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Winter


The late Sheldon Brown, a winter commuting advocate

Riding a bicycle in the worst of winter weather is not only possible, it is practical and can be great fun.

The first consideration is temperature. Dressing in layers is the best response. That way, as you start out, you'll be comfortable enough, and as your body warms from the exercise, you can take off layers. It is not uncommon on a below-freezing day to become warm enough to strip down to a T-shirt. Make sure to wear a hat, since most of a person's heat is lost through the head. Wear gloves too, since the wind over your hands can make you uncomfortably numb fairly quickly. You may prefer to wear ski goggles on a day with wind, and possibly blowing snow or rain.

Be careful of sweat and over-exertion. If you take a break, the sweat can cool you too fast, and if you are tired on a cold day, your body may have trouble maintaining sufficient heat. So, just as you would in the summer, don't ride farther than a distance from which you can easily return.

Inexperienced winter bicyclists are concerned with falling. Once you learn to become a tripod, that problem goes away. When you find your wheels sliding sideways, simply put a foot down at a wide angle. You become a stable triangle that can't fall over. Oh, you may not end up going the direction you had in mind, but you won't fall.

Oddly, thin tires can be better that fat tires in winter conditions. They'll cut through up to four inches of snow without slowing you down as much as wide tires. They can also offer better traction in the same way that thin ice skates are better on ice than something wider, such as skis.

When you move along at a good clip on a road where many cars have left tracks in the snow, you can encounter an unexpected effect: Your front wheel will jump a few inches from side to side, as your bike negotiates the various car tracks. With experience, this shifting back and forth is not only fairly safe, it is fun.

Perhaps the biggest safety concern is visibility. Motorists will understandably do as little as possible to clear their windows on a cold day. Some will try to drive without the use of their mirrors, and worse, they'll try to see everything they need through a small cleared hole in the middle of their windshields. They won't see you! And, if that's not bad enough, they may be cold and miserable, a mood that's not conducive to their awareness and your safety. So, even more than usual, drive defensively, and always plan an escape route. If you find yourself without an escape, get entirely off the road until cars pass.

This is especially true of narrow streets. As you know, they get much narrower as accumulated snow banks encroach at the sides of the road.

As you become a winter rider, your friends and relatives will admire your "hardiness" not realizing how much joy you are getting from your winter activity.



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