James Gagnon wrote on Monday, September 18, 2006 1:32 PM:
> i'm anticipating riding through the winter for the first
> time, does anyone have any tips/tricks to winterizing both my
> bike and myself?
James (and list):
As Connie has hinted, there is huge body of knowledge out there on
winter riding, and she gave a great list of places to start.
Here's my 2 cents ...
As they say, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
The key on the bike in the cold or wet is layers. Wicking base layer,
insulating top layer(s). You can go for a waterproof top layer for wet
conditions, but I find it traps the heat too much. I'd rather be cool
and wet with snow/rain than hot and wet with sweat. As for materials,
cotton soaks through and gets clammy. Hi-tech synthetics work well but
can get odiferous. I love wool; warm when dry or wet, and smells only as
bad as wet wool.
Feet are often a problem area; it's good to have a pair of winter shoes
that are a little larger than your summer shoes to accomodate one or two
pair of thicker wool socks. You can cover your socks or shoes with
various waterproof bootie products, or go cheap and put a bread bag over
each sock before you put your shoes on; this is a great vapor barrier
that helps keep your toes toasty. On the worst cold days, you can even
use some of those single-use shoe warmer packets that are sold for
Gloves are also key; that's the one article of clothing I like to be
waterproof, or at least windproof.
If your face is sensitive, a balaclava or face mask is good too. A
helmet liner (snug skull cap) is great.
Breathing through your mouth in the cold can sear your throat; use the
nose. If your nose starts freezing with each breath, hold each breath in
for a count or two before exhaling; it gives the outbound air a chance
to warm up more in your lungs, and it lets one more heartbeat of warm
blood pulse through your capillaries.
Winter salt, sand, spray, and grit are really rough on bikes. Make sure
everything is well-lubed before the rough stuff starts, and try to keep
it as clean as you're able. If you can, fill your water bottle when you
get to the office and flush the worst of the grunge off, especially in
the drivetrain (chain, gears) and brakes.
Fenders go a long way towards keeping gunk off of you and your bike. If
you want them, but it seems like your bike won't fit them, don't give up
and send me a note; there's almost always a way to make them work. The
only problem with fenders is riding in thick slush; sometimes it packs
up between the wheel and the fender and drags on the wheel. On such
days, it may be better to have no fenders, but instead clothing that can
get really mucky from the spray.
For tires, there are widely varying theories and variables. In dry loose
snow, sometimes skinny 'road' tires do best because they cut down to the
pavement, while wider tires float in the snow and don't grab. In wet
slush, it's a tossup. On rutted or smooth ice, wider tires at lower
inflation level often do better. The best on ice are studded tires.
Slick tires put more rubber on the road surface than knobbies, so
sometimes they offer better traction, but if you're on loose surfaces
like chunky snow, sometimes you need knobs to grab at all. You gotta
figger what're you gonna ride in, and make the best compromise you can.
My yuck-weather bike will have 35mm slick road tires for the rainy fall,
then switch to 40mm studs when the snow starts flying. Minimal short
fenders to keep the muck out of the headset and brakes, and otherwise no
coverage to prevent snowpack.
Regardless of your tire choice, the main thing to keep in mind over
slick and rough stuff is to keep the bike as upright as possible. On dry
roads, you normally turn the bike by leaning it. In slick stuff, keep
the bike as vertical as you can instead, and steer by leaning your body
and turning the bars. Practice the difference on dry roads first so you
can get used to it.
In snow conditions, the road is narrower because of snowy shoulders. Be
confident and take the lane when there's not room for cars to safely
pass. You have a right to use the road as much as they do. Most drivers
are pretty accomodating when they see you out there.
Before the season, and throughout, check your brake pads and rims. Road
grit can wear them down quickly. Keep them as clean as you can.
In the dark and murk of winter, you gotta gotta gotta run lights, not
just reflectors, at least to be seen. Redundant lights are best; at
least 2 headlights and 2 taillights. Reflectors too ... reflective tape
anywhere you can slap it really lights you up too. Get geeky with it.
After winter's over, clean your bike thoroughly and get it tuned up ...
it'll need some TLC and lotsa lube.
Finally, enjoy! The hardest part is motivating yourself to get on the
bike in the first place on a cold damp day, but I always find that
within 500 yards I'm starting to warm up, and I always am glad I chose
the bike. It teaches you something about yourself that you may not have
known; you find a surprising self-respect and confidence in your
adaptability and fortitude. And you'll enjoy the looks you get from your
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