The Ultimate Bike Commuter’s Guide to Winter Cycling

Riding your bike to work is easy when the sun is shining, birds are chirping, and a warm (but not too warm) breeze is tickling your cheeks. We get about 3 of those days per year in Boston. I kid, I kid. Sorta.

As the days grow shorter and the mercury plummets, I’m joined by fewer and fewer hearty souls on our epic journeys towards gainful employment.

Where do they all go, those sweet summer children? Whether by bus, subway, car or uber (don’t gasp, I know people who take uber to work every day!) these fair-weather bike commuters are missing an essential part of our shared cycling  experience… and paying for the privilege!

Here’s a secret my fellow winter biking warriors don’t want to let out: Bike commuting in the winter isn’t that tough. And when you show up at work with icicles in your whiskers (or your ponytail), your coworkers will look at you like you’re some sort of fearsome Visigoth raider rising out of the mist. Instant badass. Or they’ll think you’re insane. Either can play to your advantage.

Mr. FW or Visigoth Raider?

Mr. FW or Visigoth Raider?

What do you need to know in order to become a winter bike commuter? How to be safe and how to keep warm. Let’s start with safety.

BTW, when I link to products in this post, if they’re sold by Amazon I’ll use an affiliate link. This means if you buy something, Amazon gives us a percentage… which we promptly use to buy anchovies for Frugal Hound. I’m kidding. Kinda. She loves her ‘chovies.

Safety

Take the lane

The sad truth is that many bike lanes disappear in the winter underneath piles of plowed snow. My route to work has nearly 80% bike lane coverage in the summertime. In the snowy months, I’m lucky if I see a bike lane for a block.

The only safe way to ride in the winter once the heavy snow starts is to take the lane. Don’t try and crowd the snow banks to make room for traffic. Cyclists have the right to take the entire lane on city streets when it’s not safe to ride on the side. Cars may not appreciate it, but it’s the law.

Oh, and that wonderful bike path you bucolically pedal all summer? Chances are your city puts all their money towards plowing and salting the auto roads and none towards making the bike paths passable. Go write your city councilor about it right now. Back? Ok, let’s continue.

Make no sudden moves

Similar to driving a car, biking on snowy or icy pavement requires that you think ahead.

Anticipate when you’ll need to brake and start much earlier than you would in the summer. Remember, even if the pavement is dry, the salt and sand on the road might be slippery.

When making a turn in an icy spot, consider slowing nearly to a stop. You want to maintain an erect posture and avoid leaning into the turn. Staying upright keeps the main grippy part of your tires in full contact with the road surface.

You’ll quickly learn you can glide over really slick spots as long as you’re going straight. Turns are what’ll get you.

My Marin Bike

My Marin bike: One of the 10 Shockingly Expensive Things We Own

Be visible

Here in Boston it’s completely dark by 5pm most of the winter. You need to be lit up like the National Lampoon Christmas tree.

All parts of you should be flashing a near-blinding cadence that pierces even the most drowsy and careless driver’s retina.

At the bare minimum, you need a front white flasher and a back red flasher. Ideally you have side flashers too–the type that clip into your spokes work well. I have a rear flasher that also has LEDs on the side, which does the same job. Here are the front light and rear light that I have, but any will do just fine in the city.

Make sure to change the batteries on a schedule! I swap my alkalines out every month in the winter. The cold really reduces their life, and you won’t always notice when your lights are getting slightly dimmer.

Rely on your eyes

Winter muffles sound. Snow banks absorb reflected noise, and freshly fallen snow can dampen the hum of approaching cars. Most distressingly, any method of keeping your ears warm will further silence the environmental auditory cues that help you stay safe.

The only way to counteract this is to be an active looker. It’s tempting to rely on your sense of sound when making split second decisions about whether to merge, turn, or other potentially dangerous movements–especially when the amount of clothing you’re wearing makes it harder to physically turn your head. But it’s critically important to swivel your neck to check for hazards!

Clothes

In action

In action

Keeping warm is only 1/3 of the battle in winter cycling. The other equally important components are staying dry and keeping the wind off your skin.

Complicating matters is the dramatic difference in the amount of heat your body will generate midway through your ride vs. the first couple of minutes. I have a rule: If I’m not cold when I first start pedaling… I need to take off a layer. You should be uncomfortably cold for the first 5 minutes or so, or you’ll be sweating like a pig by the middle of your ride.

I wouldn’t be a frugality blogger if I didn’t note: You don’t need a bunch of specialized clothing to bike in the winter!

Seriously! Start with what you have on hand, and then supplement as needed. My wardrobe listed here has been built up over 7 years of bike commuting in winter. I didn’t go out and buy it all at once. The one exception? Those bike lights I talked about earlier. You must have a pair of lights if you’re biking after dark. Full stop, no exceptions. In many places it’s the law.

Remember the children’s stretching song “head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes!)”?  That’s the basic framework of the clothing section. We’ll start at the top and work our way down.

Head

The key here is keeping the wind away and not as much about insulation. I switch up my head gear as the temperature drops.

From 45-55 degrees, I’ll wear a headband that covers my ears. This keeps my ears from getting cold while ensuring I don’t overheat. It fits nicely below the level of my helmet. I have the older version of this OR headband. Mine doesn’t have the OR label plastered all over the front, but I think I paid more for it… so, progress?!

From 30-45 degrees, I wear a thin wool skullcap that breathes really well but increases the warmth factor vs. the headband. It’s thin, so it easily fits under my helmet without needing to re-adjust. I have the Icebreaker beanie. Even though it’s wool, it’s merino wool… so no itchiness!

Below 30 degrees, I wear a windproof, lined, fleece hat that comes deep over my forehead and down my neck.  It completely covers my ears. It’s bulky enough that my helmet requires adjusting, but it’s really warm and absolutely windproof. I’ve had this Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon hat for years. In the deep winter, I wear it every day. It’s 100% worth the money and Mrs. FW, after making fun of my pronouncements of this hat’s glory for years, finally broke down and got one for herself. She bought it, gasp, new! And she loves it. These are the hats we wear when hiking too.

Hound_BikeHat

Frugal Hound: my helpful hat model

Below 10 degrees, I add the thin wool cap under my windproof fleece hat for the ultimate winter warmer. Any higher than 10 degrees and it’s a recipe for insta-sweat.

Eyes

I think eyes are the most bedeviling clothing challenge in winter cycling. Visibility is important for safety, but in sub-freezing temperatures your eyes can easily dry out and become irritated. Not to mention freezing tears streaked down the side of your face. Fun times!

Sunglasses: I have a pair of wrap-around sunglasses that I wear year round during the day. In the winter, they work down to 20 degrees or so. They keep the wind and sun out of my eyes, and the best part is that they were free! They’re the glasses the LASIK doctor gave Mrs. FW after her surgery almost 2 years ago. Shatter resistant, full UVA and UVB protection, what’s not to love! Seriously though, don’t spend a ton of money on sunglasses for riding–just get a cheap wraparound pair. It’s the wraparound part that is important.

Clear glasses: Sunglasses are great for the morning ride, but it’s pitch black by 5pm and your eyes still need protection from the wind. A set of clear glasses cuts the wind while allowing you to see. Safety goggles or shooting glasses work fine if you don’t have corrective lenses to fill this niche. I wear a cheap pair of safety glasses. I look like a dork, but it works great!

Ski goggles: When the mercury drops below 15 degrees, the air coming around the edges of the sunglasses and clear glasses becomes a real problem. You only have to freeze your eyelashes together once to realize that something is wrong (ask me how I know this…). I use a cheap pair of ski goggles (actually ATV goggles) to achieve perfect cozy eye protection. They aren’t super well made, but they are really cheap and I don’t use them that often.

Face

There’s a fine line between “rosy” cheeks and “windburned” cheeks. When the temp is below freezing, I usually add face protection to the clothing list. I have a couple of different options:

Hark! My beard on a hike.

Hark! My beard on a hike.

Beard: The natural option for menfolk. This is the origin story of my beard. I was cold last winter and didn’t feel like shaving. Not an option for the follicularly challenged.

Balaclava: This keeps me warm, but produces major fogging difficulties with my protective eyewear. While you’re moving it works OK, but at stoplights my glasses or goggles get completely fogged almost instantly. Not fun, and not safe. I think I got my balaclava from a used gear sale at some point, and I can’t find it now to see what brand it is. In any case, last winter I gave it up in favor of…

Face mask: My neoprene facemask is a great combo with my windproof fleece hat. It’s easily adjustable and has better ventilation than the balaclava, which means my eyewear doesn’t fog as much. Getting this was one of the “aha!” moments of winter biking. It makes a huge difference! This Seirus Neofleece is what I have. Mrs. FW owns the same one and we wear these for winter hiking as well.

Torso

The torso is a tricky sartorial situation. Many winter coats are both too restricting of movement and too insulative to be useful while biking. With all of these options, the key is to manage your heat level. If you feel yourself getting slightly too warm, zip down the jacket to let in some breeze. It’s always better to be slightly chilly than to start sweating and get clammy.

Light windproof jacket: Above 45 degrees, I wear a long sleeve shirt and what amounts to a fancy windbreaker. Its only real purpose is to keep the wind from chilling while allowing enough heat to come off my body to prevent sweating. It sounds simple, but it’s one of my favorite pieces of clothing. It adds the perfect amount of comfort to a wide range of temperatures. In the summer, it’s always stuffed in my bag in case of cool evenings. This is the Marmot Driclime Windshirt that I have in high-vis orange, which I highly recommend. You can’t be too visible as a biker!

Hound_BikeCoat

Frugal Hound shows off my day-glo orange windbreaker

Windproof fleece stretch coat: Below 45 degrees I switch to my windproof, stretchy fleece jacket. It does a great job of holding in the heat and preventing the wind from cutting through. It’s also quite water resistant and great for shedding snow. My favorite part is the stretch in the fabric. It makes a huge difference in comfort while biking. I’d love to recommend my beloved jacket to you, but it appears the REI Neo is now discontinued. I looked around on their site and didn’t find an obvious successor, which is too bad because I really like the jacket. When trying on jackets, definitely check the movement and stretchability. If possible, try it on while sitting on a bike. Make sure your arms can comfortably extend forward and that the jacket covers your lower back. Nothing worse than a chilly crack!

Wool shirt: My standard outfit in the winter includes a nice thick wool shirt. One of my shirts is quilted wool (purchased at Goodwill for $3), and I try to wear that on the coldest day of the week. If I didn’t have a closet full of warm shirts, I’d probably use another fleece layer for insulation under my jacket. As it is, on all but the coldest mornings I don’t need to supplement. My wool shirts are all from thrift stores, where everyone should buy their wool shirts. Already softened somewhat by wear and washing, new wool shirts don’t compare. Don’t get me started on the price comparison.

Wool base layer: On those coldest mornings, say 10 degrees and under, I add a base layer of merino wool. It’s nuclear furnace warm, and extremely comfortable. This is my standard base layer when winter hiking, but it’s normally too warm for biking. Some days though, it’s just right. I have this Icebreaker wool base layer. I got it on clearance in the spring one year, and it was totally worth the $50 I paid. Honestly, after using it for a couple of years, I’d pay retail price if I needed another one. It’s remarkably warm, and Mrs. FW loves it because no matter how much I perspire in it… I don’t smell! It’s magic!

Hands

Our hands present the double whammy of needing dexterity and also having a high surface area that cools rapidly. I haven’t found the perfect solution, but what I do works fine.

Glove liners: In cool weather I wear a pair of light glove liners. They aren’t particularly windproof, but they are extremely close fitting so I can easily brake and change gears. They’re a no-name brand and I think I got them out of a bin at Walmart at some point? Just get some cheap, thin, skin-tight gloves.

Windproof mittens: In colder weather I add a heavy, windproof mitten. Why not heavy gloves? I can’t keep my hands warm enough even in thick gloves. The mittens allow my fingers to pool their warmth. And really, all you need is your thumb and hand to brake and change gears. It’s clumsy, but it works. My mittens are from REI, but it doesn’t look like they carry them anymore. In any case, just look for mittens that are insulated and windproof. Mrs. FW has a similar pair and they do double duty as hiking mittens for us. No wool fashion mittens here!

Mittens on the left, gloves on the right

Mittens on the left, gloves on the right

Legs

Honestly, my legs are an afterthought when it comes to clothing for winter biking. They are generating plenty of heat, and I don’t really feel cold in my legs like I do in the rest of my body. So normally I just wear whatever pants I’m wearing to the office. Jeans, mostly. If it gets really cold, I’ll add:

Long underwear: This is the nuclear option. Warm, but somehow that extra pants layer really adds a ton of awkwardness and resistance to pedaling. It’s a last resort, but sometimes necessary. I have a pair of 100% polyester long johns that seems to work OK. Not sure of the brand, I’ve had them for a long time. Avoid cotton long underwear since it gets clammy when wet.

Windproof pants: These are cheap pullover rain pants that do a decent job of breaking the wind and keeping slush off my regular pants. I’ll wear these if it’s wet, but won’t bother if it’s just cold and dry. I have these Sierra Designs pants, which I got for $22 about a year ago, so you might want to wait for a sale.

Socks

You gotta go wool and you gotta go tall. I have some older Smartwool socks that are still going strong, though I’ve heard that newer Smartwool isn’t as well made. My recent sock purchases have been Darn Tough, and they’re constructed similarly to the old school Smartwools. Either way, make sure they come well up your calf so your leg is protected from drafts around the cuff of your pants.

Shoes

Your shoes need to be windproof. Those athletic trainers you wore all summer won’t cut it in the winter–wind’ll rip right through them and you’ll get numb toes. I wear a goretex hiking shoe (Merrell Moab) because I already had them for hiking, but they might be overkill for just biking. You could go with just a leather shoe. The important aspect is making sure they’re impervious to wind and water.

Why Bother?

Why bike to work all through the notorious Boston winters? Let me count the reasons why bike commuting is awesome:

  • Biking is the fastest way to get to work from my house. Biking is a 12-22 minute commute depending on traffic. T (subway) is 45 minutes. Bus is 45 minutes. Car is 20-30 minutes depending on traffic. I don’t like to waste time, especially in the mornings.
  • I need to exercise anyway, might as well combine exercise with commuting. I definitely hit it harder in the evenings since I don’t need to worry about being too sweaty at the end of my ride, but even in the morning it’s a decent workout.
  • It’s a focused way to start and end the day. On my ride to work I review my mental task list. On my ride home I decompress.
  • Bike commuting saves a bunch of money. A monthly transit pass costs $75 (which is $900 per year). My bike cost $500 7 years ago, and is still going strong. I spend about $50/year on maintenance supplies, and probably average about $50/year on gear.

Every dollar saved puts us that much closer to our goal of financial independence. And the real key to reaching this goal isn’t just counting every single dollar we spend (which we do), it’s putting your life on frugal autopilot, which is exactly what biking does. Bike commuting is an easy way for me to save money and be healthy every day. It’s a pretty clear win/win in my frugal book!

What do you think? Am I crazy? Are you jealous of my beard? What are your winter cycling tips?

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107 Responses

  1. What an awesome post! We have loads of people who ride their bikes in the winter in our big city and although we have bike lanes just like you mention they tend to disappear. Bike safety is critical and important to plan ahead. Our neighbour actually bikes to work even in the winter because he says it’s cheaper than the bus and he gets his exercise in for the day. I never thought about having to have windproof shoes. I would have thought to just wear normal runners. Interesting.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, the shoes thing was a discovery I made the hard way my first winter. The wind is such a wily foe for the winter biker! Especially on those days when you have a 15mph head wind in addition to whatever speed you are traveling!

    • Bikes in my city are terrifying. I’m not sure if I should be more scared of them or taxis! Then again we don’t have many dedicated biking lanes!

  2. Mrs. WW says:

    Yes! Let me tell you of a conversation I had last night. I happened to have this conversation last night but the same conversation happens a few times of week with little change this time of year.

    “So how long does it take you to bike… not that you’re biking now but you know what I mean.”

    “Actually I do still bike. Tomorrow is supposed to be exactly 20 degrees, our limit, so I’ll be glad to bike and hopefully it will warm up more soon. Lower than 20 degrees you have to worry about your eyeballs freezing with the windchill and we don’t have any ski goggles right now…. why are you laughing?”

    It’s so foreign to everyone else. They don’t seem to realize that the benefits are SO STINKIN’ AWESOME! We get our exercise (I bike the kids to school), we toughen up to the weather, we enjoy fresh air, we bond, we get around construction/traffic jams easier… etc, etc, etc, AND I bike past 2 gas stations daily so in my mind I stick my thumb to my nose and wiggle my fingers.

    Posts like this make me feel better after conversations like last night. WE know. I’m not nuts to think how great it is even in the winter.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, even on the toughest of days it’s still more fun than sitting in a car!

      I can’t say that my friends and colleague all are on the same page with me… but a few of them also go all winter so I have some allies.

      Plus, let’s be honest. Being called crazy by the average American often means you are doing something right. Especially when it comes to transportation, exercise, or money!

  3. That is indeed a comprehensive list. Are there many other bike commuters around you? Are fat tire bikes popular in winter? They are becoming increasingly popular around us, I want to see if I can try one out this year, to see what it feels like.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      The Boston/Cambridge bike scene is pretty hardy. I’m definitely not the only one on the road during commuting hours. But it’s a lot less than in the summer.

      I see fat tires occasionally… but I don’t really understand them. We have snowplows, so it’s not like you need to bike on top of heavy snow. And when there is light snow on the road it’s actually better to cut through it with a narrow tire to get traction on pavement.

      Plus, I don’t think my forks would accommodate them.

      I’m curious though. If anyone has experience with fat winter tires please chime in!

      • Sean says:

        I do not have experience with them myself, but I have a bunch of bike friends that swear by them. The fat tires were made for biking in snow and loose gravel. Basically, more surface contact = better traction. I see them all over the roads/trails during the winter here in the Twin Cities, MN. Of coarse two of the bigger makers of the fat tire bikes are located here (Surly and Salsa).

        I have biked on and off over the past 6 or 7 years, but haven’t made it stick just yet. Winter riding I haven’t attempted as I ride an old 78 Schwinn Traveler 10-speed. Hoping to upgrade soon.

        The one question I have for you is whether you wear your work shirt (or other clothing items) for your ride, or if you change out when you arrive at work?

        The only times I really ride to work is when I have a place to shower (SQA contractor, so job changes now and then). Just curious how you handle the “sweaty days”.

        Thanks,
        Sean

      • Katie says:

        Live in Marquette, Michigan, a small city in the Upper Peninsula, and see quite a few fat tires around here. We get so much dang snow and it’s cold enough that there’s a hard packed layer of snow on the streets for 5-6 month of the year unless we get a freak warm spell. It’s slick for a bike, and the fat tires make a difference. They also of course help in the deeper snow as well. In some ways it’s actually easier to bike in these conditions– no melting = no puddles and no muddy slush. We get a whole lotta snow here (avg 150 inches, or something like 7 inches a week from November through April.)
        And to the comment below about Cleveland– YES, people do ride bikes to work in Cleveland. Lived there for many years and have passed many hard-core and heavily-wrapped courageous souls pedaling their way down Carnegie near the Clinic in a snowstorm. Impressed!

      • rich says:

        I live in central Wisconsin and have been commuting all year since ’94. It’s been a great learning process discovering what works and what doesn’t. I bought a fat bike (Surly) last fall but only really had to rely on it a couple of times last winter. I typically ride my old Barracuda that I’ve had converted to a single speed and use studded tires with fairly low tire pressure. That works the majority of the time. I’m ready with the Surly however in case of a blizzard! I think my sitch is pretty much like y’all’s; sometimes my winter commute is the best part(s) of my day. It takes a lot of prep but it’s something I can manage and be in control of; unlike my time spent at my office job.

      • HT says:

        I’m in the Colorado Rockies, not Boston, but I ride everywhere. all winter, on a fat bike with studded snow tires. I can ride at a normal speed over sheet ice (I slow down a lot for turns) and through about 4 inches of new snow (if I’m early enough to beat the snowplows). The increased stability and traction are a big plus for confident winter biking. Fat bikes are geared to run the big rubber, so the whole “rolling resistance” issue is a myth. I’m a five-foot tall woman (not a super biker) and I have no trouble pedaling up our steep mountain roads. Once you go fat, you’ll never go back!

  4. I think this is good for east coasters, especially in Boston where it’s part of the culture. No one is riding his/her bike to work in Cleveland – not even if it’s 70 and sunny. It just doesn’t happen. But for places that are conducive to it (I know many cities in Colorado like that as well), I think it’s great!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Somewhere in Cleveland, a very hardy cadre of cycle commuters are shaking their fist at you! 😉

      But yeah, I can imagine there would be a lot fewer in the midwest. Not much of a progressive transportation culture in general. When I was in Kansas, it was much the same. Which is too bad, because the streets were nice and flat!

    • DKM says:

      We’re just down the road in Kent, and yep, there are cyclists here, even in winter. Of course, we live so close to work it’s often easier (if not almost quicker – really) to walk. But we planned it that way 🙂

      And the fat tire bikes are getting really popular around here. Guys riding them all year ’round. I think they’re nuts. I’ll stick with my ‘cross setup (no, I don’t really cyclocross; I just have the found-cheap-on-eBay bike). Can you imagine pumping up one of those if you have a flat? Tube must be the size of a small dog. Man…

      But next thing you know, I’ll be riding one. Just a bike junkie…

  5. Love this. So thorough. I’ve thought about ditching the car portion of my commute and biking to my train stop but I’ve never seriously considered it. Maybe I’ll try it in the summer. Now I’m curious to see how many crazy bikers are still out there right now.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, starting the habit in good weather is probably for the best. Keep your eye out, there are probably more out there than you’d think. Bike commuting is growing fast, even in traditionally bike hostile areas like the midwest.

  6. To someone like me who has only ever lived in places like Southern California and Tennessee (soft, I know), all this winter gear makes me think that we’re climbing Everest! And yes, I’m one of those who are follicularly challenged! LOL! 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Heh! Honestly, I’d rather bike in 20 degrees than in 100 degrees. You can always add more insulation… but there’s a legal limit to how much you can take off!

      I would argue that a beard is a state of mind more than a grooming choice, so feel free to join the virtual bearded visigoths!

  7. Although I can never imagine riding a bike in the winter (very close to Syracuse, NY, here), I found this post fascinating. It really takes a lot of drive to ride a bike year round in northern weather. My hat is off to you, sir! And as for the beard, Jay saw it and was quite impressed. His beard grows fast and thick, but it’s never grown long like that. You’re ZZ top-ing it there! 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, the beard is getting pretty ridiculous… I love it! Thankfully I work in software so about 70% of my colleagues also have beards. Not quite as extreme as mine, but definitely a beard friendly environment.

      Glad I didn’t become an accountant!

  8. I have the same bike 🙂 Twins!!

    You guys are brave…I retired my bike last week. Aside from the freezing temperatures, Toronto isn’t very bike-friendly and most times I’m riding right alongside cars. It’s not safe 🙁

    I switched over to bike lights with USB rechargeable lithium batteries a few years ago and highly recommend it! I charge them from my laptop and really only do so every few months.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yay Marin hybrids! It’s been a great bike, no complaints after 7 years of pretty hard use.

      Interesting about the lithium light. I’ve had my current light setup for a while, and when I bought them the lithium rechargeables were still prohibitively expensive. I’ll certainly take a look when my current ones bite the dust!

  9. That beard is indeed epic.

    I do have a question though: are there any days that you don’t cycle? It seems like you’re prepared for anything, but is there a limit? Like 5 feet of snow not plowed or something?

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      If it’s snowing faster than the plows can clear it, then my office will usually have a snow day anyway. But the plows in Cambridge do a great job, so that’s usually only 1-2 days per year.

  10. Kirsten says:

    we have two kids and a third minute drive by car, so no biking to work for us, but I give you mad props for doing it! Some of the same people who won’t bike because it’s too cold are spending about as much time walking to the bus stop, waiting there, walking to work OR digging their car out of the fresh snowfall!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, it does help that my alternative methods of getting to work all involves walking significant distances and being outside much longer than if I ride my bike. So in one sense, I don’t give myself much of a choice 🙂

  11. Michelle says:

    Frugal Hound has some great modeling skills. Makes the clothing look great! 🙂

    These all sound like great tips for bike commuting. Luckily I have no where to commute to! 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Hah, frugal hound is always an essential piece of our creative process! When in doubt, add some more hound!

      Hooray for working from home!

  12. These are great tips! I have a good friend who just started biking to work and he debated on whether or not he would continue to do it with the change in weather. I have a tough time biking when the weather drops below 50 and I like the cold.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      It’s worth giving it a try. I really thought it would be worse than it is. And there are plenty of days even in the depths of winter when the sun is shining and the cold isn’t too terrible. Of course the next day it will be horrible again! 🙂

  13. jeff says:

    Thanks for this. It was -15 mid last week when I rode my bike to work, and I had most of the things that you did on and was still a bit cold (My commute is ~10 min, so I dont really get time to warm up). People looked at me like I had lost it, but it was a nice ride, and I was only miserable fora bout 2 minutes.

    I use a lot of the same stuff you do, but never considered a stretchy jacket. I’ll have to look around for one (also, if you’ve never heard of sierra trading post, its a great spot for cheap, high quality outdoor gear)

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      -15! That’s hardcore! Are you in Saskatchewan?

      The stretch really makes a difference for me. I used to have a more standard softshell without much stretch and I always felt I was straining against the jacket to get in the right form.

      I do know Sierra Trading Post! They are great, when the have sizes in stock that aren’t XS and XXXL! Seems like they sometimes have fewer things in normal person sizes.

  14. Tawcan says:

    Great tips, what a thorough well written article! Being seen in the winter time is very important. It’s very essential to have bright lights and reflective gear while you’re biking, whether it’s daylight or dark.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Definitely. I know friends that have upwards of 5 different lights on the bike and person. The joke around here is that folks always buy an additioanl light after being hit. It’s sorta true.

  15. thegoblinchief says:

    Added a couple of the pieces to my gear wishlist. My current crop passed the acid test of last winter, but I’m not 100% satisfied with it. Because I’m on a weight loss challenge before being allowed to spend personal $, my main “upgrade” this winter is my beard. I’ve previously kept it trimmed to 1/2″ or so, but I’m stopping all trimming and we’ll see where it goes. I doubt I’ll get to Visigoth Raider, but I’m hoping for at least Ostrogoth Apprentice 😉

    Is your bike a trigger shifter or grip shifter? I thought about mittens, but wasn’t sure how well I could use the triggers, so I have gloves currently.

    Some other comments

    -Surprised at no mention of studded tires, even a road-only model like the Nokian A10. I made it through last winter on road tires, but I did have a few spills. I bought some road/trail tires (Schwalbe Marathon Winter) but waited too long before ordering, so I won’t have them for a while yet.

    -Leather shoes are NOT enough below freezing on rides more than about 20 minutes, at least not for my feet. You need insulation and windproofing.

    -Another option for the head is to tape the helmet vents with packing tape. I tried that and it makes a big improvement – means you don’t need as heavy a hat.

    -I definitely prefer USB lights over AAA, especially if your route isn’t 100% under good street lighting. I’ve got the near-universally lauded Cygolite Metro front and Hotshot rear combo.

    Great write up! I need to update the guide on my blog. Some of my advice has changed with gear acquisitions.

    You forgot to mention that winter biking is FUN. So effing fun.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      I was hoping you’d chime in! I think you probably have more extreme weather than we do, so always good to get other perspectives.

      – Trigger or grip shift? Mine is trigger. I was initially worried about being able to effectively use it with 2 layers on my hands… but in practice it hasn’t been a big deal. The trigger is pretty large and has good tactile feedback.

      – Studded Tires? Yeah, I’ve thought about it. But our plow crews are really awesome so there’s probably only 10 days out of the entire winter when I’m actually riding on snow. I’ve been told that studs can dramatically increase your braking distance on dry pavement, so I figured it wouldn’t be worth the tradeoff for those few days a year. But let me know how they work out! I’m super curious.

      – Maybe my leather shoes work because of my super thick, fluffy wool socks? Maybe I have freakish feet that don’t feel the cold (Mrs. FW would agree with that).

      – Taping helmet vents: What a great idea! I’ve been telling myself I need to sew a winter helmet cover… but packing tape is just the sort of 80/20 fix that appeals to my sense of hackery! I’m going to do that this morning! Thanks!

      – Lights: Yeah, my normal route is well lit city streets so my lights are for being seen and not seeing. My lights are also pretty old. When I bought them, the USB lights weren’t very common and were quite expensive. Neat to see how fast the tech has advanced!

      Winter biking is fun! Some days. Other days it’s a means to an end, which is OK too. 🙂

      • Marianne says:

        I’m a year-round bike commuter in the Yukon (with an old regular mountain bike), and the only times I don’t ride are when it’s super windy (too much snow drift) and when there’s too much fresh snow to plough through. A few things, I’ve done: if it gets very cold when you bike (like -30c or colder maybe?) it’s good to thin out the grease in your bike, or else the head gasket (?) can get stiff and make turning wonky, and your derailleur can freeze. I paid a pro $14 but will hopefully figure out how to in-source that soon.

        Also, I made my own studded tires with an old pair of random abandoned mountain bike wheels and sheet metal screws. Easy and the traction is audible!

  16. This is an epic guide! I biked to work last year when it was 30 degrees and because I made a sudden move, my bike ate it. My knee was swollen. It was painful! I did ride consistently before that, but had to take time off to heal. It’s important to give yourself more time biking in winter weather!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh no, sad knee!

      Definitely important to slow down in the winter. Beyond the visible ice hazards, cold pavement and cold rubber tires don’t grip as well. I’ve definitely had some close calls… and I’m probably overly safety conscious! 🙂

  17. YOu make me feel like such a wuss. So I SOMETIMES bike to work–I live almost 4 miles away, but my bike is dumb and it takes me 25 minutes to get to work. I think I need better tires… Anyway, I didn’t mention that I live in southern california..so yeah, we don’t really have a winter, but even I think it’s too cold to bike outside!! It’s just very convenient to drive..but biking is nice.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Hahahah. Having a decent bike is certainly part of the equation. Are your tires all knobby for off-road biking? One thing you can do is make sure they are inflated to the very top end of their PSI rating. That way you aren’t getting the rolling resistance of mountain bike tires.

  18. Claire says:

    This is awesome 🙂

    Safety! Beards! Bikes! Layering!

  19. Mrs PoP says:

    I think you’re forgetting the most important tip for winter bike riding – move somewhere warmer! =)

    All joking aside, we had our own variation on winter this morning and I rode to work when it was 50 degrees out, and it started raining with about 15 minutes left in my ride. Those were some cold rain drops.
    Gloves, 2 pairs of socks (still not enough with tennis shoes), UA compression pants, compression mock turtleneck and rowing jacket. My cheeks were still pink from the windburn in the afternoon. Thank goodness the weather will be returning to FL normal in another day or so or I might have to keep moving further south. Key West here I come!

    For me the biggest winter change in terms of safety is transferring to paths when there’s not much of a shoulder. In the summer time (sans snowbirds), traffic is light enough that I can stay on the road and shave a couple minutes off. But in the wintertime, with less light and more traffic (especially of the older and visiting variety – love the ones that don’t know where they’re going!), it’s not worth the risk to save those 2 minutes.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      OMG, 50 degrees! Brrrr….. 😉

      Funny you should mention tourists / visiting drivers. It’s well known around here that the most dangerous times of year to ride a bike are Freshman Move in day and Graduation Day. Tons of parents and grandparents, confused about our admittedly confusing road system, and unused to driving in proximity to cyclists.

      The local bike club actually sends out email warnings a week before each event.

      So I totally get your point 🙂 Thankfully ours go home after a couple of days while yours stay all winter!

  20. This post is really well-timed for me because up until now, I’ve been able to just ask Mr. FP if I can use the car for the day and he would take the bus to work. But now I’ve started a part-time job and the way the schedule works, Big Brother will have to be taken either to or from daycare by bike… every single day. I’m really committed to avoiding buying a second car–what a money suck that would be!

    I’ve already ordered one studded tire to try (might put zip ties on the trailer tires for even more traction) and am adding other improvements to my getup, like a wool base layer. And I got some nice heavyweight wool socks for $6 a pair from STP (I had to get an ugly color. Who cares?) I’m still working on what to do for pants–I don’t really have anything at all appropriate for winter exercise, so I’m starting from scratch and frankly a little befuddled by the variety of options!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Depending on where you are (Northeast US?) your setup sounds pretty good. I don’t even use studded tires because the plows here do such a good job.

      With a wool base layer bottom, all you probably need on top of that is just a wind breaking layer. Cheap rain pants will do the job just fine, but if you want to get more fancy there are biking-specific winter insulated tights. I’m not that cool, but I see plenty of other bikes around town with them on and they seem pretty happy 🙂

      • We’re actually in Denver! Lots of sunshine making it even easier to overheat (and then you hit a shady stretch and brrrr).

        My base layer is a shirt. We have a Sierra Trading Post store in town, so I thought I would head down there when I get a chance and see what they have that is on sale, multi-purpose, and looks easy to hem. (I am 4’11” tall. Hemming is inevitable.)

        • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

          Oh, yeah, the hemming part does make a difference. The cheap rain pants would probably not take a hem well at all.

  21. OK, I’m humbled (once again!). We live in Canada, so the winters can be fierce. Nevertheless, we have winter cyclists up here too. My brother-in-law has chains for his bicycle tires for the winter months. I’ll channel the inspiration from this post into more frequent spring, summer, and fall bike rides. I’m filled with concerns about safety at the thought of winter cycling.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      I’m all in favor of folks doing what works for them. And there are usually plenty of really safe precipitation free, but just really cold, days even in midwinter. Maybe give it a try on a nice sunny february day and see!

  22. You are one dedicated cyclist. Does Mrs. Frugalwoods worry about you out there with all the crazy drivers?

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh, I think she worries about my biking and I worry about her driving 🙂 Honestly though, I’ve been bike commuting for so long without major mishap that I think it’s not a big worry anymore.

      I’m very safety conscious, and she knows I wouldn’t put myself in danger just to save a minute on my commute.

  23. Ottawa says:

    Hey, nice guide Mr F. Our snowplows are more focussed on arterial roads than subdivision roads…and once ice ridges and ruts appear on such backstreets – they remain for the winter. Snowplow blades sort of skid over them. Also, a lot of bike paths are sort of plowed…but not really. As such, the following are more or less essential in Ottawa (and other similar climates where salt doesn’t work that well anymore)…

    1 – In addition to boots (Keen Growlers) and waterproof/breathable overpants I wear gaiters; which provide a waterproof transition between the boots and pants.

    2 – Studded tires are largely essential in Ottawa. However, instead of paying $100 per tire – they are easy to make for $10 using an old mtb tire. I use method 1 from here: http://www.wikihow.com/Convert-Bicycle-Tires-Into-Studded-Snow-Tires and use the Tuffy tape option.

    🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Ah, the gaiters are a great addition. There were several times last winter where I wished for a pair. They would also be so useful when hiking!

      Those DIY studded tires look pretty awesome! I’m kind of glad I don’t need them though 🙂

      Thanks for the great additions!

  24. I work at home so my commute doesn’t exist. However, it seems like a good use of time if you can get your exercise and commute in simultaneously. Why not? Kill two birds with one stone!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yep. There is a solid contingent of folks in my office who go to Spin Class several times a week but don’t bike to work. I mean hey, whatever works for them, but it’s still pretty funny.

  25. Ryan says:

    How far do you commute, Mr. Frugalwoods? I find I can’t bike my 6 miles once the temperature drops below 40. Doesn’t matter how many shirts, pairs of mittens and socks I put on, I arrive wheezing and my fingers and toes hurt for most of the day afterward.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Depending on the route (I like to switch it up so I don’t get bored) my commute is 3-6 miles, one way.

      Are you getting a good wind-stopping layer on the outside of your mittens and shoes? Getting stuff that actually prevented the wind from penetrating made a huge difference for me.

      Before that, I did wear a bunch of heavy insulation and still was cold. Maybe that could help?

      As for the wheezing, I’m no doctor, but the same thing happens to me when it gets like 15 or under. I’ve made it somewhat better by breathing through my facemask which sort of pre-warms the air. But the biggest thing has been slowing down so I’m not gulping so much frozen air. When it’s that cold I just can’t go as fast.

      • Ryan says:

        Thanks for the tips! That’s what I was thinking reading your post. I have layers, but they’re porous. Windproof mittens would probably do it. And going slower would probably work. But that would mean being out in the freezing cold for longer!

  26. Michelle says:

    Biking and commuting by bike are very common here so you are doing something that I see all the time. It’s great for your wallet, health, and the earth. And, you have a beard that keeps your face warm 🙂

  27. Even Steven says:

    Car<Train<Bike<Walk All viable options and this gets chalked up to more power to you for riding, I'm sticking with the train, 9 miles riding from work on a 15 degree day makes me like to ride on things with doors and warmth.

  28. Les Connally says:

    I discovered a great glove solution: Ice climbing gloves ! No not cheap (but neither are cycling gloves!!! Real ice climbing technical gloves are cheap by comparison) they do everything a cyclist needs- tough, grippy, dexterity, waterproof. No BS. In climbing, your life sorta does depend on your tools.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh, that’s a great idea! I honestly never thought of that! And any glove dextrous enough to grip an ice axe is going to be good enough to click a shifter!

      I’m off to research ice climbing gloves! Thanks!

  29. As a fellow winter commuter* in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada, I appreciated the article. My key gear includes much of what you stated above, plus: winter studded tires (because with our amount of snow, it turns more into mountain biking than city biking) and a 15-year-old snowmobile winter jacket because it has an extra liner and a bunch of zipper vents when it gets too warm. Subzero chain wax is also advisable, as the summer stuff just gums up the chain.

    I laughed out loud at the following: “Cyclists have the right to take the entire lane on city streets when it’s not safe to ride on the side. Cars may not appreciate it, but it’s the law.” Winnipeg is NOT a bike-friendly town. I bike in the car lane when I have no other choice but people are downright vicious about it. For safety, I sometimes use the sidewalk in the winter, given it’s usually plower and there are very few pedestrians to worry about when the weather is between -15 and -30C…

    As for the beard, I sometimes wish I were a guy but my balaclava has been very good to me.

    *I used to do it daily when I had my corporate job, now I bike or walk when I go shopping for groceries. And yes, co-workers and employers do think you’re weird, but they respect you for being a bada** nonetheless.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Good point on the chain wax. I do in fact change mine in the winter… I’ll have to add that to the post. Thanks!

      I wish I could use a sidewalk from time to time, but around here people shovel a lane just wide enough for a single person to walk. Once it gets up to around hip height, even walking a bike on the sidewalk becomes impossible.

      Plus, there are tons of folks who walk to work around here, so the sidewalks are already pretty full.

      Good call on the snowmobile jacket. I have a friend who has one and is has a nice flare at the bottom so that it better fits while sitting. Bet that’s pretty good while on a bike!

      • Bummer on the sidewalk deal. Yeah, the snowmobile jacket is great because it assumes you’re seated. It’s worth checking out, especially if one can find one second hand. They usually seal nicely at the neck, have a crazy number of pockets and vents under the arms and on the chest (each side of the zipper). They also have a pocket on the lower back, which is great for ditching extra mitts or tuque when it starts to get a little warm. Oh, and the water bottle holder? I found a thermal mug that fits there so I can even commute with hot coffee ;).

  30. Great tips, Mr. F! Biking during the winter is not much different from the summer, in my opinion. That’s probably because we hardly have any snowy days.

    Also, really weird question, but judging from your picture, your bike seems a bit small. Shouldn’t you upgrade to a larger model?

    Keep it up, fellow bike road warrior!
    NMW

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks! You have a more evolved bike culture over there, I’m jealous!

      The bike seems to fit me OK. I’m not an expert in fitting bikes, but this size was the one the bike shop recommended all those years ago. In any case, works for me!

  31. Great post. That’s sad to hear about the changes in smartwool socks. I have a few pairs that I wear during the winter and I love em.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, I don’t have first hand knowledge, but some of my hiker buddies have had bad results with newer smartwools . It is a shame. I have a pair that I’ve been putting hard wear on for 15 years!

  32. IceBikingInCO says:

    Great tips from everyone here. Seems like no one has espoused the very important frigid riding accessory called “bar mitts”. In Colorado when the temps drop below 10F I put on my home made bar mitts to completely cover my hands. Talk about toasty. I have a 10 mile commute and only have to wear medium weight gloves inside the mitts to stay warm at 0F. Once it gets under -10F then I wear regular lobster gloves inside them. I sewed the mitts out of a rubberized canvas outer quilted to a fleece inner. It helps to look online at other bar mitts and copy their style. Also gotta have some sewing skills eh?

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Just looked up the bar mitt concept and wow, what a great idea! I can’t believe I haven’t seen these around town in the depths of winter. It’s so obviously the right solution to cold hands.

      Now I need to find a local supplier of rubberized canvas. Any tips based upon where you found yours? Normal sewing store, or did you need to go farther afield?

      Thanks!

  33. BackNColo says:

    the Barr mitts are a great addition to the cold weather riding. They make a HUGE difference in hand warmth. I had a home made pair that rocked.

    The lowest I have been able to ride is 15 F. Not as cold as some, but the fear of a flat and ensuing frostbite has stopped me from ever going lower.

    Lake makes (or used to make) a winter riding boot. Water proof and fairly warm but very heavy. I usually prefer my heavy wool socks and leather shoes.

    If anyone is in Colorado, hit the Veloswap in the fall. Lots of new and used gear for next to nothing.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, I’ve been eying a couple of sewing patterns for Bar style mitts. I can’t quite bring myself to spring $50 on a pair… at least without ruining $20 of neoprene attempting to make my own first 🙂

      I’ve had really good luck with low-rise gore tex hiking boots, along with some thick socks. Even in 0 degrees that combo has kept my toes warm. And in slightly warmer weather and slush the waterproofness comes in real handy.

      Good call on the local bike swap. We have a couple here in the late spring which are gold for getting reasonably priced good gear.

  34. Mr Zombie says:

    Respect to another bearded winter cyclist.

    You’re right, if you’re not shivering when you set off, you’re going to get baking hot in a couple of miles.

    It only gets down to -2 or -3 here on the West Coast of the UK, so nowhere near as cold. But it seems to rain every day. Even after a miserable cycle in I feel a ton better for it. (I got a lift to work yesterday in Mrs Z’s car and the amount of waiting at lights and huge cars with one person in it was sending me loopy. Lots of muttering and cursing. Far too stressful start to the day).

    Although I have to admit to buying a lot of lycra (combined with a beard so it’s super cool), but I’m generally out at the weekends too and it can be up towards 100 mile rides.

    Too many excuses for not cycling (it’s too cold, it’s too far, it’s too hilly, I don’t have a beard etc etc) and not enough cycling (and lycra wearing).

    Awesome post.

    Cheers,

    Mr Z

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Wow, 100 miles is more than I’d take on at this point!

      See, I’d take 10 degrees and snowing vs. 34 degrees and raining (fahrenheit) any day. I hate being wet much more than I hate being cold. And the cure for being cold is just pedal harder!

      The past couple of days have been a real test. 2 feet of snow on the ground and temps in the single digits in the morning. I’ve been fine, though I have to get more aggressive about taking the lane since the roads are all narrowed with snow banks.

  35. William says:

    My commute is 2 miles from my house to my work door. I am interested in riding in the winter but I am not sure it would help me out, especially in the winter/school year. My commute is only like 7 minutes one way (2 miles). Biking would take me longer. I do kid pick up after work. My wife drops him off at school in the morning. School is 1 mile from our house but on her way to work. I have a Schwinn prelude road bike. Is it ok in the snow or should I use a mountain bike? I also have Raynauds. It affects my hands the most, I hate wearing gloves because I miss the dexterity but I need to keep them warm or I could get frostbite easily.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      You have to find something that works well for you, and that’s not always going to be biking. But, if I were in your situation, I’d bike to work.

      If your kid is small enough to fit in a child carrier on the back of the bike, then that’s perfect. If he/she is larger, then maybe you both could bike to/from work? I see a lot of kids biking behind their parents around here… and it’s a great way to get in a little family exercise.

      My bike is a hybrid, but if I had to choose between a mountain bike and a road bike I’d go mountain. For just a couple of miles weight and tire resistance really doesn’t matter anyway.

      Reynauds is annoying, but for 10 minutes of biking it’s unlikely to leave a lasting effect. Make sure you wear a glove liner as well as a windproof outer glove. With that combo you should be fine for short hops around town. For longer trips, I’d consider some bar mitts (google it). I’m about to try making my own, if it goes well look forward to a post! 🙂

  36. Jess says:

    Are you still biking now???? Is there any weather you won’t bike in? Do you use the Mass Ave bridge on the ice in the dark??

    I, too, have a very old Marin hybrid!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh yeah, still biking to work. It’s honestly the only real option I have. 15 minutes by bike or 50 minutes by public transit… gotta choose bike!

      I don’t go over the river on my commute, but if I needed to I’d happily take the lane. That’s the key when roads narrow. The law in MA allows cyclists to ride in the middle of a normal lane of traffic when conditions warrant. I’d say now warrants 🙂

  37. Likesbikes says:

    thanks for posting this great article. You have definitely inspired me to try commuting by bike all year round. What has been your experience with bike locks during the winter months?

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Thankfully I have indoor bike parking both and home and at work, so in my day-to-day routine I don’t need to lock up outdoors.

      When I do though, it’s pretty difficult. The snowbanks here are about head height, which means the normal bike racks are completely buried. I usually lift my bike up high enough that I can dangle it from the U-lock attached to a parking sign. Alternatively, I just ask the place where I’m going if I can stash my bike behind the counter for a moment. The library lets me do that, which is much more convenient!

  38. CamiC says:

    AZ is by far the opposite haha. Riding in the winter is heavenly, but once summer rears it’s ugly head… well let’s just say it’s not for the faint of heart when its approaching 120 degrees outside.

  39. Kris Bagchi says:

    I ride the winter in montreal. in the city no studded tires necessary. most of the time you are on asphault or “sand” as we say. cold is an issue. i bought these and they are a godsend. they are expensive, but then only require a liner glove down to -20C. check them out. http://www.fatbikes.com/dogwood-designs-winter-pogies/

  40. Warren says:

    Great post. Good humor too. And, awesome job at responding to comments! I found myself reading the funny parts to my DW.

    I was just looking to see what others have done around their feet, frugally, and your post helped. Thank you.

    I’m in Sacramento (25F-108), in my 3rd year, and can’t find a better way to commute. 17.5 miles of ‘my time’ one way, keeps me in a great mood every day.

    I like being ‘crazy’ to coworkers… I get to eat whatever I want, while they starve themselves to maintain their goal weight.

  41. Carol Anne says:

    Thank you for an excellent post and discussion. I am trying to decide if I am up to a Canadian (Toronto) winter of cycling after four years of April-until-the-snow-flies bike commuting. I have a great 8 km route to work that avoids busy roads for 95% of the time, but since most people do not cycle in the winter, my greatest fear is not being seen in the dark by distracted drivers who are not expecting to come across cyclists. However, I think I’ll light myself up like a Christmas tree and make a go for it. So much more appealing than being sardined into buses and subways. Thanks to all for the very helpful tips!

  42. Nick says:

    Question about the facemask that you wear: (preface- I have a larger-than-normal head- size 8 fitted hat) is there a fair amount of room for expanding with that mask? I ask because, in the past, just about every mask I’ve bought is too small to go all the way around my head and still securely attach in the back. Or in the case of elastic fitting, it’s too tight and becomes restrictive on my breathing, which is definitely no good. Please advise oh frugal one 🙂

  43. Sue says:

    Another thought for keeping your head warm in moderate cold… Instead of taping over your helmet’s vents, just wrap a piece of plastic wrap around your helmet, and maybe tape it (with masking tape) at the edge in a few spots. Then use one of those stretchy book covers (they are often just a quarter at the beginning of a school year) and cover your helmet with that. I used a large one and it lasted a whole year. Then I made my own helmet cover out of an old spandex workout shirt–just lay it over the helmet, cut around the edge (leaving about 1″ hanging below the edge of the helmet the whole way around). Pin some tucks (like darts, if you’re a sewer) to take up the extra material. Then turn under the edge to make a casing, and thread an old shoe string through the casing. Put it on your helmet and draw up the string until it’s snug and tie in a knot. With this and the plastic, I can use only a headband until it gets below 10 degrees F. Then in the spring it all comes off until the following winter.

  44. parker says:

    i just wanted to say thanks so much for this article. after researching winter cycling and talking about doing it for literally years, i finally started this year. your post was the inspirational tipping point for me! i hadn’t found any other guides that really covered the *practical* stuff i wanted to know about winter riding (i.e. “make no sudden moves”) AND didn’t recommend that i purchase a crapton of new gear or even a new bike!!

    i’m on month three of winter riding in edmonton, alberta. so far the only new things i have bought are lights (a good headlight & taillight, plus a little LED flasher for my front tire) and one of those scary black face masks (i made it to -15 celsius with scarves before giving in to that purchase). total costs: ~$80. oh and about $60 on good winter socks, but since i use those for everything and not just cycling, i’m not considering them dedicated purchases. maybe could’ve found better deals on the gear, but retail in canada is expensive like that…

    i’ve been using the same old road bike that my partner found for me (free!!) in a junk pile at a community center. it’s working really well for the combo of snow, slush & ice we have this year. i’ve wiped out once, but it was my own fault for leaning into a turn on an icy patch in an underlit residential area… i’d just come off a nicely ploughed main street and didn’t slow my momentum down in time.

    my theory is that the main reason this year has been successful for me in trying is that i was already commuting to work by bike every day and when the snow started falling, i just kept doing it, so i got acclimatized to it really easily. previous years i’ve tried going out once or twice mid-winter but the conditions & type of riding was too steep of a learning curve and i wiped out making silly amateur mistakes (turning / braking on sheer ice haha).

    anyway, today i wanted to revisit this post because i ended up driving to work and ridiculously overpaying for parking (ugh) after getting a little bout of the SADs this morning, so i need to re-spark the motivation.

    PS. taking the lane is my FAVOURITE THING. for anyone who isn’t convinced, this is the article that sold me on it when i first started commuting regularly: http://cyclingsavvy.org/hows-my-driving/

  45. George says:

    Great post. Super practical. I appreciate how you covered multiple cold weather scenarios and not just extreme cold.

  46. shaco says:

    Thanks so much for this very sensible article! The links are Priceless!!! I have been endlessly trying to find affordable alternatives to what the cycling industry offers (most of which are made for miniature people who are also millionaires). I knew that there had to be some sense to this, because of all the cold-climate countries in the World where everyday people ride bikes -in their normal clothing! You are a Gem!!!

  47. Jennifer Russell says:

    Hey, just came across this trying to figure out how to continue to bike to work. I am SO not a hardcore biker and this was exactly what I needed. I just ordered a cheap pair of ski goggles and waterproof hiking shoes. I have the rest and am feeling great about continuing to bike to work in MN anytime the winter road ice doesn’t make me uncomfortable safety-wise. I never DREAMED I’d be winter biking. 😀 Thanks.

  48. randy mccumber says:

    some great winter riding tips here. i live in south georgia (just north of tallahassee florida), snow is’t a problem but the temperature can get down into the teens at times. i commute daily (12 miles round trip)
    my regular cold weather riding gear includes long underwear pants beneath a pair of windproof. winter bike tights, wool socks, a long sleeved, moisture wicking t shirt underneath a wool shirt or sweater. i have one of those fluorescent yellow and black jackets that you see some city workers wear. it has a zip out polar fleece liner.
    i wear a polar fleece carhartt beanie under my helmet and a pair of silk glove liners inside my winter cycling gloves. like most people the hardest thing to keep warm are my feet. i just purchased a pair of high top leather shoes with a pile lining. the sole is thick, lugged and grip my platform pedals very well.
    when it is really cold, i have a great polar fleece balaclava that covers my neck and leaves only my eyes exposed. clear ski goggles fit nicely over my prescription glasses.
    generally ride 60-100 miles per week, no longer own a car and can pack most things i need into my panniers…..ride a bike, lose weight, help the environment and live longer.

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