The good news is that the city salts the bike path. The bad news is that the salt is eating my bike. My point is that winter bike-commutin’ is feasible and rewarding, but comes with certain novel concerns.
Concern #1: It’s cold.
Yes, it is cold in Wisconsin, and there is a point where I will just take the bus. On the other hand, if temperature is that big of a deterrent, then you might be a very sedentary person for the next five months. Invest in some good wool socks, wear a scarf, and spin until you generate more body heat than you know what to do with. Shaving left my skin too sensitive to the dry wind, so I am growing a nice seasonal beard. Chapstick and my riding goggles protect the other areas that are most sensitive to winter riding. In order to adapt to the cold, you need to expose yourself to the cold. The hypothalamus will recognize the changing season and trigger the release of more thyroid hormone. This will increase your basal metabolic rate and help your body generate more heat.
Concern #2: It’s dangerous.
Actually, this is a good point. You have to be extra careful if you want to ride in the winter, because drivers aren’t. In addition to the the icy roads and 18 hours of darkness, many drivers won’t take the time to scrape their windows fully, leaving you vulnerable when they swerve into the bike lane because they “didn’t see you there”. If this sounds personal, it’s because this is what happened to me the other day.
Even if roads are dry, the cold temperatures will make your brakes less efficient. Keep your fingers on the brake levers at all times to minimize your reaction time in the event that you need to stop suddenly. If you are riding down a hill, shift your weight back so that you can brake hard without going over the handlebars. Practice riding through ice and snow so that you are comfortable in tricky situations.
Concern #3: My bike can’t handle it.
Fenders and knobby tires are helpful seasonal gear. Also some good lights and reflectors, because you will probably be riding in the dark at some point. Other than that, basic maintenance is vital. Wipe down the frame and drive-train after riding through slush, or the salt will corrode your chain by spring.
If you create the habits of riding year-round, you will save money, have fun, and stay fit. You will find that you are a master of your environment, and you will be an inspiration to everyone who is waiting until New Year’s to enact a fitness resolution.
There is no reason to stop riding in the winter, but there is every reason to increase your awareness and preparedness. Wear the right gear. Cover the brakes at all times. Maintain your machine. Enjoy.