later with any length of ride. If this isnt against your skin it’s fine, but it makes a bit of a soaking mess when you put it on later unless you were careful to dry it at home overnight or during the day at the office. And with wet sweaty gear stinks if you dont dry it out. I opt for proper air exchange instead and never wear goretex or fancier in winter (except when snowboarding, for my legs, when I sit in the snow putting my bindings on – oh and falling on my ass in deep powder :).

    This also has the nice side effect of keeping the costs down and the mythological bullshit of “it costs $750 to buy the basic right winter cycling gear!” (minus a bike) at bay. For any ride that’s <20min even at -12C its regular pants, socks (slightly thicker for winter at work/home anyway than in summer), and either a tshirt or long sleeve under the thin xski jacket. I keep another thin merino wool shirt in my bikebag (takes about 1l of space) just in case, on cold days a wool sweater (awesome breathability, super warmth, doesnt stink or get wet, feels better than fleece.)

    Fleece neck gaiter that fits under the top of my jacket and over my nose if necessary to keep the wind off my face (tho it'll fill with rime in real cold, kinda a fun badge to walk into a place with a mouth and pignose pattern of serious ice on it sometimes, but dries quick) – but often i just hook it on my chin, keep wind off neck but enjoy the crisp cold on my face if its not too brutal. In serious cold Ill wear a layer of looser fitting nylon outdoorsy pants over my regular pants, if necessary. In extreme cold ( <-25C, i've dealt with 3-4 times for 2×25 minute rides) I actually wore ski goggles, but usually the fogging issue isnt worth it, just pull down the ear gaiter down and the neck gaiter up til your eyes are looking out a slit :)

    All this to be taken with a grain of salt. Anyone from winnipeg or regina/saskatoon (or even ottawa) is surely going to indicate much of what I say might not work, but much of it is from experience: you dont need that much bizarre high tech gear to ride in most winters where most people live.

    Reply
  • Grant November 4, 2011, 3:37 am

    I believe it was Sir Rannulph Fiennes that said “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

    Reply
  • poorplayer November 4, 2011, 6:38 am

    OK I realize that MMM is not going to give me a senior citizen discount because I don’t ride a bike in the winter snow. I continue using my scooter as long as the streets remain clear and ice-free (cold is never a problem for a 3-mile commute). But I have never investigated whether or not scooters/motorcycles can be outfitted with snow tires. Can they?

    Reply
  • Bullseye November 4, 2011, 11:43 am

    Biked 10 miles this morning to work in below freezing, as part of my personal challenge to bike it at least once per week (inspired by MMM and Mr ERE). No problem with cold (I’m Canadian), but need some adjustments on my newly converted commuter bike (old MTB bike, changed to streets, comfier seat, rack, lights). Looking forward to riding home in the sunshine!

    I’d bike it more often, but am time squeezed getting home many days, as wife needs to get to work. Need the extra 25-30 minutes that the car allows. For now.

    A bigger problem for me right now is that my wife works many evenings, and i’m home with my two boys (4 and 6). Both are good riders, but the little one is not up to biking to shops and activities, which are all at least a mile. Right now I put little one in trailer and big one bikes, but cold weather will put a damper on that. Already, we’re driving more and more to do these things. If wife was home, I’d go on my own by bike to do shopping and my activities.

    Reply
  • Bullseye November 4, 2011, 12:37 pm

    I’ve thought about that, but the real problem is the weather. MMM knows what a GTA winter is like, even with proper clothing small kids can’t ride in gale force wind chills of -30C.

    I think what I need to do is just put BOTH kids in trailer and seal it up. Towing 100lbs into a stiff headwind will get me in rock hard shape in no time. ;)

    Reply
    • Kiwano November 4, 2011, 2:17 pm

      I don’t get what you’re saying about kids not being able to handle the weather. I had my daughter in a seat on the back of my bike through the winter in which she turned 1, and she’s been out biking pretty much every day of every winter since then (almost always in the trailer since around when she turned 4 and got too big for the seat on the back). Oh, and we live in the GTA too, so we’ve been doing this in the exact same winters that you’re talking about; it’s totally doable, and using the trailer is easier than you think it’ll be.

      Reply
      • Mathx November 4, 2011, 6:24 pm

        Problem is YOUR kids dont really know what a car is. Well, didn’t much, cuz they were on the back of the bike so much. They don’t have a concept of ‘easy’ or whatever, they just DEAL with it, cuz its all a mental thing, if that’s not proof right there!

        As for being warm in a trailer – they’re not moving, so I can agree with that to some extent but then we just defer to MMM’s THERMAL MASS blogpost… seat the kid with a big jar of hot water between their legs… :) Modulo “everything is training” for the weigh of it…

        Reply
    • Mathx November 5, 2011, 9:14 am

      Below freezing morning commutes already Bullseye, where do you live/whats your route? Just curious. I love developping bike routes for people as I get feed back from them to improve my knowledge as well.

      http://www.bikely.com/listpaths/by/math

      Reply
      • Bullseye November 6, 2011, 4:35 am

        Live in Burlington, work in Oakville. I mostly ride on Rebecca st, which is half bike lanes, half not. There is a section I rode on Burloak that has no lane and mo space for bikes, pretty hairy in the dark, even with lights on. No way around it, the only way across Bronte creek is QEW or Rebecca.

        I leave 5:30am, so have seen below freezing a couple times already.

        Reply
        • Mathx November 6, 2011, 7:44 am

          Wow. Yeah you’re more hardcore. Since I’ve always MMM-style lived near work (work moved once, I moved 6 monhts later, meanwhile was a 32 minute 13-km ride across the don valley – but that provided me with gorgeous mornings standing on a bridge over the Don in morning sun with a light snow faling from a squall onto the ice tinkling from the river underneath – this was my morning commute sometimes!), I’ve never had to get up too early for work (and never accepted a job with a start time before 9am cuz I know my limitations :)

          So 530 is definitely early!

          As for Bronte, yeah, same deal with any obstacle, few things span it – there’s only two level bridges across the don where its deep – of course, the older ones built for horses and streetcars before gas engines were common – Bloor Viaduct and Millwood. Always get funnelled into those or you’re looking for a brutal climb out (Eglonton, potery, etc)

          Careful on that bridge, light yourself up like an xmas tree and dont hesitate to take your lane when necessary, cars can wait!!

          Write a letter to the municip asking when bikelanes will be put in.

          Reply
  • Ethan November 4, 2011, 1:20 pm

    I live in Israel, and commute about 5 miles to and from work. There’s not much of a bicycle culture here, as people will drive by car the 3kilometers from their house to work, and then complain about traffic and the soaring price of gas (think European prices, not American/Saudi prices).

    Summers here get as hot as 35 degrees Celsius with the humidity of a sauna. I find that I need to bring an extra shirt with me to work on those days, and my coworkers have grown accustomed to seeing me with a sweaty-wet shirt in the mornings.

    However, in the rare few weeks of winter we get here, the rain gets the roads wet, often. I’d be curious to know how you guys deal with biking in the rain, both with regard to the wet, slippery roads, and to the rain falling on you, drenching your clothes, and fogging up your glasses.
    If you recommend any weather appropriate clothing, please include a link to a store where I might buy it online, as there’s no chance of finding any of it in Israel.

    Reply
    • Mathx November 4, 2011, 6:29 pm

      35C eh? :) even here around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) we hit > 35C easily many times in the summer. With humidity to boot (tho I think yours is a bit worse). There’s no real solution. If you are sweating sitting perfectly still in shorts in a chair outside, you’re likely not going to be any better off (modulo riding only downhill to work – I was lucky, I actually had exactly that scenario from stclair/yonge to yorkville in Toronto (short ride!) for 3 years – 6 minute commute = win! In winter when it was <-15C and i just woke up tho, boy it was an eye opening (and tearing, then freezing the tears…) cold.

      Dont bring an extra shirt. Just ride shirtless (modulo your culture's rules about that..?) I rode with zipoff pants from Mec.Ca (also see REI), and put the bottoms of the legs back on when I got to work. sandals for the feet, no socks for airflow (wash sandals time to time…) Bring extra nicer shoes, socks, and an unwrinklable microfibre shirt in bag with me. In washroom i'd soak my face, and even from my pits down my arms with soapy water, rinse off, towel (paper…) dry, works great. Apply some conversation-saving deodorant too, voila, ready to go.

      Riding slow is good too, very hard, leave extra time, but a leisurely pace below walking energy will still get you there 3-5x faster than walking – and cooler/drier too.

      as for rain, as I said, I never bike outbound in rain. Only return home to shower/towels/clothes. Not enough heavy rain in Toronto to have ever mattered much more than 5-10 days a year, perhaps. Raingear sucks, esp over 15C, as you'll overheat and get super sweat-soaked just the same, worse than a clean rain.

      Reply
    • JaneMD February 8, 2012, 12:04 pm

      Israel does have an amazing public transportation system which probably is why there is less of bike culture. We just visited and 3/4 of our relatives didn’t own cars. Everyone took the bus, all the time.

      Reply
  • Posted on November 4, 2011, 2:25 pm

    As a bicycle commuter of the fairest kind, I find that riding in winter it just a bit more of a PITA than I want it to be. In Colorado, the weather is usually not too bad, especially since we have so much sun. But the thing that gets me is the darkness and the blowing cold winds.The darkness shouldn’t bother me, since 95% of my commute is on bike paths isolated from roads and cars, but I don’t know, something about the darkness and the cold (0C to -10C) keep me from riding. In my case, I opt for the bus and walking the last 3/4 mile to the office. I don’t disagree that dressing properly is key, it is what I do for skiing, but something about the combination of dark/cold/bike prevents me from trying it out.

    Reply
  • Rodddxl November 4, 2011, 6:10 pm

    Good to know a bike trailer is snug for the kiddo. I bike to Stapleton everyday and I already have a trailer, but wasn’t sure how he would endure the cold at only 2 yrs old. Then again, if it wasn’t exactly balmy, he would be getting a head start on other kids his age in developing his badassity.

    Reply
  • John E. November 5, 2011, 12:57 am

    OK MMM,

    I bought a bike today! And in the spirit of growing our ‘stash, I bought it from the local Salvation Army store. $20 dollars was enough to get me a Diamondback Mountain bike. (I’m sure it’s one of 10,000 they produced at the Beijing factory that day.) The tires have good tread and the brakes work well. I will never win the Tour de France or even outrun an angry dog with this ride, but it will get a bag of groceries for less than the cost of driving.

    My question to you is this, should I bother to invest anything into a machine for which I only paid $20? If I spend an additional $20 on the purchase of a more comfortable seat for example, have I “totaled” my new vehicle?

    Thanks for the blog, I’m a new reader and really enjoying it!

    Reply
    • steveinfl November 5, 2011, 5:18 am

      JohnE: sweet find for $20. I suggest adding a front fender, rear rack with a rack bag (doubles as a rear fender), ankle strap, a couple of soft bungee straps and some blinky lights (2 rear red and one front headlamp). I bike commuted year round in Pittsburgh for years and this setup was great. And failry inexpensive but well worth it -check Nashbar for cheaper but serviceable gear.

      Reply
      • MMM November 5, 2011, 7:25 am

        John E – congratulations!

        Steve in Florida is right – don’t be shy about upgrading and taking care of your new bike.

        Despite the fact that you got the basic bike for (virtually) free, it is actually the start of a million-dollar lifetime profit for you, so whatever you do to make it more fun and useful to you will be worthwhile. Just be conscious about your upgrades and don’t overpay (check Nashbar for comparison).

        Also, if the basic bike gets annoying after a year or two and you are ready for more, remember you can get a really nice one for $300-$400 which will last a decade or more of virtually maintenance-free riding. So don’t spend $200 on miscellaneous repair parts for your old mountain bike only to end up with a less serviceable machine. Just as with car parts, bike parts are overpriced individually but cheap when you buy a whole bike.

        Accessories are different – they usually don’t come with a new bike anyway. So you can buy them any time, then transfer your nice fenders, rack, cozy seat, and flashing lights from one bike to the next over the years if you upgrade.

        Reply
      • Mathx November 5, 2011, 8:37 am

        The rear rack if chosen well may act as a mudguard, but likely not well enough – water will stick to the tire all the way around and come off at every angle, including straight forward onto the back of your pantlegs. A full mudguard down to the chainstay is advised. I ride thru puddles with impugnity! Important for looking respectable by the time you get to work (also, not having soaked shoes).

        Find the panier sacks at a discount on the net. New they’re hella pricey. I have one that has a solid backing that clips on which zips off revealing backpack straps. Pretty awesome. I’d also get a bike pump and an extra tube to carry around, a chain tool and a basic compact bike tool set (wrenches, hexkeys etc) and a patch kit. I have one from 20 years ago that still works great. Was likely $35 but has saved my ass when I’ve been 20km away from anything many times. Carry an extra masterlink for your chain too! Though I’ve only broken my chain once while riding, worth it.

        Reply
        • steveinFL November 5, 2011, 12:31 pm

          Matthx- Point taken. I rode in “mud gear” that I changed once I arrived at work. When I am able to get back to bike commuting, I have my eye on a full fender set and a chain guard.

          I also always carry a pump, a spare tube, a screwdriver and wrenches if I am going more than a mile. Flats are unavoidable, generally easily repaired and I hate walking my bike.

          Reply
  • Gerard November 5, 2011, 7:46 am

    wrt nice clothes for work, another option, depending on your workplace, is to take in a bunch of nice clothes at once (maybe by bus) and have them there to change your formerly-sweaty self into. I always keep at least one change of clothes at work anyway, because I’m incredibly clumsy and if it’s not a bike wipeout into mud, it’s a cup of tea down the pants once I get there.

    Reply
  • Darnoc November 5, 2011, 2:00 pm

    Great site and article.

    I gotta say that I try to bike as much as possible, and I often hear people complain about not being able to haul stuff or the weather complaints and I usually laugh at them, and tell them of my days as a paper boy for the Detroit News in the 80’s.

    My 12 year butt was on a single speed Schwinn Cruiser with 50+ lbs of papers every day year round in all weather ice, snow, thunder storms etc. No lights or helmets. Other than a rack for for the bags no extra gear or special tires, no special clothing. I’d just (and still do) dress for the weather like I would if I was doing outdoor chores for that season.

    Reply
  • TLV November 7, 2011, 7:50 am

    We just had our first child (6 weeks old now) and it feels like we have to take the car everywhere if we want to bring her along. How old does a child need to be before it’s safe to put them in a bike trailer, and what other options are there before that point?

    Reply
    • Kiwano November 7, 2011, 9:13 am

      Basically, you just need to make sure that your child’s head is properly supported before they’re old enough to hold it up on their own. Some trailers have accessories available for this, but if you can’t find such an accessory for your trailer, you can probably jury rig something out of a sling, blanket, bundle of pillows, etc. (and may want to anyway, depending on how much the accessory costs, and how much stuff you’ve already got kicking around for such a jury rig).

      It’s probably worth remembering (especially if confronted by some wussypants trying to convince you to stick your kids back in a car) that pretty much every motor vehicle collision more serious than “parking by bumper” will kill a baby without a car seat, and that adding a car seat only reduces the probability of a dead baby by about half. Needless to say, I still have misgivings about all the “you must have a car seat for you baby” policies and whether they save more babies from otherwise-fatal accidents than they kill by creating the illusion that it’s safe to have a baby in a car at all.

      Reply
      • Bakari November 17, 2011, 5:16 pm

        That’s a good point – in fact the same could be said for all safety features in a car…

        Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache November 7, 2011, 9:42 am

      The common advice is to wait until your child can support their head while wearing a helmet.

      We had a Topeak Baby Seat Child Carrier that we used starting at about 8 or 9 months of age.

      Prior to that, we walked everywhere and carried our baby in a sling or in a stroller. Every time we went for a walk, the baby would fall asleep and we would keep each other warm. We could go pretty long distances walking.

      When I checked to see what the Dutch do, I found this: http://naturallycyclingmanchester.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/baby-carrier-on-a-bike-dutch-style/.

      Reply
  • js November 7, 2011, 10:29 am

    Thanks for the kick in the ass. Now that temperatures are threatening to drop below 60 degree and some days have as much as a 40% chance of rain, us Californians are getting ready to hibernate inside our houses and cars for the next 5 months. I resolve to not but the bicycle away and be the most badass person in San Jose :-)

    Reply
  • Nerode November 7, 2011, 12:08 pm

    Well, MMM, comment on this (other than the expected ‘move closer’):

    My commute is 23km (15mi), the bulk of it on the Trans Canada Highway; 500 feet vertical gain into the prevailing wind inbound, return journey is much more fun! There is only one route. Temperatures at morning commute time are already down at -15C (5F) and will get down below -35 in either currency.

    More importantly, this is tourist heaven, and many tourists – however smart they are at home – drive like halfwits when on vacation. I frequently see drivers use two lanes plus the shoulder in the space of a few seconds, and more than one cyclist has been killed by an inattentive RV driver swatting the cyclist with his wing mirror. Mountains are easier to see and apparently better looking than other road users. Oh, and the shoulder is a mess of pea-sized gravel for most of the winter; the rest of the time, it’s knee-deep in crusty snow/ice.

    There is no public transport option.

    Now just in case you think I’m a wussy complainy-pants, I really want a better option than driving (and I have car-pooled for 4 years or so) – if there is one.

    For me, safety is the kicker. I’m vain enough to think that my presence is better for my children than the life insurance payout.

    So bring it on :-)

    Reply
    • Kiwano November 8, 2011, 7:26 am

      Tourist country, TCH, mountains, temps below -35, no public transport… I’m going to take a stab in the dark and guess that you work in Banff, which really would make moving closer impossible.. Bummer.

      Reply
      • Nerode November 8, 2011, 8:50 am

        Banff is right. Summer rides to work are beautiful, and there are a couple of safe trails as alternatives to the road. Recently a paved trail parallel to the road was put in and it gets huge use through the summer, but last winter it wasn’t ploughed, and was totally unrideable.

        I guess my best option is to work on the authorities to keep that trail clear.

        Reply
        • MMM November 18, 2011, 9:35 am

          I support your diagnosis, Nerode – I would not bike to work in the winter in your situation either unless they ploughed the path. You can look at driving/carpooling as just another cost of doing business in your area, just as I have occasional driving as a cost of being a carpenter, when I have to carry a thousand pounds of tools and materials to a jobsite.

          These articles are of course really written to address the AVERAGE situation, which is the misguided single-person commuter who drives a car or truck around town just because they haven’t learned any other way.

          Reply
          • Nerode November 18, 2011, 12:43 pm

            Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that Parks Canada (who manage the trail) define it as a three-season trail (closed in winter) ‘for safety reasons’. Call me cynical, bu the only safety reasons I can think of for not ploughing it are written like this: $$$$

            Next: talk to my boss about working at home a day or two a week.

            Reply
  • Amanda November 7, 2011, 7:02 pm

    This year I’m trying to roll (pun intended) with the old saying “There is no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothing.”

    I’m not too worried about clothes, since I know how to dress warm (layers. shitloads of layers.). Although I noticed that my under 25F gear is equivalent to your under 10F gear. Leggings under jeans, 3 pairs of socks, intense snow boots, fluffy coat, 1-2 sweaters, scarf, hat, and thick gloves. But it works for me.

    Living in the Midwest, I’m more concerned about ice on the roads than anything. Technically they clear the roads and salt them here. But with consistent freezing temps, sometimes that doesn’t do any longterm good.

    Reply
    • Mathx November 7, 2011, 11:23 pm

      Everyone will accidentally get into shape biking wether they like it or not.

      Once the cardio picks up after a few weeks of riding, you’ll have more energy at your disposal to ride. This will invariably make you want to ride faster, cuz why not. it’s free! It feels good and it’s less time. End result of this is you will spend energy faster, and heat up. Biking is really excellent for you because most people end up putting more effort riding than walking – more like a very fast walk on average (not quite a jog, tho sometimes riding back from the gym it is part of the workout). You’ll find you’ll need much less clothing – in fact, very much less.

      I admit I start out feeling colder than I did when I was 20, but by the time I get going im just as warm as I ever used to be. Light running jacket over nylon tshirt, everything else is regular daytime clothing, down to about freeezing (w/medium thickness thinsulate-lined wool gloves and a ‘head gaiter’ around the ears). Below that into a light xski jacket to about -5C, then into long sleeve shirts, a sweater if its colder, might put liner gloves on inside the mitts too if its -10C or below, -15C for long rides I put loose nylon hiking pants on the outside.

      The key about layering is not having to take any of them off! It’s annoying and slows the ride down. Better to dress earlier inside, start getting hot as you move around packing your bags for work/etc, then be glad to be out in the cold and start riding. Works wonders for motivation too if you never feel the cold.

      I do always wonder how people ride in thick winter jackets, even at -10C (15F)… arent they a sweaty mess?

      Reply
  • Melanie Lowe November 9, 2011, 7:42 am

    You GO!

    We bike to school almost every day: my toddler rides the trailer, my 1st grader rides his bike. We live in a much milder climate, NEVER have to deal with snow. It’s faster than a car because I don’t have to deal with the parking nightmare at the school. The majority of parents drive their kids to/from school.

    I remember when I was a kid, the bike racks were always jam-packed with bikes. At my son’s school, some days you could count the number of bikes in the racks on one hand and there is ALWAYS plenty of space.

    I don’t bike everywhere, but to-and-from school is a no-brainer. Thank you for showing that it can be done in even more severe weather!

    Reply
  • Bakari November 17, 2011, 5:14 pm

    Recently got my lights in the mail from China – a headlight bright enough to actually see the road for $45
    http://www.dealextreme.com/p/t6-waterproof-xml-t6-3-mode-1200-lumen-white-led-bike-light-with-battery-pack-set-82510
    and a tail light with a built-in bike lane powered by friggin laser beams
    http://www.dealextreme.com/p/rechargeable-7-mode-red-5-led-safety-bike-tail-light-with-7-mode-2-red-laser-beam-35mw-90117
    Having been hit by more than a few cars in my time, more than worth the cost.

    I also have a planet bike blaze 2-watt headlight (for being noticed by cars) and a planet bike super flash blinky 1 watt (brighter than the laser’s LEDs, and lets me conserve laser beam battery power)

    A bit of advice: use your lights, especially your flashing headlight, during the day at any time of reduced visibility, including dusk and dawn, light fog or dust, low sun in the sky (causes glare through a windshield), during rain or snow, and even on overcast days. I’ve basically started leaving my blaze headlight on any time I’m on the bike, day or night. I’ve noticed (when in a car) that bike headlights in the daytime make a cyclist WAY more visible – and most of the times I was hit were in daytime.

    Reply
    • MMM November 17, 2011, 7:35 pm

      What the ….?! That rear light is AMAZING! It really does laser out its own bike lane!

      Blast you, Bakari, you have awakened a consumer desire in me. I really want one of those. Check it out: http://youtu.be/Zz6pVevorqM

      Reply
      • Bakari November 17, 2011, 7:47 pm

        I know, right? $100 is a lot for me to spend on anything.
        Then again, Not Getting Run Over By Cars is pretty priceless.

        The laser is actually brighter and more visible in person than it appears to be in the video, and my girlfriend said that it looked like cars were giving me a wider berth than normal.
        Having spent the last 15 years commuting by bicycle using AA battery powered headlights, I feel the lithium battery pack headlight is worth the cost too. Until very recently you had to spend at least $200 to get enough light output to not just be noticed, but actually clearly see the road.

        I also have an electronic horn load enough to be heard over traffic, a full face helmet (imported from England) and a reflective vest.
        The way I look at it, I would run out of space to mount and wear bike accessories long before approaching what it costs to commute by car, so in a way making a bike safe and useable (by, for example, buying winter riding clothes!) is almost an “investment” of sorts.

        Reply
        • MMM November 18, 2011, 9:29 am

          Good job Bakari – you are promoting night cycling for your whole region by riding around with such a flamboyant setup.

          If I find myself riding in the dark again, as I did during the office working years, I will get the fancy light setup. For now, my family man life is pretty tame. I bike around doing errands and getting groceries when the sun is shining every day, and by the time it gets dark I am inside with the family making dinner and getting people ready for bed. It’s hard to imagine it right now, but eventually my kid will grow up and the wife and I will probably start living the young couple’s lifestyle again – going out at night, and riding home late with flashing lights with our own laser-powered bike lanes :-)

          Reply
        • Matt F February 14, 2013, 2:51 pm

          I am going to have to get this setup. I stopped bike commuting this year from about December through mid February because the dark was making me pretty nervous, but this looks awesome. Thanks for the input!

          Reply
  • Creative Liberty November 20, 2011, 3:11 pm

    Im new to CO and love this blog. Now if I only had a bike.

    Reply
    • MMM November 20, 2011, 4:55 pm

      Thanks for reading and welcome! .. But what do you mean, “if only I had a bike”.. Don’t you mean, “I’m looking forward to later this week by which time I will have fixed my problem of not having a bike”?

      Reply
  • BBaxter December 6, 2011, 1:30 pm

    Being a new subscriber to your blog I have been spending time in your archives. I have been biking off and on since I carried a Denver Post route in 1941. (Sold extras on the streets of Denver on Dec. 7th) For winter clothing I use mostly military surplus wool. Sportsman’s Guide (online) has an extensive military surplus section. For lighting I built the system on this web page http://nordicgroup.us/s78/headlights.html and installed it on two of my bikes. You can get the sealed beam units at Home Depot for about $12 for a 2 pack in the garden lighting section. (the part # and wattage are slightly different) I have a hub dynamo and CYO headlight on my Brompton that is a very effective lighting system but very costly. I have ordered the laser taillight for it, thanks for the link.

    Reply
  • Rich M December 12, 2011, 9:36 pm

    Your neighbor turned me onto your blog. I have to put it out it out that I live your lifestyle to a large extent. I have been reading your posts and decided this one was appropriate to reply to since I consider myself a hardcore bike commuter from Gunbarrel to South Boulder.

    My favorite Boulder holiday is coming up–Winter Bike to work day. In addition to my wonderful crispy-air commute, I get that free coffee and Bagel at Moe’s for Breakfast. This will be the fourth year for the Winter gig. Till then, I’m excited about the solstice, when the days start getting longer. It’s another favorite day of the year.

    You have a great post here. In fact, one of your most important. The whole bike commuting aspect summarizes many of your posts. I think commuting by human power is one of the most effective ways to increase one’s stash– and state of being than pretty much any other method you have posted on.

    I’m not sure people realize that transportation is one of the most long term expenses that a household has. Like you said in other posts, people think a 40 minute commute is nothing–because people in the USA love being in cars I guess. Cars where they build up stress and listen to crappy radio, pitching Shane Company cheap jewelry to spend money they don’t have on.

    ….Okay back on my bike track…

    I log my riding and I try to keep my days driving less than 10 days total a year. I think I’m at about eight days at the moment and pretty sure I won’t drive the rest of the year–a new record. That is 80 miles a week saved. I told my insurance that I drive about 4000 miles a year (road trips) and it dramatically reduced my car insurance.

    For the other readers itching to try commuting by bike in the winter. If the temps are in the 20s or less, I use lobster gloves–half mitts–half gloves. A great combo for warmth and the ability to brake. I also make sure I have extra insulation on the toes because they get the most wind due to both pedaling and effective wind of moving forward at 15 mph. Also, you learn a lot about weather forecasting and and going to a nws.noaa.gov is a three times a day ritual.

    Regards,

    Rich

    Reply
  • JaneMD February 8, 2012, 12:10 pm

    I totally want to congratulate the guy who pulled his daughter to school in a sled. I used to be on a cross country team in the Midwest and remembered many a run dodging cars in the snow – which is much less safe than biking.

    Reply
  • Huck February 15, 2012, 11:21 pm

    I wrote a simple little PHP script that pulls info that I like to have for my commute and email me at 7am and again at 4pm. It pulls the day’s forecast, data from several weather stations along my commute (temp and wind direction and velocity), gets CDOT road conditions (although, this is broke since they changed their feed and I haven’t had time to fix it) and gets sunrise, sunset, and twilight times. I had a dream to turn it into an “app” to share with the world…was going to call it “Weather or Not” but that name was already taken. BUT…I tend to ignore the emails these days…I’m trying to train myself to be more weather tolerant. During the summer I commute 15-18 miles one way between Longmont and Boulder…during the winter months I do 10 of those miles on a bus. The remaining 5 miles of riding I can tolerate most weather that has come my way. My cycling uniform is very low budget and is the same pretty much every day.

    Reply
  • J August 1, 2012, 7:52 pm

    Found your blog a couple of weeks ago, from jlcollinsnh. Have read nearly every post. *This post* finally convinced me to bike to school (2 mi/each way). I bought a bike from Nashbar (haven’t owned one in ~ 25 years). Assembled it myself. Called the local bike shop and asked if they would quality control my assembly. They were more than happy to do so. Riding my bike will save me ~ $200 this school year. More if I start using it to run errands, of course. I may be cursing you in February… But right now, I am feeling pretty awesome. Thanks for throwing down the gauntlet in this blog. Challenge Accepted.

    Reply
  • David September 28, 2012, 11:57 pm

    I like the idea of being able to bike in winter, but I just moved up north this year (central British Columbia). It’s already hit below zero in September, and we’re expecting our first snowfall next week (first week of October). Average daily temperature for the next six months is in the vicinity of -10C, and it will definitely get colder at times; it was -20C when I first arrived in February, and record lows for the six winter months are between -40C and -50C. We’ll get about 50 centimetres (20 inches) of snow a month, and it’ll just keep building up; not much melt until April (lucky) or May (unlucky). On top of that, to get anywhere in this city involves significant highway driving (the city was build around the intersection of two highways) with a bulk of the traffic composed of pickup trucks (many of which are raised, with ridiculous oversized tires). Am I being a wussypants if I use a vehicle instead of a bike this winter?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache September 29, 2012, 12:16 pm

      I wouldn’t say driving in those conditions is overly wussypants. Central BC at well over 50 degrees latitude with added mountains puts most of the “lower 48″ US states to shame in terms of extreme climate!

      If I were ever forced to live in such a place (or even in Ottawa where I used to live), the best I could do would be setting up my life so no driving was required. I’d make sure my job, house/apartment, fun, and grocery store were all within 2 miles of each other, then I’d get some sweet arctic winter gear and happily trudge through the snow to get everywhere. It would be a rugged and badass life in the winter. But since moving is so easy, I just went to a more bikeable climate instead.

      Reply
  • David October 8, 2012, 10:07 am

    One winter in college it was so cold that while biking to work I had to bike with one hand while the other warmed up my eyelashes so they would not freeze shut when I blinked. Every 15 seconds or so I would switch sides, blink, and continue riding. The best part was that when I got to work I was quite warm and got to use the closest spot in the bike rack to the door. Now I have a set of ski goggles so freezing eyelids is less of a problem.

    I should also say that I’ve had better luck with skinny tires in the snow than big fat knobbies, the skinny ones cut through the snow instead of riding on top of it and make your own little track to ride in.

    Reply
    • math October 8, 2012, 10:23 am

      I tried goggles only once at -26C in Toronto. Unfortunately, the goggles fog up with my fleece face/neck thing – breath comes up out of it onto the goggles and freezes. On the way home I opted to blink a lot instead.

      This is very cold riding, and very rare. Check wunderground.org for historical records (and for Canada, google climactic normals). People exaggerate hugely about weather constantly. See my reply above about Prince George.

      As for tires cutting through snow, absolutely 100% not true. I have ridden both MTBs and hybrids with 30c’s and 38c’s. Hardpacked snow is absolutely not cuttable by a tire. Its on its way to turning into ice, and even a single pass by a car will pack it hard enough that you do not cut through it. Slush and new snow, yes, sure, but you dont have that on city streets for more than a few minutes before a car compresses it.

      I have 38C’s on my hybrid, which I still rode in winter, cuz its a nice efficient bike, but it’s terrible on snow. The front tire just ends up sliding sideways when I try to turn on the hardpack, not enough grip to grab the snow and make me turn. Turns into a very interesting heavy core workout leaning back on the seat, riding on the balance of one tire and not committing to the gyroscopic off-setting action of a front tire effectively turned 20 degrees sideways while still going straight. A few times I just took out my MTB instead, much better.

      The only thing that sticks to snow is snow, so you need big knobby chunky tires with a lot of surface area to grab as much snow as possible.

      Check out the human Iditarod race, the most challenging human race in the world (yes, more than the Sahara race), 1000mi in alaska in feb/march. Takes people a month. The cyclists always win (vs skiiers and walkers), and they use giant tires for the snow:

      http://www.alaskaultrasport.com/alaska_ultra_home_page.html

      Reply
    • David@SkepticFinance October 8, 2012, 2:05 pm

      Cold riding is rare indeed, hence nobody else in the bike rack :) I absolutely 100% did have better luck with skinny tires, that’s because I was riding on the street… to work… and the road had been salted and was only semi-solid. Other people will have better luck with big knobby tires.

      (Also, I’m not the same David as a couple posts up, I realized that might be causing some confusion)

      Reply
      • math October 8, 2012, 3:21 pm

        Certainly if there’s no hardpack – ie they’ve salted it to slush down to the pavement, or it has been sanded and isnt too thick yet, then yes, a sharp thin tire can cut down to the pavement. Wondering how thin a tire would get for the best cutting profile :) like riding on a blade!

        But if there’s any depth to the mealy sand-snow mix, like what we get here, you end up churning it when you cut in and never make it to the solid road surface for traction. It like riding on a beach of dry sand, big workout :( Better to float on top with knobbies.

        Overall Toronto’s snow profile is such that knobbies worked better overall, despite the inefficiency of riding on road with loud knobs and spinning that much extra inertia of tire+air. Really, however, Toronto has very little snow overall, despite exaggerations and pretending to be tough guys. There is literally perhaps 2-3 work weeks of days (ie 15) a winter on average with any sort of consequential snow on the roads. As I say, rabid plowing is de facto.

        One winter in 20 years had me put my bike away for a whole 3-4 weeks (ca. feb 2005) however, but this is very rare. We had alot of snow and then a freeze/melt cycling that just solidified everything into blocks. There was no room at the curb on any road, and sidestreets turned into 2 3-6″ deep tire-channels. Getting out of them was a sonofa. I did ride for ‘fun’ a few times in that, but it was just for the novelty. Entirely impractical for any sort of distant commute.

        However, rare. Mostly the roads are white with salt and plowed to within an inch of their life… or past that, ripping up chunks, leading us to the next season after winter: “road construction”.

        Reply
  • SisterX October 14, 2012, 2:02 pm

    I admit, here in Fairbanks Alaska I don’t ride my bike year-round. (Our year-round average temperature is -4, even though we regularly have a few weeks in the 80s and 90s during the summer.) Because of the hassle of it all, and the pain of windchill on my eyes (I wear contacts, which I have had freeze while I was wearing them and become VERY uncomfortable, in the past) and all of that, I don’t bike much during the winter. (I also have a bad habit of breaking bones and that gets quite expensive. Wheels + Ice + Me = a very bad combo.) I switch to walking which I find much more pleasant when it gets quite cold out. I’m constantly amazed by people who are shocked by this, though. I always have concerned people offering me rides home, even well-meaning strangers who think I’m pitiable. If you dress for the weather, there’s no reason to need a vehicle! People lived here long before cars and electricity and the wonderful modes of heating we have now, it’s ridiculous to feel that we “need” cars, even here.

    Reply
    • SisterX October 14, 2012, 2:06 pm

      I should add that my husband bikes year-round and I freely admit that he’s more badass than I am in that respect.

      Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 14, 2012, 8:09 pm

      While you and your sound truly badass, you got the temperature stats way off! Fairbanks averages -4F only in the coldest month (January). It has a pretty nice summer and surrounding seasons.. just has a crazily long winter. Thanks for sharing your experience, as I now feel extremely pampered to be entering Colorado’s comparably very warm winter :-)

      Reply
      • Kinville June 6, 2013, 12:34 am

        While I do know several people who bike year round here in Fairbanks, there are several cold snaps every winter. They vary in length and severity, but as an example we had nearly a month of -40F this last winter.

        Reply
  • Qwerty October 25, 2012, 2:15 pm

    You call -12 C a chilly Canadian winter? Jeez, Ottawa is warmer than I thought, that’s a warm day where I’m from!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 25, 2012, 3:08 pm

      Yeah, that’s pretty cold. Ottawa’s average HIGH in January is -7C, making it one of the coldest capital cities in the world. This beats out almost any major city in the US and Europe. People tend to remember the extremes (Ottawa can reach -40C), but the average is usually more reasonable. For example, Toronto is famous for being cold, but its average high in January is around -1, and Colorado has a chilly rep, but here it warms to +7 on average on the coldest month of the year (43 Fahrenheit).

      Reply
  • Carly November 1, 2012, 7:47 pm

    Any idea where to find 14″ winter tires? I have a tiny folding bike with relatively smooth 14″ wheels, and it’s been slipping and sliding around the thick, slushy sidewalk snow in a most unsafe manner. Getting a mountain bike would mean hauling it up 4 flights of stairs to a small apartment with little storage space, so the little bike will remain my only bike for the forseeable future.

    I also find that winter riding, even in drier conditions, tends to be SLOW, because snow gets caked between the fenders and the wheels, causing a lot of friction. Removing the fender would be fine, but I’d arrive at my destination much dirtier than I’d like. Suggestions?

    Reply
  • Mark December 17, 2012, 10:29 am

    I’ll admit, at the first bike post, I thought, “hmm, that’s a little too much”
    But now I remember how I only used a bike in college, and my campus was about 1.5×1.5 miles, so I had to bike at least a mile each day to get to class.

    One snow day (all classes canceled), a bus driver stopped to take a picture of me biking through the snow to visit some friends. His bus was totally empty and he was having trouble, but I was doing ok on my bike.

    Reply
  • Karl August 18, 2013, 11:10 pm

    I cycle to work year-round. Although considering that ‘winter’ in Perth is really just sunny, clear 20 degree C days, interrupted occasionally by cooler, wet days, it’s really not that hard. A good jacket for cooler/wet days, merino wool jerseys for winter, and sweat wicking poly cycle jerseys for summer. Plus having a shorter commuting distance (just under 7km for me) makes it easy even on those rare wet/hot days.

    Reply
  • kim October 14, 2013, 10:37 am

    I rode all summer. Lost 40 pounds. My ride now is 3-4 miles each way to work,it takes me 20 minutes each way. I want to ride this winter but how do I teach myself to ride longer so I can bypass taking the train because we are moving further from work. My trip would now be 17 miles each way. Do I just go for it? Also SO afraid of the cold & falling on ice. Live in Chicago area. This has given me lots of tips. Anything you can tell a “newbie”? It was 42 degrees this morning & I chickened out. The coldest I rode so far has been 47 degrees. How do I convince myself to go? And then to get home? How long do you think 17 miles would take if 4 miles takes me 20 minutes?
    Help me get on track please.

    Reply
    • Amicable Skeptic October 15, 2013, 9:22 am

      Great job riding to work last summer Kim. You can totally keep it up this winter too you just have to put your mind to it. The 17 mile trip will definitely take longer than the 3-4 mile trip, but if a decent chunk of it is on bike paths that don’t have stop lights you may find that your average mph increases. A few tips:

      Clothes:
      Check out this link for some good info on clothes to wear depending on temperature.
      http://www.commutebybike.com/2011/01/17/how-to-dress-for-cold-weather-2011-update/

      Emergency Bag:
      17 miles is a decent commute distance and if you’re doing it in the cold you should be sure to be prepared. Have a bag (or better yet a rack with a pannier) that has emergency gear in (2 spare inner tubes+tire changing equipment+pump, an extra layer, energy bars, maybe even a space blanket if you ride off the beaten path and want to be extra careful.

      Ease into it:
      Can you lock your bike up at work overnight? If so you could ease into your new commute by biking in and taking the train back on day 1, then training in and biking back on day 2.

      Cold:
      42 degrees is totally doable if you’re wearing the clothes that the guy I first linked recommends. Remember that you should always be a little cold starting out cause you’ll warm up. If you’re going to overinsulate I recommend doing it on your hands, feet or neck as those improve your feeling the best and can be taken off pretty easily.

      Icy roads:
      Definitely be careful on icy roads as falls are possible. You should buy some proper snow tires for the winter, or at least do a hack (like this one http://lifehacker.com/5719594/zip-tie-snow-tires-the-cheapest-way-to-blizzard+proof-your-bike ), but don’t worry about it till the snow is really down. In 40 degree weather your regular tires should be fine. Another tip is to ride on regular pedals with flat shoes, if you hit ice you just drop both feet down and “ski” on it. You won’t have much control of where you’re going if it is truly slick, but you can avoid a fall.

      Best of luck!!

      Reply
  • Jonathan October 18, 2013, 11:37 am

    I was thinking that biking in the winter would be much more difficult and miserable. After reading this post I found the courage to just dive in head first. This morning it was 3C so I threw on some gloves and a jacket and hit the road for 3 miles of commute. The ride was great and not nearly as miserable as I expected. The only thing I could have added was something for my ears.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

    Reply
    • kim October 18, 2013, 12:16 pm

      I rode today…42 degrees. The coldest so far but it wasn’t too bad. I actually dressed too warm!
      My neighbor seen me this morning & told me I was crazy…nope just addicted.
      Love my bike.

      Reply
      • math October 18, 2013, 12:28 pm

        That’s not cold. Below freezing is where cold STARTS. Just cover the parts of the body breaking the breeze: knees to mid thigh, knuckles, forehead+ears. In fact, cooling comfortably (without risking frostbite when its below 15F/-10C) is the hard part.

        Use a ‘head-ring’ that goes around the head over the ears, and is thin enough to fit under helmet. Warm enough to keep the ears ok. Thin fleece-kined is good, nylon bad (move head around/wind makes a lot of noise, and real cyclists know ears = radar + staying alive, so additional noise is bad). Need a soft material that doesnt make extra noise. But keep the head uncovered – its a great place to cool (your body will do it automatically as needed) and nearly impossible to get frostbite on your scalp (in most conditions, north dakota nws!)

        Fingerless gloves with a foldover mitt section (with optional liners under) are great to do fingery work (unlocking your bike..) in the cold. I dont wear any extra pants (legs doing all the work keeps them warm just fine) til about -10C or lower (~15F) on long rides, and -20C (-4F) on shorter.

        Its not that big a deal, and on a bike you can tune up a slightly higher output than walking and be comfortable with all the heat you’re generating. Layers is key so you can zip unzip as you need up and down hills, etc.

        Reply
  • Travis Pernsteiner November 3, 2013, 5:51 am

    I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the picture with all of your clothing assembled. I did just the same to illustrate what to wear for single-digit weather over here in La Crosse, WI :)

    http://www.atalefromthebluffs.com/2010/12/single-digit-winter-running.html

    Reply
  • Alex November 4, 2013, 10:47 am

    I just bought my 2nd mountain bike and a instep bike trailer =) Im hoping to bike through Iowa’s winter to get my kids 2 and from there daycare ! Might not make it some days

    Reply
  • scottydog November 28, 2013, 7:24 pm

    I’ve been reading MMM since April, and biking regularly since May, and this is the first year that I’m trying some winter riding. Until the snow and ice arrived, it’s been easy. Now that there’s actual ice on the streets, and drivers (re)learning how to handle reduced friction, I’ve found that I’m more reluctant/scared to take my 3 kids out in the cargo bike than I’d expected. In the past 2 days I’ve resorted to walking and taking the jogging stroller instead. Two years later, this article is a great reminder/kick in the butt to keep trying the bike and sort out the tricks and setup details that will make it even more fun. It turns out that I love exercising in the cold – it reminds me of all the cross-country skiing I did as a kid!

    Reply
  • Jay the xeriscaper November 29, 2013, 1:28 pm

    There is a good winter riding site at http://www.icebike.org. Hasn’t been updated in years, but the core info is good. I commuted year round in Anchorage for years (not every day). I drew the line at -15 degrees F. Bad things happen quickly at that temperature. You don’t need studs. Just put some tire glue on one side of your rim to prevent tire slippage and air down your tires to 20 psi. I rarely bike commute now in the winter because I moved to Idaho and it’s an easy 25 minute walk to work.

    Reply
  • Zoran November 30, 2013, 8:08 pm

    Is there a trick for office people who need to wear business casual every day? I’d imagine wearing slacks and a dress shirt would be a mite uncomfortable biking for five miles in the winter, even under all that gear. And I can’t image stuffing it in in a backpack for the trip; even non-iron clothes would end up looking chewed up.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 1, 2013, 10:06 am

      I have biked in everything up to a suit and tie with no bad results. I find all clothes are comfortable on a bike, because cycling is no more difficult than walking. But if you’re still warming up to the idea, you could keep your tidy clothes at work and slip them on when you get there.

      Reply
    • Jonathan December 1, 2013, 2:19 pm

      I too have had no issue thus far with whatever I wear. The exception would be on days with precipitation.

      Make sure you have a good clip or strap to keep your pant leg out of the chain.

      Reply
    • Ethan December 1, 2013, 9:10 pm

      I used to bike the 9km to work in the jeans or linen pants that I would wear throughout the day (business-casual). I stopped after wearing a hole in the crotch of every single pair of pants over the course of several months.
      So now, during the warmer months, I bike in baggy cycling shorts, and change when I get to the office. For winter, I just bought myself a pair of Zoic cycling pants, that look decent enough to wear throughout the day (maybe – I have yet to return home and try this out). But worst case, I’ll just keep carrying an extra pair of pants with me.
      These are the pants I just bought, BTW: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006FRMDPC/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B006FRMDPC&linkCode=as2&tag=madabil-20

      As for a shirt, golf shirts are great for cycling and work – they’re designed to wick sweat, and be comfortable outdoors, and yet keep you looking classy and presentable.

      Reply
  • Brian December 6, 2013, 9:48 pm

    I ride during the winter. I commute, and I do trail rides. So far I this year I have rode in temperatures down to about -2 to -4 degrees. Temps start to get a little blurry after a while. So dressing warm enough to obtain temperature stability at the core can be a little tricky. Commuting for only 20 – 30 minutes is fairly easy to keep from getting too cold, but being out in the cold for 2+ hours straight when colder the 10 degrees requires above average gear. When the temperature is below zero I have always had to use hand and feet warmers.

    Reply
  • train_writer December 31, 2013, 11:54 am

    I applaude you guys. As a Dutchie, i have never owned a car and even my 83 year old grandmother cycles everywhere so its a non-question for me (you have to write a motivation letter to your employer (most) if you do not commute by bicycle/ combined bicycle with train)).

    I have however lived in Canada for 2 years as well and I actually thought the car drivers were really gentle and careful in sharing the space with me, the cyclist.

    However, the few fellow cyclists were not very well behaved and drove all over the roads and were unpredictable. (this was in Edmonton.. Yes, i stopped riding my bicycle december-march)

    Reply
  • Peter Reed January 8, 2014, 10:12 am

    Thanks to your inspiration, I biked my 14 miles commute at 10°F in Ohio this morning. Felt great. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Frank January 29, 2014, 6:36 am

    Some good tips in this article. A friend told me years ago that as far as biking goes, “There is no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothing.” I can bike in about 98% of the days/nights here in Denver, Colorado, and bike to work most days in all 4 seasons.

    Reply
  • h2o_vw February 16, 2014, 11:49 am

    I was really hoping for a magic bullet with this post. Having Raynaud’s (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/raynaudsdisease.html)
    I have a hard time getting outside at all in the winter. And while my head, pits, and belly are dripping sweat when I’m biking, no amount of wool socks and insulated boots keep my toes from blackening. And yes I’ve tried battery powered socks, it’s like a bandaid on a severed limb (sure it’s something, but ultimately futile). The reviews on rechargeable insoles are much the same, and often further decrease circulation because they take up so much room in your boots.

    Any suggestions on dealing with the wind as well? On a still day in OK the wind is 12mph (right now it’s 14 with 24 mph gusts) but quite regularly it’s 25 mph with stronger gusts. So the issue is dressing for the windchill but surviving your own body heat.

    Any suggestions are greatly appreciated, especially after this heinous winter we had here (last months electric bill was higher than the one in August!). I wanna get back on my bike!

    And I will have to look into studded tires since in OK we don’t really get snow we only get ice.

    Reply
    • windawake March 12, 2014, 2:59 pm

      Hi MMM!

      I am getting so antsy to get back to biking this spring, and already have for trips around town. Just yesterday I stuck my dog in the bike trailer and biked to and from the dog park. Tomorrow I’ll start bike commuting again (have been busing since December). My biggest issue with winter biking is the compacted and uneven ice and snow at the edge of all roadways. Granted, most winters are better than this past one has been, but what do you do to bike and be safe?

      I’m fine with cold, I’ve biked up to -7F. But I just get so terrified of the ice and snow, especially because there’s usually a film of slush on top of hard ice at the edge of roadways. There’s a ‘bike highway’ on my way to work, but getting to and from it can be very scary. I’m fine with falling, just not fine with falling in front of a car.

      I haven’t tried studded tires yet, but I do have knobbly tires and they didn’t make much of a difference. Any advice would be appreciated for next year! BTW, I live in Minneapolis and usually bike 9-10 months out of the year.

      Thanks!

      Reply
      • Carrie La Seur March 12, 2014, 3:05 pm

        Studded tires are what you need. I bike year round in Montana with them. Very very hard to fall.

        Reply
  • Zac June 18, 2014, 8:55 pm

    Ok so compared to all you Canadian and Northern US bike commuters I feel pretty useless. I live in Perth, Western Australia, where its and average of 36-42C in summer and 10-20C in winter. We do, however, get a reasonable chunk of rain in winter – mainly in the mornings. I used to cycle the 12km to work every day, but I’ve found I’ve started driving my housemates car to work rather than ride because i’m worried of getting my bag of office gear saturated. It’s a pretty long ride to be out in the rain when it’s a 24km round trip!

    Does anyone have suggestions for some good gear to cover up a backpack worth of clothes (and me) when it’s raining? I’ve got a nice cycle jumper and some long cycle tights, but don’t want to turn up to work with a saturated bag of clothes :)

    Reply
    • Gerard July 3, 2014, 3:51 pm

      Do you have somewhere at work where you could keep a week’s worth of clothes, that you bring in on a nice day or by car/transit?

      Reply
  • Lisa Olsen October 12, 2014, 11:01 am

    I live up in the Pacific Northwest and for us it’s all about the rain. I also wear glasses, which makes this even more of a pain when it’s raining. But I am also fortunate to be able to work from home in my dream job, and I really just want to be able to bike to the store instead of driving my car all the time. I’ve seen the tips about goggles and a hat with a visor/shield to keep the rain away from your glasses – but doesn’t that still make it hard to see through as the rain sticks to that outer layer? I want to make this change and not be a complainypants! Tips would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Jonathan October 12, 2014, 3:38 pm

      Perhaps you could put some RainX or similar silicon based substance on your glasses. Works on windshields. Rain still hits but just beads up and goes away. Might be worth a try.

      Reply

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