How to Commute During the Winter

Well ladies & gents, winter is upon us… *sigh* If you’re like me, now is when I begin asking myself each morning “It’s _ degrees out. Do I seriously want to ride into work today?” More often than not, the answer is yes. To put it simply, I love commuting. It’s free, I get a quick workout in the morning and evening, I don’t have to fight for a parking spot … the list can seriously go on and on. 

I’m pretty lucky in that I live and work in Minneapolis, one of the most bike friendly states in the U.S., and my commute is not only short, but pretty safe traffic-wise. The downside? It gets cold here. Real cold. Figuring out how to prepare for fall and winter commuting takes time. And, in my experience, it takes a days of being way overdressed plus a few days of being way underdressed to work out the kinks. 

With the help of the loyal Moxie Facebook fans, I’ve compiled some tips and tricks to help you prepare if you decide to take on cold weather commuting.

The Gear

First, you’re gonna want make sure that you’ve got some handy gear for the adventure that is winter commuting… this is the easy part.

lightThe #1 recommended thing you need? Lights. The more the merrier, so to speak. Not only are lights fairly inexpensive, they are ultra important for making sure you’re visible. No ifs ands or buts – wear lights.

Next on the list is knobby tires. Mountain, snow, and cyclocross bikes are ideal for winter commuting because their frame is designed to accommodate knobby tires for extra traction on the ground. If it’s wet & slippery out, slick road tires simply won’t cut the mustard.

bagBackpacks and saddle bags are another accessory that you may want to invest in. I carry this Timbuk2 backpack  that I adore because I can cram so much extra clothing and food into it and it’s still really comfortable and supportive on my shoulders/back. I also have a small saddle bag on my bike that holds a flat repair kit and a plastic bag to cover my saddle in case it snows/rains while I’m at work.

Final gear recommendation – fenders. These are also fairly inexpensive and totally worth it. Gone are the days of having water/mud/slush/etc splattered up the back of your pants. Yay!

What to Wear

This is the complicated part. What you wear depends on a few things – the weather where you are, mainly, but also how well you tolerate the cold. As I mentioned before, you’ll probably experience over & underdressing before you figure out what is most comfortable for you in different temperature ranges. Don’t worry, you’ll get it worked out. In the meantime, here are a few pointers to build from:

1. Dress in layers. Moisture wicking layers go on first, followed by insulating layers. Top it all off with something wind or waterproof. No need to invest in fancy clothing if you don’t want to, old wool shirts and your winter jacket will work just fine. The main thing is making sure that you’re covered and can peel away layers if you get too toasty and can add layers if you are too chilly. Our friend Steph recommends wearing “at least one layer of wool socks, followed by windproof boot covers, or something waterproof for sloppy days.”

stuff2. Accessories are your friend. I recommend owning multiple pairs of gloves in varying weights, a neck warmer (or thick scarf), a hat (or balaclava) to wear under your helmet, and even glasses to prevent frozen tears from forming by your eyes. You can mix and match based on the temperature, but having some version of these items will make your commute much more comfortable. Georgie O says “I use ski gloves and pack some lighter gloves to swap once I warm up.”

3. Check the weather forecast. Clearly, you can stick your head out the door and see what’s going on in the morning but it’s good to know what to expect and how you’ll need to be dressed later in the day for your ride home. I’ve made the mistake of not checking one too many times and had to ride home very annoyed and cold.

My final tip is to know your limits and be careful. Try to stray away from icy roads/paths, heavy winds, and extreme colds.

If you have any other suggestions for cold weather commuting, feel free to comment!

Ride on.


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