Those of us who are commuting through the winter engage in a daily balancing act: the balance between being freezing cold or burning hot. We are our own test pilots conducting thermal retention and aerodynamics tests on every ride. Here is my typical morning conundrum:
If it’s 24 degrees with no wind I can get away with shirt “A”, but if the wind is up I will need to wear arm warmers underneath. If it dips below 24 degrees when I get to the creek (which it will) I will need to put a skull cap over my balaclava. Yesterday I couldn’t feel my pinkies after the creek. When I climb the next hill my head may overheat and I'll get nauseous. Whatever, I will loose the skull cap and hammer at the creek to keep my heart rate up, then take it easy up the hill. But if I still have my arm warmers on at that point I may be soaked in sweat by the time I get to the office. How much of a shower can I get away with in the bathroom sink? That’s it! I am going to buy shirt “B” after work.
Does this sound familiar? This is just one aspect of the many elements that we test pilots have to consider before each ride.
Here are a few tips for winter commuters:
Will vary based on fitness and type of commute.
Seek the Flats
If possible find an alternate winter route that has the fewest hills. I know I know, where is the fun in that? When riding below the freezing mark it is important to maintain your body temp. If you are constantly climbing and descending your temp will fluctuate. Climbing will raise your temp like crazy when you are layered and you will be soaked in sweat just in time for that big cold descent. A flat ride gives you more control over you core temperate.
Lights Lights Lights
Embrace your inner Christmas tree. Multiple rear lights are a good thing. Put lights all over the place just be mindful of oncoming riders.
Be prepared to Escalate
Always carry your next layer in case you get into trouble. I have a rain jacket and Gore-Tex pants in a pannier for that “what if” moment. What if I get a flat and loose all my body heat while changing it? What if it gets really freakin cold? What if it starts to rain?
Stash Your Non-Cycling Clothes
Leave what you can at work. If you can get away with it designate a pair of “work shoes” that you leave at work. This way you won’t have to shuttle them back and forth. Also stashing an extra sweater or jacket in your desk is helpful when you have to leave the building during work hours. There is nothing like going to a work lunch with only your wind stopper shell to protect you.
When shopping for the ultimate winter protection splurging may be warranted. There is no substitute for being prepared in cold weather and just think of all the money you are saving on gas! That being said I got one of my favorite winter shirts for $12 bucks during a summer sale.
Ice is Dirty
If you ride in the snow, ice will accumulate on your bike. Mixing with all the mud salt and road crap it will become a nasty frozen stew. A stew that will melt all over the carpet the second you bring it indoors. This does not make for a happy HR department. Unless you have a safe place to let the bike drip dry you may need to bring a hard plastic bristle brush like a chain cleaning brush to remove the ice before entering the office.