A Secret to Winter Bike Commuting

Here is a secret to winter bike commuting: it’s not that bad. If you look closely at the individual days that make up winter, you’ll see that most of them are pretty nice. Sure, sometimes the windchill is -20 and sometimes a foot of snow falls, but the time between the extreme days is perfectly fine for bike commuting.

Riding in Wicker Park

This week served as a good example. After Monday’s light rain, the temperatures fell but stayed above 0. On Wednesday morning my commute temperature was 7 degrees. Sounds cold, right? I wore the same outfit I put on in my winter dressing video and was hot and sweaty by the time I got to work. On Thursday the temperature rose to over 30 degrees. I wore a vintage dress with a chunky wool cardigan over it and was plenty warm. Through all of this my studded tires went, “clackityclackclickclacky” on the dry pavement, but I didn’t mind – I love dry pavement! And a bonus of winter commuting is that I don’t get sweaty helmet hair.

Oma the Optimist soaks up the sun

Just for the fun of it, I’ll end with some images from my visits to Dutch Bike Chicago and Copenhagen Cyclery earlier this month.  Bike love!

Santa's Azor

Vive, better than a Lexus

My dream living room

Novel bike storage

Abici or Art?

Bern, Basil and Baskets

Helmets: making my head look even bigger since 2008

I’m considering buying this winter Bern Muse helmet, but in the hot pink color. The purple is sophisticated, but the pink has good visibility and it would match the pink suede gloves from last winter I’ve reverted to wearing. On the other hand, I don’t really need another pricey Bern winter helmet. Thoughts? Anyone out there have different helmets for different moods? So far I have only two.

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33 thoughts on “A Secret to Winter Bike Commuting

  1. Brian says:

    I agree, most days it’s nice driving in winter. The only thing that scares the beejeezers out of me is getting hit by an out-of-control 4000 pound rusty Buick. Nice living room….is that a bike shop??

    • dottie says:

      I’m always scared of getting hit by a 4000 pound something, not any more so in the winter since the roads are plowed and salted.

      Yes, that picture is of Dutch Bike Chicago. The first 3 are from there and the last 3 are from Copenhagen Cyclery. Both are really beautiful.

    • Catherine says:

      I think it totally depends on where you live. When I lived in Massachusetts, I don’t think I’d have even really considered an out of control rusty Buick–ever yone drove just fine on the snow (and this was in the foothills of the Berkshires, too–long windy hilly roads).

      Here, in Washington, DC/Northern Virginia—-that’s all I can think about when anything “not rain” comes out of the sky. I walked my bike home in the snow last night (we’re having a major storm by most people’s standards, which is an all-out blizzard for DC) because even the “plowed” streets were too messy and the sidewalks hadn’t been addressed yet. When standing on street corners waiting to cross, I stayed a good three feet back from the curb, to give myself more time to jump out of the way should a car spin out and come barreling up the sidewalk. Totally within the realm of possibility.

      We’ve got about a foot or so (maybe less) and it’s still going strong and is supposed to stay this way all day. I’m beyond excited (but staying off the roads!)

  2. Lucas says:

    It really isn’t so bad… the temps in the Boston area have been between the single digits and mid-20s for a few days now, and the only real trouble I have had is when it’s really windy (and that wind is not a tail wind ;) You do have to be somewhat mentally prepared for it, but it’s totally ride-able. I suspect my biggest difficulty Winter commuting will be if we get a lot of snow and the roads become too icy or obstructed.

    Here’s to it being too cold to snow!!

  3. Steve A says:

    This time of year, it’s nice to be in North Texas and not need to pay attention to this studded tire stuff. If there’s ice, everyone stays home. Our extreme days are the ones under freezing and windy.

  4. Doug D says:

    Most of the people who say they can’t bike in the snow/cold have never tried it.

  5. Lucas says:

    Oh… and to answer your question; I just have one helmet that I use for all types of cycling. It’s nice that it has the adjustable head thing so I can go from wearing no hat in the Summer, to a light cap in the Spring and Fall, to my warm wool hat in the Winter.

    But it is getting old… :/

  6. those helmets look great! i need to search for one when i’m back in the city over break.

    and this week has been great for biking!

  7. Jen says:

    Bike helmets are my weakness in my biking life, although Po Campo bags, Basil bags and Patagonia winter woolies are also up there. I bought the Bern Muse in purple and thought it was the helmet for me until I tried a Bern Berkeley and found it to be a perfect fit. It’s a personal thing I guess but I prefer the Berkeley as it is incredibly light-weight and I like feeling that the back of my head is completely covered. I have it in black and like it so much that I am getting it in gloss white with a winter knit too. (The white one is much more visible of course.) The Bern Muse will be donated to my local bike charity where I hope someone with a Muse shaped head will adopt it as their perfect bike helmet.

  8. Anne Hawley says:

    Gorgeous bike shops! And doesn’t Oma look pretty posing in the dawn light?

    I find it hard to justify more than one helmet. I wear a Nutcase all-sports helmet. I can stuff an Icebreaker beanie under it for really cold days, and a billed cap for rainy ones. But I’m seriously thinking about giving it the Yakkay treatment. How hard could it be, right?

    I agree with you 100% about winter cycling. It’s sunny and mild this morning in Portland. It will be logged as a day of rain, and I might get wet riding home later, but right now, I’ve got perfect cycling weather.

  9. Scott says:

    I think the Bern helmets are rad.

    With respect to winter riding, I will take a colder day in the 20’s with nice sun and low wind as my perfect commuting weather.

  10. That is a seriously well-stocked bike shop! So many nice panniers and baskets and other accessories in the background, not to mention the bikes themselves! I am also impressed that those colourful modern bike-hanging thingies can apparently hold up heavy Dutch bikes?

    I am not much help on the topic of how many helmets to own, since I don’t wear one. I do own a Bern Berkley, which I love the looks of. I also really like some Bell helmets – my neighbor has a shiny red one that is just beautiful. As for the one you were trying on, personally I like the deep purple better than the hot pink – but that’s a matter of taste!

  11. I’d go with the purple, no question, especially because it looks more royal than lavander. While the pink my get more peoples attention, some of that might be scorn, if it clashes with the rest of your outfit. ;^)

    One nice thing about cold temps, it feels great when it warms up.

    My commuting has been hampered because one of the suburbs(Golden Valley) I ride through doesn’t plow their trails. I have had to take a detour around it, that puts me on a road I thought I’d said goodbye to when they finished the trail. I’m going be pestering them about it, in hopes of changing their ways. Thankfully, the next suburb out,Plymouth, takes care of their trails or I’d be screwed. They were listed by Forbes as the best city in the country this year. I couldn’t tell you why, but plowing the trails should be a criteria.

  12. Ann says:

    I agree that the bike store is wonderful. The town I retired to has a sporting goods store that has a few bikes and accessories in stock during warm weather. This time of year everything they stock relates to camping, hunting or fishing.

    Next spring, I’m planning on traveling back east via Amtrak to visit friends and family and I’ll be changing lines in Chicago. I will be staying in the Windy City overnight so I may just need to check out this store in person, if I have the time. I love the styling of traditional step-through bicycles the Dutch use. They’re beautiful and practical for those of us who’d like to wear a skirt or dress while cycling.

  13. cycler says:

    I was just wrestling with the helmet issue the other night at REI- there was a burgundy gloss one on sale 40% off, and in my size. After a bit of soul searching I decided that although I’d like another bern helmet, I’d prefer one of the ones with a brim and vents- I think it’s the Watts. I have a summer helmet with lots of swooshy vents for July and August, but would prefer something with more dignity.

  14. Christa says:

    Yes, winter cycling is just a matter of having proper attire – gloves, hat, boots, and rain coat. Your winter video is very inspiring.

    Copenhagen Cyclery looks like a beautiful store. Love the hardwood floors and lighting!

  15. Anne says:

    I’ll take cold and ice and snow over rain any day.

    Are the Bern helmets heavy? Our daughter has one (not sure which model) and it’s super heavy…more so than her ski helmet. Though I do like the idea of built in insulation.

    Like Anne Hawley, I wear a nutcase with a hat…works great and I can vary the hat layer.

  16. E A says:

    I’m all for anything that helps with visibility!

    I miss my bike all this past week!!!

  17. Ira says:

    Great video, I missed it the first time round. Have you seen Gin Kilgore’s “winter striptease”? She demonstarates how to dress for winter, in reverse.

  18. John Nelson says:

    People tell me I’m crazy to cycle in the winter. I tell them it’s all about layering. Today I started my ride in a light t-shirt, I hit a slight downhill and the wind chill started to give me goosebumps. Fortunately I had packed a light sweater in my panniers. Stopped, put it on and voila no more goosebumps. I sacrificed a bit of style as my sweater didn’t exactly match my shorts but really it’s the best way to beat the brutal winters here in SoCal. It was about 79F today.

  19. LC says:

    Lovely bike shops!! We saw some really boutique like ones in Copenhagen… but Manchester is not too bad either ;)

    One question… I am paranoid that I get cold around the neck and chest area, when I cycle to work, so I end up wrapping up so much that I do sweat. Not a huge problem in itself as I can freshen up in the office, but I wonder if I am being seriously super paranoid?????

    How do you gage the levels of layers and cover to keep warm but not sweat? Or am I asking a million dollar question????

    Thanks ;) L x

    http://www.wheredorootsbelong.wordpress.com

    • Brian says:

      It’s better to over-dress than under-dress, if you start to sweat, you can always take clothes off. A sweater under a nylon jacket, mittens, wool hat, and wool socks work well for me.

    • Trisha says:

      Have you tried a silk, bamboo or wool scarf? With those materials you don’t sweat as much — and when you do sweat, you won’t smell as bad. :)

  20. Carinthia says:

    Ooh, the Basil Bag! I do love that particular design you have on your Oma. I’m thinking of getting that shopper for myself. How do you find it to use? Can you fit a fair bit in it? Or have you only just bought it at that wonderfully-stocked shop?

    It’s summer where I am. The trouble is keeping cool enough! So helmets make for sweaty riding. I love the colour of the one you’re trying on though.

  21. Karen says:

    Your post is timely for me. I managed to take advantage of a break in the weather recently to get back on my bike – and wore a skirt as well. I stayed perfectly warm once I got pedaling and have learned that on the really cold days I can avoid walking into work with mascara streaming down my cheeks by simply applying my eye makeup at work.

    I love the Basil saddlebags, by the way. I recently received a gift certificate for being a good customer at Absolute Bikes and plan to use it to order the Twig saddlebag.

  22. Great blog!

    My challenge with winter bike commuting has been keeping my long, skinny fingers warm. What eventually seemed to work for me was to alter my diet to focus more on warming foods and spices in the winter. I explain more on my own bike blog.

  23. Steven Vance says:

    Don’t you already have a Bern helmet with the winter ear covers?

    To everyone: Make sure when ordering Bern helmets that you get one with Zipmold or EPS foam. The “hardhat” or Brock foam does not meet safety standards. You might as well wear a big wig.

  24. Dottie says:

    @Steven Vance – Um, yes. But it is not purple and does not have a built-in brim. You are being too logical ;)

    Great point about the hard hat. The first Bern I ordered online – that looked exactly like the one I have now – was actually a hard hat and after reading the tag carefully I realized it was not rated for cycling and exchanged it for the proper helmet.

  25. Steven Vance says:

    The secret to winter bike commuting… there is no secret!

  26. […] snowy, icy winters, those of us in the south should have no issues   Check out these posts about winter cycling  from Dottie at Let’s Go Ride a Bike.  She makes it sound so […]

  27. Kathy says:

    Hi Trisha and Dottie~
    I am thrilled to have found your site/blog!
    I am in Boulder, Colorado and planning to go car-free. Your site is wonderful, especially with the videos and pictures. The video and pics on winter cycling are in particular so wonderful–the only thing I’ve found online that actually addresses cycling in winter in such a visual/personal/practical sort of way. Thanks so much for this site/blog!
    And if you can do winter cycling, especially in Chicago, I can do it in Boulder Colorado.
    Thanks again for so much inspiration and practical info! Kathy

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