Some things I re-learned after a year off from winter bike commuting.
One of my favorite things about bike commuting during the winter is that I learn something new about myself every time I ride, whether it’s how to properly bike through slush or what layers to wear. I like to think I am a seasoned winter biker, but I really only have one full winter under my belt since we started working from home in March of 2020. So when I got back on my bike to head to the grocery store after a big snowstorm this past December, I was reminded of the many nuances and joys of biking during the winter.
There are a lot of different things to know about biking for transportation during the winter, but this piece will focus on one of my particularly snowy rides. For more comprehensive winter biking guidance, check out our winter riding checklist list.
I took this particular ride to the grocery store on a Sunday without any time constraints but realized a few minutes in that the trip would take me a little longer than usual. Biking through fresh, powdery snow is fun, but the snow coupled with lower pressure in my bike’s tires made this ride more of a slog. Lower tire pressure allowed more of my tires to contact the road surface and prevent me from slipping, but it also meant I had to put in a little extra effort to spin my wheels.
In addition to the rolling resistance, there are sections of every winter bike ride that I purposefully take a little slower. For instance, I always take my turns slower and wider than usual during the winter, even if the road looks clear. I like the feeling of having more time to react and put a foot down if I feel like I am starting to slip. In practice, this meant I was moving at a snail’s pace turning right out of the store’s barely-plowed parking lot, but I was able to get up to a regular speed on the straightaway road afterward.
Like the store’s parking lot, most of the roads on my errand route were snow or slush-covered. Some snowy spots were unavoidable and I did find myself fishtailing a little bit, but staying calm and keeping my handlebars as straight as possible worked just fine to keep me rubber-side down. In other spots along the way, I took the full lane of the road to avoid really chunky ice or unplowed sections of the bike lane. By staying aware of the vehicular traffic and scanning my surroundings, I had time to signal my movements to and from the bike lane to avoid these hazards.
When it came to clothing and gear, I realized (again) that I needed different layer combinations for different temperatures and conditions. Of all the nuances of winter biking, this is the lesson I always re-learn. On this post-storm, clear and 250 day, a long-sleeve flannel and puffy jacket proved to be a bit too warm for my core during my ride. I had forgotten the all-important practice of wearing multiple layers and accessories (gloves, thin hat, buff) that can be added and removed as needed to regulate my temperature. One piece of clothing I did get right: waterproof shoes! My bike has fenders to keep my clothes clean and dry on wet winter days, but there isn’t really a fender equivalent for feet. I always opt for leather Chelsea boots or duck boots that can handle the dirt and moisture of a winter bike ride.
There are a lot of ways that I find joy from a bike ride in the winter. Being outside and taking in the beautiful scenery of fresh snowfall while getting one of my weekend chores done was very gratifying. Additionally, the necessary focus on my surroundings and behaviors while biking meant I wasn’t thinking about stressors like the news or the notifications on my phone.
But the best part of getting groceries by bike in the snow was feeling accomplished and excited about an everyday task that is usually mundane. Using just a bike, the air in my lungs and the energy of my body to bring home a week’s worth of food for my household was special and empowering.
No winter bike ride will ever be perfect, but there is always something to learn and something joyful to take away from it.
Calvin and Hobbes comic from https://workingbikes.org/2020/11/07/