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How To Ride Your Bike All Winter – And Love it

Bike trailers love snow too

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. As of winter 2015 my favorite is the CycleTorch Shark 500 combo, because it includes a ridiculously bright headlight, not overly expensive, and recharges with any USB cord. But I added a second brighter taillight for even more visibility (and your own personal bike lane, painted in frickin’ laser beams!): the Wolfride Race rechargeable.

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 ;-) ?

  • 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
      • RC November 3, 2014, 3:30 am

        Get a waterproof backpack cover, or better yet a waterproof roll bag to transport your clothes inside a regular backpack.

        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
      • Lisa Olsen October 30, 2014, 2:47 pm

        I’m a little leery of putting something like Rain X on my glasses since seeing through glasses is a little different than seeing through a windshield. It’d be a really expensive fail if it compromised my vision.

        Reply
    • Rollie October 30, 2014, 1:32 pm

      I’ve been biking in the PNW for 20 years and I say: Visor, not goggles. Rain doesn’t stick to what it never lands on! Some helmets come with visors, but most are too short to be useful. Plus, helmets are for dangerous activities where you anticipate hitting your head on things a lot, so I don’t wear one. I wear what is essentially a nylon baseball cap (marketed as a running cap), pulled down low, and it keeps the whole upper half of my face dry. If it’s especially cold out I’ll add ear-warmers. But if you had to insist that biking was dangerous you could wear this setup underneath a helmet.

      Glasses will still fog up at the stoplights as they collect your condensed perspiration vapor, and this happens in dry weather too, if it’s cold out. But they clear up in two seconds once you start moving again. You’re starting from a stop so there’s nothing much you need to see crystal-clear in that 10-15 feet anyway. Just get out there and stop theorizing, you’ll see most problems aren’t problems. Speaking of “no problem” I would actually recommend contact lenses if it weren’t so non-Mustachian.

      Reply
      • Lisa Olsen October 30, 2014, 2:51 pm

        Thanks for the tips, Rollie! I do wear a helmet, more because it’s against the law not to in Vancouver, and I don’t want to end up paying for a ticket, but I can see if a hat works under my helmet.

        I’ve been riding my bike lately with just the helmet on in the rain and yep, my glasses do get wet, but mostly I’m finding out it’s not that big of a deal. I can still see enough to get where I need to go, and just blow on them to clear once I get there. :)

        Reply
  • Leon November 21, 2014, 10:57 am

    So a friend shared this with me. I need to get back on the bike, the cold weather has ended my riding for now. I don’t have much along the way of cold weather gear, which I am working on, dropping hints like crazy to the wife :). Winter riding will be coming soon. I miss my bike.

    Reply
  • Marcie December 23, 2014, 3:08 pm

    In Saint John, NB last weekend (December 21, 2014 and on the east coast of Canada) we just had our first inaugural Meat Grinder Race. I rode my old CCM from 1995 that got me to work when I didn’t have a car and to college years ago. This was in fact a fun bike race (the older or fatter the tire the more points) where we kept going up and down the big hills uptown in our city for an hour. Each lap required a shot of tequilla and eating donuts. It was so much fun and the -1 degree celcius weather didn’t affect us. We dressed warm. We are all adults too. Some people said this is what life is all about. So I’ve been reading this blog and I’ve always been like the others here with this lifestyle and I thought of the blog when they said that (this is what life is all about).

    Reply
  • M January 17, 2015, 1:20 am

    “Canadian and Russian Winter Chilly” comes in at -12 C and below? Come now, Mr. Money Mustache, that is like tax brackets that cap at $150K in income. I have always lived in the Prairies and at -12 C kids don’t want to wear their winter coats at recess. If you truly think that the cold should never be an excuse not to bike, where is your “I’m going to be badass and bike when the air temperature will freeze exposed skin in less than a minute” dress code? Bring out the balaclava!

    I live in Saskatoon, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen a bike on the road in winter – partly because you can count on a temperature range between -25 C and -40 C much of the time between November and into March or even April in a bad year, when you factor in the windchill – but mostly because no one designed anything to be bike friendly. In the winter, the city ploughs the snow but doesn’t haul it away except for downtown and a few major streets, so your traffic lanes get tighter, and if there are any bike lanes in town, they aren’t on any road I’ve been on. Even if there were bike lanes, they’d be sitting under the snow pile. Sidewalks frequently disappear, or become pretty treacherous, again unless you are downtown. Public transit is terrible – it would take me 3 hours and 2 transfers to get to most of the schools I work at, but I can drive in 10 to 15 minutes. When I lived in Winnipeg, you saw the odd winter biker, but as the driver of a car on icy roads, they scare the daylights out of you, because again, driving lanes get narrower and bike lanes are not exactly plentiful. You’re just waiting for the day that a bike slides on the ice and ends up under the car you’ve been trying to stop for almost a whole city block. Residents of these winter wonderland infrastructure nightmares actively shame anyone who would dare to think about biking on their roads in winter. It’s really very sad.

    Also, when looking at the temperature, you have to consider the temperature the biker will be enduring during their commute, not the average temperature for the day, which on a sunny day could be 5 or even 10 degrees warmer. In the winter here, you can count on commuting to and from work in the dark for at least a month, and certainly not in full daylight for any of the real winter weather. You are on your bike at the coldest, bleakest parts of the day.

    I’m not saying it isn’t possible to bike in the coldest Canadian winter weather, but in cities like mine, it does border on madness – which is very sad indeed. A lot of work needs to be done to make some cities (like mine) bike friendly. I don’t even think every big box store here has a bike rack to lock to – I’ll have to keep my eye out.

    Just for the record, I hate driving, I hate maintaining a vehicle, I hate wasting precious money and natural resources living as if we can treat the entire province like it’s our back yard. I think we all need to wise up to our ridiculous lifestyles, and start living sustainably (environmentally and financially) … but until I can convince dear Husband that we are wasting ridiculous amounts of time and money driving two cars to two jobs that require us to work all over the city, I’m stuck driving. That or I’d have to convince city council to completely overall just about every street with enough traffic to warrant a light at intersections. I think I have better odds at cracking the Husband.

    If anyone has any advice for reducing car travel in places with poor public transit options and poor biking conditions (or for lobbying for changes), I’m all ears.

    Reply
  • Noriko March 10, 2015, 1:51 pm

    Hey! I love your site. I’ve started reading at the first post and made it to here so far. I have a suggestion that might make all your bike info easier to search and access. Make a Q & A section on your site about biking solutions. Simple titles like “Biking on Ice”, “Rain”, “Snow”, “Hot Weather”, “Shopping”, “Commuting”, “Night Riding”, “Hauling”, etc. There are a lot of creative solutions here. While the comments section is great, and I actually do read them all, it takes reading EVERY comment to see if there’s a solution to your particular question. And then you have multiple articles on biking, each with their own comment sections. The Q&A section will kind of repeat what you say in your articles, but it will also be a constantly updated index on all the solutions and easy to search.

    Reply
  • Phil August 1, 2015, 10:01 pm

    I like biking in the snow. Tropical weather is harder :( (no cooling clothes yet)

    Reply
  • TomTrottier August 10, 2015, 12:56 am

    When it gets cold, like -30, take care of your extremities – hands, feet, head, face. Wear goggles & cover your face with a mask or muffler. If you canice ski, you can bike in winter. In fact, even if you can’t! More cold weather bike advice:
    http://www.icebike.org/Articles/Ottawa.htm

    Reply
  • TomTrottier August 10, 2015, 12:58 am

    Be sure to get studded tires, They double the tentative hold on ice patches.

    Reply
  • ray allen August 23, 2015, 4:02 pm

    I agree with your choice of clothing.

    Life experience has taught me to wear insulated snow pants instead of thermal underwear because I can take them off and shove in my desk drawer at work so that I don’t overheat. Military surplus wool glove liners under my mittens let me add and remove layers.

    My girlfriend also insists that I wear an over-sized reflective vest that fits over both my backpack and winter coat. She said that she doesn’t care if it’s not fashionable. She wants me visible to help me keep from becoming a hood ornament.

    Reply
  • David Baker September 14, 2015, 11:09 am

    MMM, I scrolled through most of the comments, not all, so I hope I’m not redundant. I have a 3 mile 1-way commute (peanuts), that I do on an older Trek 2300 road bike. My question: is it ADVISABLE (I know it’s possible) to outfit this bike with grippy tires and ride in the winter. Right now it’s got 700x23s, i think the biggest is would allow would be 28s.

    I’m not much for owning 2 bikes if I don’t have to…

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache September 14, 2015, 4:23 pm

      Hmm, even 28mm is a pretty skinny tire. I guess it depends on what winter looks like in your area. In my area, it would be fine for most of the snowfalls. Where I grew up in Canada, not so much.

      Reply
      • SansNom September 15, 2015, 7:47 am

        I am in a similar situation: I have a road-centric hybrid that I’m looking to ride through the winter for the first time this year. right now the tires are (I think) 700×32. I haven’t measured the fork yet to see what would be the maximum possible width. From your earlier Canadian experience, what is the minimum tire you’d recommend? I’m in Montreal, so winter will be somewhat fierce and the bike lanes are plowed last.

        Reply
  • Don November 9, 2015, 1:19 pm

    Great read. I started commuting by bike last winter (early March) and haven’t stopped since. Being prepared for most any weather is the key I think and don’t over dress. The worst feeling is being sweaty when getting hit with -5F wind in your face. I had a much safer ride on my mountain bike over my road bike. The roads that I drive are suburban roads and there is a lot of slush to push through. Was contemplating grabbing a fatbike this year but I do ride quite a few serious cimbs so decided against it. Anyone have any experience on a fatbike for a commute?

    Reply
  • New Mustachian January 22, 2016, 6:35 pm

    I’m a little late to the MMM party, but I’m reading through the posts from the beginning. This article pushed me over the edge and I finally decided it was time to man up and bike to the grocery store. It’s not far only 2.5 miles, but there are lots of hills and not lots of bike lanes. It was 35 and sleeting, so I figure if I can do it today I can do it any day.

    Reply
  • Francis March 8, 2016, 7:16 am

    I am a bit late to comment, but it took me some time to arrive hear reading through all the posts in chronological manner. Awesome stuff!

    Today, I had to stay home because of some pain in the hip. Light excercise was recommended, like biking or swimming. It started snowing outside. I was sitting in my room, actually feeling cold from all the sitting around, had low energy and extremely little motivation to fight the cold on a bike outside. Especially since I don’t actually bike that often (or good).

    But your posts have motivated me. I assembled some hot clothing (including long underpants – still feel a bit out of place with those). Then I went in to the basement and fixed some stuff on my bike. Note I don’t often fix stuff, so lots of gaffa tape was involved ;) Anyways, I was happy and proud of my fix and the bike was ready to go.

    I ended up riding my bike for an hour and went to a nearby lake and back. At the lake, where in the summer everything is full, two only elderly women were having a nice walk. So, we had the lake mostly for ourselves :)

    The scenery was beautiful, the excercise invigorating, I don’t feel any pain in my hip right now, I am very warm, motivated and awake. I “hate” to admit it, but the whole exercise actually made me pretty happy ;) Wonder why it took me reading through almost the entire moneymoutstache blog to come to this realization.

    Now I will try taking the bike and train to work for a change instead of the car. Just seeing what impact on the time and energy this makes.

    Reply
  • Pete April 14, 2016, 8:54 am

    I’m just getting into the bike to work part and I’m loving it thus far! I am wondering how well the winter portion will go but I do plan to give it a few tries. I’ve never ridden the bikes with the giant inter tires but am going to look into them. Snow isn’t so much of a huge issue with decent tires as you stated but ICE is my worry. We get tons of it here in South Dakota/Minnesota and nothing really handles it that well. I’m very much against people poisoning the water/lawns with salt. Anyone have experience with them on ice? Just curious how well they grip (I’ll still try it either way). Also those temperatures you mention anything above 20* in SD in the winter is shorts/T shirt weather. It’s normally well below 0 with epic wind chills pushing things into the -40 range. Because I want to me a BA like MMM I’m going to give it hell either way!

    Reply
  • John Down May 1, 2016, 2:41 am

    Wish I could post some pictures of my all weather riding for you to see. I have been riding my whole life, never drove a car and never fancied it either. When my first child was coming I built an Asian rickshaw bike for the wife to get around on. (I understand the horror on her face now, but then it just made sense to me). The rickshaw bike was brilliant for those that hated the thought of cycling as I could ride two around in it (with the loss of a lot of puff lol). I have trailers, an xtracycle long tail, rickshaw and other assorted bikes. By son and daughter love the long tail the most as do I because they can interact with me while we ride. That said nothing can beat the trailer for all weather riding, they sit in it side by side playing on the iPad in all weather. My daughter is 6 and son 3 and we have been out in a foot of snow with my son in the trailer and my daughter on a sledge being towed by the trailer and she loved it. (Have a picture I would love to upload). I have preached to people about giving up the car but it is an each to their own. As long as you have warm dry clothes you and your kids can be out in almost any weather having fun.

    Reply
  • JJ Schnabel June 2, 2016, 8:23 am

    Loved your article. I’m new to MMM. I have not checked out REI Outlet but I did get a better deal than $90 at Work and More here in the Seattle area. I believe I paid $60 a few years ago. I bought a construction workers coat essentially. Yes, the highlighter look loses badass points. But I’m frugal and it has worked well for me. The coat has 2 layers, a fleece inner layer and a windbreaker outer layer. Seattle is pretty temperate usually but even when we do dip below freezing this jacket has been perfect.

    On the other hand, I have had enormous problems with gloves, socks and shoes… I finally gave up on winter biking gloves this year for ski gloves. Yes, they are harder to control a bike. But they kept me warm. Socks in hiking boots has still not worked well for me and I’m usually pretty cold on the feet.

    The secondary problem would be organization on the bike. I have lost countless bikelights, gloves even a pair of rainpants on the road.

    Still worth it though.

    Reply
  • Be September 28, 2016, 11:23 am

    Thanks for this post! I have been wondering about how to keep warm and dry in East Coast winters on a bike.
    I have Raynaud’s Disease/Syndrome/Phenomenon (I don’t know why it has so many names but it does) which means that my body overreacts to cold my pulling most of the blood flow from my extremities – Fingers, toes, sometimes up to half my palm and even my nipples (they are the worst part) go white and rubbery. It’s painful, especially as the blood flow returns with all the pins and needles feeling, and potentially dangerous since I could lose body parts if it’s left too long.
    However, this is not something that has stopped me before in my life and it won’t stop me now. I don’t have a bike yet but I’m saving for one. I guess I have some more saving to do for some serious winter gear (my 2nd hand down coat died a slow death of zipper failure then eventually broke completely). Factory Outlets and used clothing stores will be my target.

    Reply
  • Mikey November 21, 2016, 8:44 pm

    You started the lowest temperature category at -12C? That’s cute.

    Reply
    • Scott January 14, 2017, 9:10 pm

      “-12C and below”

      He started it at absolute zero. -12C is the upper end of the first category.

      Reply
  • Lucy December 27, 2016, 11:04 pm

    MMM,
    I noticed you don’t have any shoe cages on your bike pedals! It really helps to get more bang for your leg-pumping bucks. I found mine for $1 each in a bin at my local bike shop. Give them a go, you won’t regret it.
    Lucy

    Reply
  • FMaz January 14, 2017, 12:04 am

    “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.”

    Yeahh!
    I have to say, I might be above the 60th, but I’m still under the Arctic Circle, therefore I don’t even consider my own Winters to be that bad…

    The only issue with Chariot-type bike trailers is that when it’s bellow -40 (Celcius), the plastic cover/windows crack right out. Well, anything plastic-based become very fragile…

    Not sure how the hydrolic in a bike would survive. (Brake fluid, suspension, etc), or if the tires would survive.

    Most people walk or drive, but unbranded Fat Bikes are starting to become popular… as long as it’s not -60, in which case you need too much thermal insulation to be able to manoeuver a bicycle, which require some dexterity (brake, pedalling, etc)

    Reply
  • Raegan March 14, 2017, 3:59 pm

    Okay, I am doing a post to give some ideas for the other ladies out there biking (or avoiding biking) in the winter. There are some biological differences between women and men that are relevant in cold weather. I know we want everything to be equal, but then there is science…
    Women have colder extremities because we keep more heat in our core. The thought is that this protects the developing fetus. Like most things there is a trade-off here. We develop frostbite faster than men. Men develop hypothermia and therefore die quicker than women. Anyway, protection against the elements, especially for our extremities is very important for us.
    I’m sure you already know this, but fingers and toes are very susceptible. One key tip in regards to this is the limbs. If the blood is already chilled from coursing below your fashionable, but scantily clad legs, your toes are more likely to feel cold. The same applies to your arms (and your torso) for your fingers. So ladies, as MMM says wear enough clothes. I actually love biking in the winter because I can layer and be completely comfortable and strip down when I arrive to work and be very fashionable even if there is slush/water on the road.
    For us ladies though, taking additional measures will be necessary. I live in Wyoming, so my advice is going to be targeted to this environment. Also, I have not biked below 10 degrees yet, as I haven’t been a Mustachian for the entire winter. My commute is 1.1 miles, so perhaps if you have a longer haul you will need more layers.
    For hands, gloves are good. However, I started complaining about how cold my hands were in November and my husband said, “oh, you need bar mitts.” (He bought a set to go mtn biking with some friends on one occasion [clearly pre-mustachianism].) Amazing invention. They are made out of neoprene and are specific to the type of handles you have (road vs mtn). The reviews online say to go a size or two bigger, I followed this and it worked for me. For gloves I can usually (until about 20 F) get by with just a glove liner and my cycling gloves (certainly not Mustachian approved, but they have gel and are comfy and I had them before the cult). In really cold weather I will wear a thicker glove (10 to 20 F) and a glove liner (below 10 F).
    For feet, well I haven’t had any issue with my feet at all and I live in slippers at home. I usually wear my bike shoes, they are kind of clunky (made of leather or pleather) and have a big chunk of metal in the bottom. In bad conditions I ride my mtn bike and wear my ‘fashion’ boots. They have fake wool inside which is really warm (so much so, that I have begun ripping it out in recent weeks so that I can continue wearing them despite the changing temperatures [I certainly can’t afford another pair of boots if I haven’t reached financial independence yet]. I am thinking at some point, I will find a temperature at which my feet get too cold. When this happens, I have a cache of wool socks that I have used for other activities (i.e., snow kiting) for this purpose with great results.
    Head protection, I usually just wear one of those 180 ear muff things because it doesn’t interfere with my helmet. Under about 15F I need to get a thin cap, my helmet is adjustable so this shouldn’t be an issue. One thing that I read from someone else is a sort of balaclava. I think I have some yarn at home and I can arm knit so that is my plan for next winter. I have used a scarf for my neck and lower face. Also, I biked once in pretty hard snow and it was getting in my eyes. So I will use ski goggles if in similar conditions again , you could also use this for warmth (they have different colored lenses, so it wouldn’t have to be sun protection in the winter darkness). It is already warming up here though. Best of luck with your human powered commutes in all conditions.

    Reply
  • Stephan May 5, 2017, 3:09 pm

    Hey MMM,

    Just wanted to shout a “Hello” from Portland, Oregon — I first came across your website last fall when researching other folks’ strategy to get through the winter on a bike, and since then have really enjoyed your many great posts.

    I have a door to door bike commute of 4.5 miles one-way, which is great, but we have our children up in a daycare that roughly doubles that distance (our older one will start Kindergarten in the fall three blocks away and we are transferring our younger one to a closer daycare). I bike the kids to daycare and back half of the week every week, except for two weeks where the streets were full of ice and I could not ride a bike on them. One time in February a friend asked me whether I would want to switch to a car, and my response was: “I would have to get paid for it!” Portland gets rainy and dark in the winter, and the best way to stay healthy and happy is to be OUTSIDE, and having an hour+ of outside time baked into my daily schedule is one easy way to do it.

    One tip for others who contemplate riding a bike with kids in the winter: lots of blankets and a warm water bottle.

    With respect to my own winter wardrobe, I use wool in the winter. Lots of rain here, and wool is just great for that. In the winter, I combine 1-2 cotton undershirts with 1 sweater, maybe another wool shirt, a wool jacket and a scarve. I got most of the clothes used and I always look stylish on my bike. For some reason, people think that you need to wear modern “functional” clothes when stepping outside for a minute — quite a few folks asked me where my rain coat is and seemed puzzled when I told them that my wool coat is a perfectly fine for the rain — as if traditional clothes were not functional. After all, they were designed by our ancestors who spent hours outside every day!

    Reply

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