With temperatures dropping and the unpredictability of Iowa winters, you might have packed up your bike for the year. But with some small modifications and clothing additions, you can keep up your bike commute through everything Mother Nature has to throw at us.
Chances are, your normal bike will be suitable for most winter conditions. If you have a standard road racing bike you’ll want to look into getting tires with a more aggressive tread. Mountain bikes, hybrids, and fat tire bikes work great. Some riders will switch to old singlespeeds during the winter because there are fewer moving parts to get gunked up with salt and grime. Adding a fender can help keep you clean and pedals with more grip, like BMX pedals, will help your feet stay on the pedals will leaving them free if you need to put them down in a hurry. Unless you plan to clean your bike after every ride, it’s best to leave it in a cold area, so there is less of a chance for ice to form on the gears and brakes. Pay extra attention to lubricating all your gears to keep you bike running smoothly.
Visibility is key during these darker months. Bike lanes and paved trails are often not plowed, leaving you to share more of the road with cars. Adding extra lights to your bike (and body) and wearing a safety vest can help insure that motorists notice you. The majority of the time, plowing and salting will mean the road conditions are not all that unusual. Keep an eye out for slush and icy, especially on turns, or areas that have been packed into ice from the weight of cars. The key is to take your time and give yourself extra room to maneuver.
Dressing for the winter on a bike is simple: layer, layer, layer. Start with a base wicking layer, then an insulating layer, and finish with a wind- and waterproof shell. For your legs, you typically need one less layer. Jeans covered with a windproof shell tends to work well. Balaclavas and buffs do a good job of keeping your face warm, and ear muffs or skull caps layer well under your helmet. Ski goggles or sunglasses keep the wind out of your eyes, and helps cut down on the glare from snow. Mittens, specifically the “lobster-claw” style, are best for your hands because they keep your fingers closer together and therefore, warmer. On especially windy days you can layer glove liners with a windproof mitten shell. For your feet, it’s most important that your footwear be wind- and waterproof, so more often than not boots are a better option than bike or athletic shoes.
Unfortunately, even with the best planning, sometimes what winter has in store for us is more than we can bear. Bikes break down, conditions get a bit too harsh, and you have to call it quits. Be sure to plan (and test) your route ahead of time, and if possible, have it run near bus routes in case you need to catch a ride. Also be sure to keep a stocked safety kit and cell phone on you in case of emergency. Safe riding out there!