There is nothing like a nice peaceful fall ride where you can enjoy the fall colors. Communing with nature indeed tops the list of perks for those who prefer a bike saddle to a car seat. But an increasing number of bikers here in New Haven are getting serious about winter riding and commuting (commuters click here for more information). You still don’t have to pay for gas, parking or perhaps even car insurance. Biking in a snow storm can also be the fastest way around – no need to worry about getting stuck and you might have more direct options for your routes — as well as the prettiest.
Winter biking has become a more pleasant and feasible experience in recent years thanks to the happy convergence of better biking clothing and some great new gear to get you there safe.
- Fat Bikes are awesome! The monster trucks of the bike world are expensive, but those super-fat tires often float over the top of fresh snow and are much better at navigating winter road ruts on backstreets and alleys. Regular mountain bikes and fat-tired cruisers are good too – we recommend not riding your fancy racing bike in the winter months because the salt, sand and grit are particularly hard on your drive train (chain, sprockets and derailers).
- Studded tires. Cars and trucks in Connecticut can use studded tires from Nov. 15 to April 30. We suggest you do the same – they will most definitely help you deftly navigate those patches of hard-pack snow and ice.
- Bigger pedals. Clip pedals should be traded out for something that can handle heavier footwear.
- Stay warm. As with any winter outdoor sport, layering is key to comfortable winter biking. Put the moister wicking t-shirt and tights next to your skin, then add a layer of fleece, wool or other warm insulator and put a shell that is wind- and water-proof over the top. Legs need fewer layers, but hands and feet are best covered (boots if it’s below freezing). You can buy neoprene covers for bike shoes as well.
- Heads Up! You already have a helmet if you are a serious rider. Tight-fitting headwear like a fleece skullcap can make a huge difference under your helmet. A helmet covering can also cover the network of vents. Don’t use the hood of your jacket because it acts like an air scoop and blocks out the sound of traffic around you. Glasses or goggles are great additions as well.
- Lights and reflectors. The winter months have longer nights so you may do one (if not both) morning and evening commute in the dark. Drivers aren’t used to seeing bikes in the winter, so make it easier for them by using a light or adding a second on as well as reflectors.
- Fenders. Bike tires with serious tread kick up a lot of dirt, sand, snow and salt. Unless you are good with a dirty wet stripe down the back of your jacket, put on fenders if you don’t already have them on.
It’s also worth noting that it hurts a heck of a lot less to crash out in the winter. Your skin is well covered with a series of clothing layers and your landing will be (ideally) soft snow or ice where you slide with minimal resistance that normally creates road rash in the summer.
While it may not hurt as much to have a non-serious accident, it’s more dangerous to ride in the winter. The nighttime hours last longer, the roads can be more hazardous and others you share the road with simply aren’t used to seeing you even in the bike lane. If you do get into an accident with personal injury or property damage, it’s a smart idea to reach out to an attorney, particularly one who specializes in bike-related cases.