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Winter Bicycling - Tips to get you safely through the winter

    Winter Bicycling                       
    Paul Miklean, SBRA Education and Safety Director Elect

    Years ago, I led an SBRA ride in the winter.  The wind chill was either in the high teens or low twenties and there were a total or 4 of us on the ride.  One of the riders said to me, “I think you broke a record for the coldest SBRA ride ever.” 

    Coming from a skiing background, high teens or low twenty wind chill is the standard temperature to ski.   What is needed is wearing the right clothing.  As I’ve skied in temperatures well below zero, my thinking was, if I can ski comfortably with the right clothing, why not wear the right clothes and bike?

    At first it might seem a daunting activity, bundling yourself up to ride through winter cold, but in Long Island, bicycling can be a 4-season sport allowing for winter exercising, heart pumping, blood flowing and calorie burning. 

    1.    Safety:
           •    Be seen
           •    Avoid hazards
           •    Look ahead
    2.    Clothing, hydration and food
    3.    Bicycle: Properly outfitted and maintained

    Safety First
    Be Seen 
    Group Rides:
    Regardless of the season, when on an SBRA or other group ride motorists take notice.  In the winter, group rides provide added safety as driving conditions can be diminished. 
    Bike Lighting: When riding at night or near dusk use of bike lighting is obvious.  During the day, especially with snow in the background you can fade into the white-wash landscape.  Keep the batteries fresh so they are at their brightest.  While cars are usually more respectful of keeping their distance in the winter, do all you can to help them see you.
    Bright Colored Clothing: Visibility is enhanced with bright colored clothing.  The florescent colors of yellow-green and orange are considered the best high visibility colors.   Grey, white and black clothing, particularly in hazy weather can make you appear invisible.

    Avoid Hazards
    Lane Position: One of the more hazardous places to ride is right up next to the curb.  The immediate curb area is where broken glass and road debris build up as the rain and snow wash it to the shoulder.  Keep a bit of distance from the curb while staying safely away from oncoming traffic. 
    Snow and Ice: Snow often melts in the sunlight but refreezes in lower temps or as the sun sets. These are likely places to find black ice, which is probably the single most dangerous aspect of riding a bike in below-freezing conditions. Try not to freak out, and ride slowly and steadily through it. If your tires slip, go with it. If you’re being sensible, you’re riding more slowly and have a few extra clothes on to help pad a fall.

    Look Ahead

    Stay loose, be alert and ready to swerve around broken glass or other road debris. Ride predictably and limit any sudden or erratic movements.  Leave a bit more room between yourself and other riders while in a group.
    Winter Cycling Clothing 
    Incredibly important with cold-weather riding is your clothing. It’s also the area where most first-timers make mistakes.  The key rule is to not overdress.  Since it is cold outside you tend to assume you need a ton of clothes.  Wrong.  Your body produces plenty of heat and sweat when riding, so with excessive clothing, you can become too hot and sweaty. Wear just enough clothes to be slightly cold when you start pedaling.  The first few minutes may be chilly, but your body produces a vast amount of heat when riding a bike, so you’ll warm up quickly.

    Base Layer
    The goal of a base layer is to keep you dry.  Marino wool or synthetic wicking fiber (polyester, nylon, spandex) works well.  Avoid cotton as it soaks up sweat and holds it next to your skin.

    A soft-shell jacket keeps you warm and dry while allowing a little wind to penetrate helping to counter the heat your body produces.

    With any outdoor activity, layering is the best approach.  By adding and/or removing layers, you can control your specific sensitivity to the cold throughout the ride.

    Head Coverage
    Your head, (along with your hands and feet) is prone to getting chilled and losing large amounts of body heat, often making it near impossible to warm up just with physical activity.  A Marino wool cap and/or balaclava works well.  Using the layering approach, I often wear or carry an additional balaclava. 

    Glove selection is probably the most varied portion of your winter outfit.  For me, I have many different pairs of gloves for different temperatures.  Typically, I carry glove liners which can either be worn or carried. I’ve had some success with the lobster claw design which is not quite a glove, and not quite a mitten.  It gives the warming properties of mittens by having your fingers together, but still allows the dexterity to shift and brake.  Hand warmers can help somewhat, but do not warm fingers and should not go directly on the skin.  There are some battery powered hand and finger warmers, which claim to warm without impacting dexterity.  I may be looking into these as this cold season progresses.

    Marino wool or synthetic socks provide the base layer.  Booties over the bike shoes are standard for me when riding below 40 degrees.  Each bicyclist needs to determine when booties are needed.  As with hand-warmers, foot-warmers can help when inserted into the shoe.  Battery powered foot warmers are also now available.

    Hydration and Food 
    It's easy to forget to hydrate in the winter months as you may not feel thirsty. Because your winter clothing traps more heat, your body temperature increases and causes you to sweat more. Also, the atmosphere tends to be drier in winter, pulling more moisture out with every breath. In winter, you can reach dehydration long before you start to feel thirsty. Drink up and include electrolytes which can help diminish cramping.

    Food is another key to your winter cycling comfort. Without the proper food intake, your body won’t produce the right fuel for maximum heat or energy, and you’ll have more difficulty staying warm. Eat a balanced meal before you head out and bring along snacks like energy bars and trail mix to consume during the ride and at breaks.

    Bicycle Outfitted and Maintained  
    Bike Tires 
    Winter means slush or rain, so to be sure your tires offer a good grip on wet surface, it’s a good idea to run them at a lower pressure. In the winter drop it down.  I set it between 90 and 100 psi.

    Tires throw slush, snow or rain up at you. Fenders don't have to be extravagant, just basic enough to contain the spray.

    Post-ride Maintenance
    By minimizing dirt accumulation, you'll reduce your bicycle’s wear and tear. Clean your chain and drivetrain after almost every ride. A chain cleaner, rag and an old toothbrush work well.

    Are you ready for winter bicycling? Smile

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