When it comes to bike commuting, the months from November to February separate the contenders from the pretenders. The icy winds, pelting rain and lurking patches of black ice will test even the biggest bike nerd’s devotion to their two-wheeled steed. Whether you’re hell bent on toughing it out for the sake of Mother Nature, desperate to keep up with your daily ride to keep off the weigh, or if you truly have no other way to get from A to B, these basic modifications to your gear will make a world of difference.
There’s nothing worse than showing up to class with a long, wet, dark brown streak leading up the backside of your jeans, over your rain jacket to your backpack. It’s unbecoming and unnecessary. No bike in the Pacific Northwest is complete without at least a rear fender, but the whole set is preferred. The AS Outdoor Center, or any local bike shop, can hook you up. If you’re feeling crafty, I’ve seen some nifty homemade fenders born from empty beer cans, coat hangers and a little mechanical magic. But on a really rainy day, it’s worth it to have fenders you can trust.
Nothing is more faithful than a lovely, old steel ten-speed road bike from the 1970s or 80s for getting around Bellingham. But the moment that trusty ride hits a patch of ice with those smooth, skinny tires, you’re likely to hit the ground. Hard. The best way to combat this during the winter months is to track down a set of what are sometimes termed “cyclocross tires.” Cyclocross refers to a particular discipline of cycling that involves riding road bikes on rough terrain. For your purposes, these tires are simply nitty-gritty mountain-bike-ish tires big enough in diameter for your road bike. Your wheels will be marked with their size, make sure to check this before you buy any tires. Most road bikes run either 700c or 27 inch tires. Look for one of those numbers on your rims. If you ask for either of these at a bike shop, they will be able to help you out. And you will sound knowledgeable. Win-win. While knobby tires make a substantial difference, it’s still best to avoid icy spots whenever possible.
Without a doubt, the absolute worst part of riding in the winter is the freezing of the fingers. Bare digits have the potential to stick to metal brake levers like that kid’s tongue on the fire pole in “A Christmas Story.” You have your options in which gloves you’d like to rock. Cotton is generally not ideal, as it tends to soak up water. Mittens are not recommended either, as they make it very difficult to use the brakes or shift while maintaining a good hold on the handlebars. During the 1989 Giro d’ Italia, Andy Hampsten battled through a nasty snow storm to win the stage going over a climb known as The Gavia. On this day where many of his competitors faltered due to frostbite in the fingers, Hampsten was able to fight on and finish the race in part thanks to the neoprene scuba diving gloves that kept his hands warm. So if you plan on taking your road bike from the 80s over any ridiculously steep snowy climbs, diving gloves might be just the ticket. You can also find a good pair of moisture-wicking gloves at any local bike store or REI.
Big, Flat Pedals
This is definitely an optional modification, but if you’re a fan of wearing big, warm boots during the winter months and generally find that these don’t fit in your narrow toe cages, it may be worth switching to some big, flat platform pedals. There are a plethora of options in this category of componentry, and the price range is substantial.
Backpack, helmet and shoe covers
While totally unnecessary if you already have a snazzy, waterproof messenger bag, no one wants a bunch of slightly damp books and papers after a long, wet ride to campus. A quick and easy way to combat the damp is to pick up a stretchy little rain fly for your favorite non-waterproof backpack. A helmet cover will prevent rain from soaking your noggin through the holes in your helmet. They often come with reflective colors so you can be seen on a foggy evening. Having a visor on your helmet will also help keep rain from obstructing your vision. Shoe covers or booties fasten around your everyday shoes with Velcro or zippers and will keep your toes from turning rock-solid cold after a wet ride to campus.
The Right Lube
Nothing ruins a ride like the squeaks of an under-lubricated drive train. The rain doesn’t help, and the best way to keep your ride quiet through the wet winter months is to opt for what’s called a “wet” chain lubricant. Using this will keep the precipitation from working its way into the crevices of your bicycle’s delicate parts. Your bike will thank you with miles of smooth, silent cruising.