This is a guest post from Women & Bicycles contributor Cassandra Habel. Cassandra also runs Spoke Haven
I had been biking in the winter before I really knew what “winter biking” was. I had done it out of necessity when I was a poor college student, but had never really paid attention to what gear was needed or existed, until I began my career in the cycling industry. I continue to bike in the winter regularly and have amassed some tips along the way.
The best thing about living in Wisconsin is that you probably own most of the gear you will ever need to ride comfortably throughout the winter. With the exception of a few on-the-bike accessories, you can easily get from point A to point B all year round.
The theme of using what you already own was a pretty common one at our Women & Bicycles Winter Bike Panel. Our panel of five winter biking veterans, as well as about 20 other ladies, congregated in the Madison Bike Fed’s office.
A table filled with just about every piece of winter cycling gear imaginable stood at the front of the crowd. Myself, Andrea Wetzel (Saris Cycling Group), Tracey DeKeyser (Saris Cycling Group), Mary Hetrick (Saris Cycling Group), and Keri Johnson (Spoke Haven) each covered our preferred clothing options for biking in various temperatures.
Layering clothing was one of the biggest themes of the night. A base layer to draw moisture away from your body, a mid-weight layer for insulating and an outer layer to protect against the elements are key for staying warm and dry. It also allows a rider to better to control body temps, so as to not overheat.
The most common mistake new cold weather riders make is dressing too warm. The panel stated, “If you start off warm, you will become very uncomfortable very quickly!” All of us agreed that starting a ride a little on the cold side to then allow your body to warm up as the ride progresses is a good approach.
The next topic covered was having adequate accessories on the bike for winter riding. Lights are one of the most important accessories. Mornings and evenings are often dark enough to require lights to see and be seen. In the summer months, most riders can get away with inexpensive lights to be seen by traffic. For winter riding, you want to be able to see the icy or snowy path ahead of you, so purchasing a front light that has at least 200 lumens or more is ideal. The brighter, the better, and rechargeable lights (like ones that charge via USB ports) often times hold up better in cold weather versus battery powered lights.
Next up: fenders and tires. Full coverage fenders work best for rainy conditions, but plastic clip-on ones tend to work better in snow since there’s more clearance. Wet packing snow can sometimes get wedged between tight fitting fenders and you’ll have to stop riding to clear them.
Our panel also debated whether or not to use studded tires. The majority of us recommended having at least one on the front. Stud count wasn’t much of a concern, just the added studded tire will give you better traction and will make riding much safer. A knobby tire on the rear was also a favorite.
When it came to talking about what bikes made for good winter commuters, cheap old mountain bikes or hybrids were the go-to. Ones with functional disc brakes are the best, but any bike that can fit at least a 35c width tire will do well. Most studded tires are at least 35c width. If you aren’t familiar with tire sizes, go ahead and Google it or stop by your favorite local bike shop!
Ski goggles and buffs or balaclavas are also two highly recommended accessories for protecting the eyes and face for riding. Most folks probably own such items for other winter sports. Good gloves, winter boots, and wool socks were also common items that most attendees already owned.
Experimenting with gear is something that each of us as panel members continue to do and we encouraged the ladies to do so as well. It may take a couple outings on the bike through trial and error to find out which layering or gear combo works for you. For the very newbie rider, we recommended doing some test rides in an empty parking lot during the first couple of snowfalls or ice overs to improve bike handling skills and increase comfort levels.
Overall, the majority of the women in attendance already owned most of the gear recommended for winter riding and most of you probably do as well! If you’re choosing to invest a little money into a winter riding set up, the on-the-bike gear would be where to do it. A good headlight, a studded tire or tires, and even some pogies (mitts that mount directly to the handlebars to keep hands warm) would be the top picks.
Clothing and other items can be purchased from a number of places new or used. There’s also a lot of D.I.Y tutorials at www.bikewinter.org or www.instructables.com on how to make items like fenders, balaclavas, buffs, and other winter riding gear for little or no cost!
Thanks to all the women who joined me on the panel and who attended the event. I know I have seen many more riders on the paths than in years past. Hopefully we can continue to make winter riding as safe, popular, and enjoyable as other winter sports!