Where’d everybody go? There is a stark contrast in the amount of cyclists traveling to work over the Hawthorne bridge on a beautiful day in June versus a frigid January morning. Here in Portland, Oregon we have an amazing bike commuting culture. This culture is supported by our road infrastructure, friendly neighborhood vibe and environmentally conscious citizens! But the number of people commuting by bicycle changes drastically when we hit the cold season. I wanted to share some advice on how to stay strong through the season and continue winter bike commuting. Prepare yourself to be a year-round biker. Prepare yourself to be wet, cold, and hardcore.
Winter Bike Commuting
It ain’t easy. It’s only for the biggest baddest biking bosses. But, by biking, basically, you’ve earned basic bragging rights you can always bank on. That brings me to the basis of what you’re be bargaining by biking in the blistering cold. Comfort. Transitioning into the season for winter bike commuting takes serious cycling gusto. As a shop, we’ve tackled this issue in the past, covering methods of setting your bike up to last the season. But how can we set ourselves up.
When you opt to commute through the cold season, you opt to give up of some of the luxuries of car travel. The warmth, the speed, the effortlessness. It’s so easy to store your bike in the basement and say goodby until April. However, some of us don’t have that luxury; Some of us don’t want that luxury. With about 2 and a half Portland winters under my belt, I’ve learned some tricks to get me past the mental barriers of the difficult season.
First, you need to accept that with the good weather comes the not so good. We can’t just have perfect weather all the time! Portland summer wouldn’t come with the same thrills if that weather remained constant. The winter gives us time to recoup and reflect and grow. Changes in season reflect changes in us as humans. There is an eery peacefulness to the misty-grey of Portland winter and we will endure winter bike commuting together!
For me, one of the hardest parts of starting my day on the right pedal is my motivation. The warmth underneath my blankets in the morning provides the best argument for my difficulties getting up with enough time to ride to work. Although I toyed with the idea of eliminating blankets and not sleeping, I decided to try some other ideas first. I like to prepare everything for the next day.
From my clothing to my baggage, I’ll minimize the effort required of me in the morning.I’ll go through all my daily needs in my head and get my bags packed and ready. Next I will gather my clothes for the morning. Sometimes I’ll even dress in exactly what I will wear the next day. This way I can roll out of bed with less decision to make and not have to worry about that cold gap while changing clothes.
Crazy? You’re not the first one to say that. But you’re also probably not getting up at 6:00 to commute to the gym, followed by a change of clothes and hustling to work, then solving world hunger and winning 6 Nobel Peace Prizes. Did the last two happen? No, not yet, because I’ve spent too much time in bed instead of winter bike commuting in the mornings for most of my life. But we’ll get there.
Getting there is hard when you can see your breath as you exhale each morning. That’s why I recommend purchasing a space heater. They are not very expensive and, in my professional cold air responder opinion, worth the investment. You can leave bed comfortably and ready to take on the day.
Need even more preparation? Set up your coffee for the next morning by filling your filter or press the night before. Even prepare the water so all you have to do is hit the on switch! Breakfast is important as well but it’s important to be healthy! A sausage egg and cheese may provide satisfaction initially, but doesn’t provide the necessary nutrients to get through the day as you’re pedaling to your destination. If I opt not to skip brekky as I frequently do, I’ll often prepare museli the night before. This way it’s ready to go in the fridge as soon as I’m getting up. Packed with oats, nuts and fresh fruit it’s everything I need to get the day going!
So to keep motivated, start your days smart. Be healthy, be as prepared as possible, and be comfortable. We’re not as hardcore as we seem, but with preparation we can keep up the façade.
After you’ve finished up with your (hopefully) effortless morning ritual, it’s time to hop on the bike to roll out! As I mentioned earlier, winter bike commuting is achievable through comfort. Therefore, you need the necessary equipment for your personal comfort!
Let us begin with the extremities. A cozy pair of gloves is incredibly important for retaining that comfort out the door. Exposure to the cold air of the outside seems to be everlasting. Be ‘hands on’ about getting ‘hands in’ gloves. Meandering from our fingers to our toes, let’s get some cozy socks on. Wool socks provide that insulation that keeps feet from cold exposure. It’s nice to carry an extra pair of socks as wet socks cause much discomfort throughout the day. Water proof shoes also go a long way but you can probably get through the season with comfortable socks and a thick shoe or sneaker.
Every layer donned provides a coating of warmth. However, with the physical exertion associated with cycling will likely require removal of clothes over time (depending on the distance and effort of your ride). It might be worth is to invest in a jacket with pit zips to let the air breathe in your steamy arm crevasse. Additionally, wearing easily strippable outer layers and having a place to stow said gear will be great for changes in weather! By always carrying rain pants and a jacket I am ready for these changes, especially in a city like Portland! It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.
Underneath it all, it might help to wear a base layer if you know it’s going to be really chilly out there. Some days I’ll go as far as rockin’ a balaclava to protect the wind burn on my face and ears (plus its a perfectly good excuse to look like a bike riding ninja). Having comfortable clothing, tangible items you can get in a few hours, is another key to success for getting through the season.
While we’re talking tangibles, let’s discuss the actual bike. First things first, make sure your bike is working well. Start the season with a tune-up to make sure the bike you plan to use is ready to roll from brakes to gears. Most shops (including ours) offer a tune-up special heading into the winter season. Then you can add any extra pieces to the bike that will be helpful for the season. Maybe some tires with better grips, maybe some fenders to avoid the water/mud splatter and DEFINITELY some bike lights to increase your visibility out there during these shorter days. Then you’ll be looking less wet, less cold, and way more hardcore.
Believe in Yourself
There is but a small group of individuals that choose cycling as their main form of transportation. Winter bike commuting is a daunting task asking travelers to sacrifice comfort, speed and time. But in following these tips, combined with the excellent nature of who you are, a hardcore hero of the two wheeler you will be.