For many cyclists, the arrival of winter marks the end of their season. And that’s a shame. Winter cycling can be some of the most scenic, refreshing and adventurous of the year, whether you’re riding your own bike or using New York City’s bike share system. Sure, a shift in the temperatures presents a new set of challenges. But with the proper equipment and skills and a few adjustments in your routine, dealing with the elements on your city ride can be as simple as adopting the right mindset and embracing the change in seasons. It can even be a badge of honor among hearty New Yorkers. Welcome to our winter cycling guide.
The Quick List:
- Keep extremities — head, feet and hands — warm. Wool caps, neck warmers and socks, plus thermal gloves or mittens fight the winter chill.
- Ask your bike shop about fender options to protect your clothes and bike in wet weather.
- Carry extra clothes. You may catch some spray, even with fenders.
- Slow down. Prevent wipe-outs by braking early and by being cautious when riding over snow-pack.
- Own the road. Snow piles, plows or trucks may block the bike lanes, narrowing the road. You may need to signal and enter the traffic lane.
- Actively scan ahead. Metal or painted surfaces become slippery, and snow or puddles hide debris.
- Protect your muscles and joints. Do a few stretches before leaving home.
- Pack extra batteries for bike lights. The cold can affect electronics.
- Finally, if anything about the road or weather conditions feels scary to you, choose public transit.
Photo above by downtown from behind
Embrace the Season with Our Guide to Winter Cycling
The benefits of riding a bicycle for transportation in the city don’t subside during the winter. In fact, some may multiply. Think zipping past stalled traffic (especially in Midtown Manhattan these days), cruising along less-crowded bike lanes, maintaining fitness year around and enjoying bragging rights for being undaunted by the elements. The following tips will help keep your winter ride safe, comfortable and enjoyable.
Citi Bike, New York City’s super-popular bike share system, which clocked a record 14 million trips in 2016, and is on its way to doubling in size, is open all year long. So, if you’re an annual member, why not squeeze out every benefit? The blue bikes, with their wide tires, heavy frames, protective fenders and integrated lights for visibility, are ideal for winter trips around town, so bundle up and enjoy your ride.
- Follow Citi Bike social media. Stay updated on news and events all winter by following the Citi Bike Blog and twitter and facebook accounts.
- Keep saddle and bars dry. The split saddles on the newest Citi Bike models help with drainage. But a simple hack to sidestep lingering moisture is to carry a cotton bandana wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag in your purse, pocket or bike bag. Wipe snow or rain from the bike seat, grips and front rack, for a dry, comfortable ride.
- More tips: 6 Lessons from Extreme-Weather Citi Biking
- Let some air out of your tires. Softer tires have a larger contact patch with the ground and better traction. When the pavement is wet, I set my 23mm tires as low as 80 to 85 psi.
- Drop your saddle. A 1-centimeter reduction in seat height lowers your center of gravity and puts you in a more nimble position.
- Tighten your brakes. Wet rims require additional stopping power to slow you down. Pads also wear quickly in foul weather, which effectively loosens the brakes. To tighten your brakes, simply rotate the barrel adjusters (near the calipers on road bikes and levers on flat-bar bikes) counter-clockwise. Or, ask the mechanic at your local bike shop to do this for you.
- Skip clipless. In slippery conditions, when you may need to put a foot down fast, you may want to pass on clipless pedals or toe clips
- Consider cork handlebar tape. It provides better cold-weather insulation between your hands and the metal bars.
Biking in the rain and slush can be like taking a cold, gritty, 360-degree shower. Waterproof clothes, shoes and bags are helpful, but particularly on long rides, sometimes you have to accept that you’re going to get wet.
- Avoid down and cotton. As the saying goes, cotton is rotten, at least for cycling. And here’s why: unlike synthetic fabrics or wool, cotton and down fibers fully absorb water and hold it right against your skin. This layer of water conducts heat away from your body, while other materials, such as wool, maintain at least some of their insulating properties when wet.
- Protect your extremities. Your body’s circulatory reaction to cold weather is called shunting; blood is directed away from extremities to protect more vital organs in your core.
- Hands: Recommendation for wet-weather cycling: fleece-lined, neoprene gloves (grippy material on the fingers is a plus, since handlebars can get slippery in wet weather) available at bike shops and outdoor stores.
- Neck: A buff or a gator in wool or technical fabric can help shore up the draft between the neck of collar of your jacket and your chin. The stretchier versions can also be pulled up over your mouth and nose in extreme cold.
- Feet: Add layers of warmth to your shoes or boots with wool socks or tights. To keep feet dry in the rain, try neoprene socks, which can be found at scuba shops.
- Head: The easiest path to winter commuting warmth is a snug cap of wool or technical fabric worn beneath your helmet. These range from simple skull caps to styles with visors and ear flaps. The next level is a balaclava, a one-piece accessory that protects your head, part of your face and your neck. Note that you may need to adjust your helmet fit for the addition of a winter layer. And by the way, if you are a skier, as well as a cyclist, your ski helmet can do double duty in winter.
- Don’t overdress. A good rule of thumb is to wear just enough layers to be slightly cool when you start your ride. You’ll warm up within a few minutes of pedaling.
- Use what you own. Do you ski, snowboard or engage in other winter sports? Then maybe you already own silk underwear, wool socks, a wind-proof shell or other items that will serve you just as well for cycling in the city.
- Hydrate. Ever notice that being cold sends you to the bathroom more frequently? Not only does shunting render your limbs cold, but it can dehydrate you. With more blood directed to the core, your body acts like it’s holding more water than it really is.
- Preserve your vision. A standard cycling cap is the perfect rain awning, while glasses keep water and debris out of your eyes. Cycling specs with no frame on the bottom of the lenses are less likely to fog up, especially if you pinch the nose piece to elevate them away from your face. Some cyclists favor ski goggles in extreme weather.
- Be seen. Wear bright or reflective clothing, and turn on those bike lights — think LEDs. Especially in winter, where everything seems to fade into a grey background, there’s no such thing as too much visibility.
- Sip up. Especially on that morning commute, a hit of a warm beverage from an insulated bottle can help warm your core.
Above: Bekka of Bikeyface breaks down winter warmers for your cold-weather city ride.
Staying safe on wet roads is all about thinking a step ahead and remembering that your traction is limited.
- Brake twice. Quickly squeeze and release the brakes before you really need to slow down. This clears water off your rims, and you’ll have much better stopping power for round two.
- Brake before turning. Braking and turning each apply lateral force to your tires. Doing both at the same time doubles this force and is more likely to send your tires sliding.
- Lean your bike, not your body. It’s impossible to turn without leaning in, but leaning your bike instead of your body makes it easier to keep your mass over your tires and correct for a skid. If you lean inside with your body and your tires slide outside, the only place for you to go is down.
- Use the rear brake. A sliding rear wheel is much easier to control than a sliding
front wheel. Deliberately skidding your rear wheel can also help you gauge how slick the road is.
- Avoid puddles. You never know what’s lurking beneath. And If you’ve let some of air out of your tires to improve traction, you’re more likely to suffer a pinch flat if the pavement is rough.
- Dodge pigeons. New York’s beloved mascots slow down considerably when temps drop below freezing.
- Follow subway lines. On icy days, streets with subway lines running underneath are the last to freeze over.
- Ride in tire tracks. When bike lanes are obscured by snow, automobile tire tracks can serve as mini bike lanes.
- Stick to the sunny side. When possible, follow the sun. It’s where the slippery stuff melts first, plus an extra measure of warmth is always welcome.
- Take it easy on bridges. With nothing but frigid air beneath them, bridges can be icy even when the streets are clear. Remember that the Brooklyn Bridge’s wood planks are slicker than the pavement on other bridges.
- Beware of metal, cobblestones and paint. These surfaces are slick as ice when wet. Also watch out for patches of oil mixed with water, especially if it’s been a while since the last rain or snow.
- Park away from the curb. Snow plows pose the same danger as street cleaners. Ever wonder how all those twisted, abandoned bikes on the sidewalk got that way?
- Freshen up. Think you don’t sweat in cold weather? Overheating is often a bigger problem than catching a chill. So, remember to pack a few beauty and grooming essentials to freshen up at your destination.
- Clean off your bike. A bicycle is like a bathroom—a quick cleaning on a regular basis is a cinch, but it will turn into a hopeless mess with neglect. Simply wiping down your bike, especially the chain, rims, and brake pads, goes a long way towards keeping it clean and free of corrosive salt. For a more complete cleaning in the constrained space of a city apartment, give your bike a rinse in the bathroom shower.
For your information
- NYC Winter Cycling News and Events: bikenyc.org
- Learning to Ride and Building Skills: bike.nyc
- Winter Rides and Workshops for Women: webikenyc.org