Bike Commuting: In All Weather

Are your ready to take the leap from fair weather bike commuting to year round?  For more than 5 years, I have bike commuted most days through, rain, wind, snow, and ice.  Not only has this benefited my family in numerous ways, but it is a lot of fun too.  Here are some tips for successful rainy and cold weather commuting.

Apparel

The right jacket can make all the difference.  Water-resistant and wind stopping fabrics are terrific but expensive –  so do your homework to find the right jacket for you.  A warm sweater or fleece with a wind-stopping jacket is all the insulation you need on a cold day.  Be careful not to over dress or you will find yourself sweaty and stinky when you arrive.  A good rule of thumb, dress for a day that is 20° warmer than the actual temperature.

Gloves and hats are important to protect your extremities.  My favorite options are snow or ski gloves and a wool balaclava.  Balaclavas are lightweight, inexpensive, warm, and act like a hat and scarf at the same time.  Balaclavas can be pulled down or rolled up during warmer weather, and they fit nicely under a helmet.

Although numbers are increasing, bike commuters are still uncommon in the Fort Wayne area.  Visibility is critical for safety.  Reflective vests are an inexpensive and a versatile way to increase your visibility.  They are lightweight, packable, and fit over all but the biggest of coats.

Bike Accessories

Winter tires and fenders make a big difference on cold, wet, and icy streets.  The softer rubber and knobby treads of winter tires slip less and grip more.  Fenders are as important as your jacket and why more bikes do not have them, I will never understand.  Not only do fenders keep you drier, they keep your bike cleaner and working better.  Salt can cause major problems to your bike.  Fenders help to keep the salt, water, and grime off you and your bike.

Lights

Throughout the fall, winter, and spring, daylight hours are limited and you may find yourself commuting in the dark.  Lights are an important element for a safe commute.  For around $20, you can get lights that will help others take notice of you.  If you are hoping to light your path with a bright headlight, I would suggest getting something more expensive and rechargeable. About 4 years ago, I spent around $100 on a rechargeable headlight and taillight.  They greatly increased my visibility and they continue to get daily use.

Bags

There are many options for carrying your stuff while biking.  Milk crates, backpacks, panniers, messenger bags all work great.  Although nice, there is no need for fancy waterproof equipment.  A simple solution for keeping expensive electronics dry is to carry a plastic garbage bag or ziplock bag with you.

Take it easy

Cold and rainy rides invite accidents.  Go slow, assume others cannot see you, and always give up the right of way.  Wet roads and wet brakes make for longer stopping distances, another reason for slow speeds.  Be a defensive rider, especially when the weather is not cooperating.

If all else fails, revert to driving, walking, car-pooling, or public transportation for a day or two.  The point of your commute is to arrive safely.  The bike will happily wait until tomorrow’s nicer weather for its next ride.

Tips for Safety:

Plan your route.  Make sure you know the best and safest way to your destination.  If your route crosses major roads, look for alternatives, use crosswalks, walk or ride on sidewalks.

Ride with traffic.  Too often, bike riders take the jogger approach; they ride against traffic near the curb.  Bikes are traffic and should behave according to the same traffic laws as cars.

Know the weather.  Watch the forecast the night before and plan accordingly.  The right gear will make your ride more enjoyable and your day at work much nicer.

Be seen.  Lights and reflective clothes can greatly improve your chances of being seen while riding.  If cars see you, they are much less likely to run into you.  Reflective vests are very effective and cost only a few dollars.  Most bicycle lighting is also very inexpensive.

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