I sit and think about winter commuting and I don’t really have much to say other than: “It can be done” and “It’s not as hard as you think.” It’s like learning to drive a vehicle in the winter. Your first car and first winter often give you some good life experiences. I remember the day I went into the ditch with my first car and was only a few minutes late to school. It did solidify in my head that no matter how careful you are, accidents can happen.
That nervous feeling creeps up every time I have to drive on a snow covered street or highway. I commuted to work by car my first year that I worked at Decorah's Oneota Community Food Co-Op. I drove from Waukon to Decorah and back at least five days a week. There were several nights I white knuckled it home, as well as some nights where I actually had to stay in town due to the weather. I think driving a vehicle in the winter is hard. You spin out at stop signs, have to dig your vehicle out of the snow, scrape off your windows, and warm the vehicle up for several minutes before taking off.
Biking isn't necessarily easy in the winter but it is completely doable. You have to layer up, and you can layer up with your normal winter clothes. You do not have to buy winter biking gear to wear unless you want to. Make sure you keep your extremities covered, especially on the cold days where temperatures drop into the negative.
If you do not have bar mitts, fenders, goggles, winter tires, or a balaclava, I would suggest you invest in getting them. Bar mitts give you extra coverage and shield the wind off your hands, fenders keep slush and muck off your clothes and face, goggles keep your eyes from tearing up, knobby winter tires give you more traction, and a balaclava keeps your face covered. I wear good winter coat that has a wind and waterproof outer shell. You will find that something simple like that will keep you much more comfortable than layers the cold air can easily blow through. With my lower body I like to wear thick wool socks and make sure I have some kind of legging on under my jeans. You could invest in some pants that one would wear for snowboarding or something if you see fit. I can manage with the distance I ride, but for those riding farther or just more throughout the day will appreciate extra layers.
The biggest thing I would like to address is why I ride in the winter months. People think I’m off my rocker or stunningly awesome. I ride my bike in the winter because I feel it is easier than other alternatives such as walking or driving. I do not always enjoy biking in the winter. It can be a pain in the butt! You get cold, and that sucks. I have trigger shifters that delay shifting when they are cold. You can get hung up on snow if you slow down on an incline due to a stop sign or a turning vehicle. You worry about vehicles just as much, if not more, than you do in the summer months.
I layer up. I run my winter tires at a lower air pressure, I give myself more time to slow down when I go down a hill, and I give myself more time to take turns. I ride my bike like I would drive my car and that is by simply riding more cautiously. I get to work in one piece, and won’t lie and say I do not feel a bit accomplished each day I go to work. I do not bike in the winter for notoriety or glory. I bike to work because I chose cycling as a lifestyle choice. I choose my bike over my car because I like my bike better. To me it makes more sense and is less troublesome than wondering if my car will start. I warm up enough with pedaling up a hill to be comfortable. I’s not a perfect way to warm up, but it does the trick.
I also bike in the winter because it isn’t impossible and I’ve proven to myself that I can. It is also fun sometimes, because if you have the right tires, you can even plow into snow piles. You can enjoy a peaceful, snowy night all by yourself and embrace the quiet tranquility.
Winter commuting is not an impossible feat and you may find that once you get started with it, you actually enjoy it!