Last week, we, in the upper Midwest, survived the Polar Vortex of 2014. It was dramatic, even for us hearty stock – schools were closed for 2 days; the media warned against taking pets outside; and the story floated around our office that an escaped criminal turned himself in because the cold weather was worse than the alternative. Personally, I learned that you really can tell the difference between 5° and – 12°. Yes, my friends, it was cold.
At Saris, on the coldest day of the week (morning temperature of – 18° with wind chill of – 50°), we had three of our regular bike commuters RIDE TO WORK. Call it commitment or call it crazy, they did it and they lived to brag about it. Of course, we rewarded them with warm cinnamon rolls and a site wide email with their photo. Bragging rights was a strong motivator!
It’s safe to say that we have some of the best experts in dealing with winter riding. And, so, in honor of the Polar Vortex 2014, we are sharing some insight from Cassandra Habel, a Saris customer service rep. and year round commuting guru. - Sarah Reiter, Saris Parking Category Manager
Winter Riding Tips:
by Cassandra Habel, Saris Customer Service Representative
1. On a budget? Try these tips to stay warm.
- If you live in a state that has all four seasons, you probably already have the majority of gear you need for winter biking.
- Items such as plastic baggies can be used over your socks inside shoes to keep your feet dry and warm. Baggies can also double as seat covers or if in a real pinch, mitten liners.
- Instead of buying a set of two studded tires, most of the time you’ll really only need one. Put a studded tire on your front wheel as your body weight and any other gear you may tote will be on the rear of the bike. A stud on the front will help you climb hills easier in ice and snow as well as plow through some of the sketchy spots. It’s generally recommended to have a least a knobby tire on the rear for a little extra traction.
2. Take time to learn how to ride in snow.
- Keeping a wide stance on your handlebars will help keep your center of gravity. Road bike riders should stay on the hoods while navigating snow. Mountain bike riders may want to experiment with wider bars or keeping their hands on the grips nice and wide.
- Ride confidently. If you ride like you’re going to fall, you will fall. Ride at the fastest pace you are comfortable with and don’t be afraid of riding through mini snow drifts. You’ll be surprised how riding confidently will get you through some sketchy spots.
- Downhill riding can be some of the most nerve wrecking. Put a foot down and coast while fluttering your brakes just a little. Too much braking and you may fishtail. Not enough and you may lose your line and wipe out. Experiment with what works best for you.
3. Don’t panic!
- There will be times where you start to fishtail or lose your balance. Usually you can correct yourself before a fall as long as you can keep your cool.
- If you for sure think you are going to fall, try tucking and rolling to the right. This will help make sure that if you are riding on the road or on a busy bike path that you are falling out of the line of traffic.
- Sometimes this can’t be helped, but most the time folks around you will be driving or riding slow enough that even if you fall in the middle of the street, they will be able to stop to help you up.
4. Be Visible.
- The sunrises late and the sun sets early. Make sure you have at least a headlight and a taillight on your bike – preferably one bright enough to light your way. An additional light can come in handy when pointed down at a path to see any black ice or ruts you may want to avoid.
- A lightweight neon vest or reflective accessories are always a good idea if you are riding in snowy, low visibility weather. Drivers have a hard enough time spotting cyclists in perfect 70 degree weather. Adding snow or drizzle to the mix doesn’t make for the best scenario.
5. Find a winter biking mentor.
- If you need help picking the best route or need help learning how to ride, find a local bike group or club that does year- round riding.
- Meetup.com is a great resource for folks looking to try new activities. Your local shop employees will probably also be willing to help teach you the ways of winter riding.
- Convince a friend or co-worker to ride with you one day to test the waters. Practice the route on your day off to see how long it realistically will take you to get to and from work. It will almost always take you twice to three times as long as it would normally in the summer months to commute to your destination.
- And, in closing, I’ll add my own piece of advice – enjoy the uniqueness of the ride, and savor the positives! I recognize that the positives of riding in sloppy terrain, cold biting air and treacherous winds are few and far between. But, it still gives you an opportunity to be outside and on your bike, and it far beats the alternative. I have NEVER seen a blog article touting the benefits of sitting in your car and fighting traffic. Nope, car commuting doesn’t bring a smile to your face no matter what the outside conditions. Keep riding and keep smiling. Spring is around the corner!