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Winter Biking Primer

Brrrr! Don't let the weather knock you out of your bike commuting routine. On a recent trip to Chicago, Streetfilms had the opportunity to go on a ride and get several helpful tips for making winter biking not only do-able, but enjoyable. So today, as temperatures sit in the single digits in New York City, we thought we would provide you with a little winter riding inspiration from our friends in the mid-west.

<br> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Julie Hochstadter:</i>  [00:01] If you bike in the summer, it’s not that hard to bike in the winter.  You just need to have the right clothes and a couple of good tips.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Jason Jenkins:</i>  [00:13] There’s a few steps in getting ready for cycling through the winter.  And I kind of like to think of it as starting from the inside out, and really the very first place is just start with up here, mentally.  You know that it’s not going to be as bad as you might think.  The rest of it is really is more about not really trying to stay warm but actually just regulating the heat.  One of your biggest enemies when you’re riding in the winter is actually overheating.  Picking the right clothes is important there.  One of the first things that I think is important is a good set of long underwear.  You know this isn’t your granddad’s waffle weave cotton Sears and Roebuck long underwear.  This is synthetic and it’s designed to pull moisture off your body and help it evaporate.  A second layer of just a wool sweater is always a great mid layer.  And then on the bottom, I’m a big fan of jeans and then an outer layer.  And I think it’s more important for your outer layer to be windproof than it is for it to be waterproof.  What I love about mittens is they keep you warmer because your whole hand is sharing all the heat.  For feet, you definitely want to give yourself some nice sets of thick wool socks, and then just some good winter boots.  And the important thing to know about shoes is you want to have a lot of room in there.  Once we step outside we’ll talk about a couple of more things just in terms of safety and riding.  But that’s a good start for keeping yourself warm.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Jason Jenkins:</i>  [01:31] We’re outside now, we’re going to get rolling.  There’s a couple more items that I just want to talk about clothing wise.  Headgear, really big fan of a thin insulating skull cap.  And then the infamous balaclava, not to be confused with baklava which is the Mediterranean dessert.  A lot of people ask if you need a special bike to ride in the winter.  I think when 99% of the winter that it’s not necessary, you can use the same bike all year round.  One thing that is really nice to have on your bike though is a good set of full fenders.  Alright, ready to go?</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Jason Jenkins:</i>  [02:08] I don’t know about you but I definitely get the winter blahs, so being able to get outside on my bike, even if it’s just for my commute to work and back and get some sun makes a big difference in my mood throughout the winter.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Jason Jenkins:</i>  [02:20] We’re on Stage Street right now, about to cross over one of Chicago’s many bridges.  Bridges present sort of a problem in the winter.  Some of our bridges are filled in, but the ones that are just bare metal grading can get a little slippery.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Jason Jenkins:</i>  [02:37] So now we’re on the Lakefront trail running right alongside Lake Shore Drive, which is a State Highway.  One of our biggest events of the year is Bike to Drive.  We shut down this road for 18 miles and let people ride their bike on it.  We get about 17 to 20,000 people every year.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i>  [02:53] We keep an update on our website about Lakefront Trail conditions so you can always go onto our website at </font><a href="http://www.atactivetrans.org/" target="_blank"><font color="#0000FF" size="3" face="Times New Roman"><u>www.atactivetrans.org</u></font></a><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"> and check out the Lakefront path conditions for that day and we’ll let you know if it’s safe to go.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i>  [03:09] We’re here at Boulevard Bikes in Chicago for Boulevard’s winter happy hours.  When you’re out during challenging weather and you see someone else biking, you know, you’re more likely to say hi or wave to them because you’re kind of in the same boat.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i>  [03:21] I ride my bike in the winter to prove how tough I am and to have the bike lane to myself.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i>  [03:25] We do ride our bike all seasons here in Chicago where it gets mighty cold.  There is good public transportation in Chicago but then there’s the waiting and the carrying stuff and a bike can carry things for you.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i>  [03:36] We do our best to support year round cycling.  I think anybody riding their bike in the winter should have fenders on their bike and oil your chain every time it gets wet.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Julie Hochstadter:</i>  [03:47] I sold my car two years ago.  I just decided that I could get around without a car and even do my real estate work.  I feel great.  I couldn’t believe how much I was sweating in 20 degree weather.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Jason Jenkins:</i>  [04:01] Riding in single digits is a lot better than riding in above freezing temperature when it’s sleeting because it’s very hard to stay warm when you’ve got wet moisture accumulating on your body.  </font> <br> </p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> Transcription Sponsored by: <a href="http://transcriptdivas.com.au">Transcript Divas Transcription Services</a>
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  • v

    and voila, you're ready to rob a bank!

  • Charlie

    Great video. My strategy for layering is a little different, but I find I also tend to not get as cold as many people.

    For my commute to work, I wear an undershirt and dress shirt, with a medium-weight jacket (waterproof if it's raining or snowing, non-waterproof if not). I wear khakis for pants (no long underwear). If it's raining or snowing or if the road is slushy, I'll pull rain pants over my khakis. Then I just wear a hat under my helmet, gloves, and a scarf if it's 32 F or under.

    I love bicycling in the winter. It lets you experience all the seasons, and I totally agree with the video that it improves your mood! My coworkers think I'm nuts but when I get to work in the same amount of time everyday and it takes them an extra hour in the car or via transit, it doesn't feel so crazy at all!

  • http://rantwick.blogspot.com RANTWICK

    I thought that was great. It also showed quite a variety of riders and preferred setups, which I liked. I've become a rabid winter commuter here in London, Ontario, Canada, and more people seem to be joining me each year thanks at least in part to videos like this.

  • harry krishna

    well done.  very good advice, except for the jeans.  wet jeans will kill you.  i'm a geezer and i'm moving back to wool.  ebay used wool items, particularly pants converted to knickers, do it for me.

    and i love this site.

  • Joe A

    Nice job! Cool editing. But what the frick was rattling as he was riding along? His keys??

  • Lazarus



  • fafacious

    I wish I was tough enough to cycle in the winter.  

    And Elizabeth your demonstration of how to dress is priceless!

  • Agustin

    Some of my friends in Calgary ride to work in -30 degrees and they swear by ski helmets & goggles on those cold days. Makes sense to me!

    Here in Vancouver, winter = rain, so waterproof gear is essential. It's amazing how cozy one can be with a wool inner layer and a waterproof layer alone.

    Thanks for these vids; keep up the good work!

  • http://www.bikewinter.org Gin Kilgore

    I very much agree with Jason that winter biking helps beat the winter blues. Thanks for this video. I put it on the bike winter main page: http://bikewinter.org/home. Let me know if I need to add anything to the attribution.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Elizabeth Press

    Looks Great, Gin. Thanks! And yes Joe, sorry about the keys.

  • Lowell Nelson

    I've got a short, 2.5 mile, commute in suburban Chicago. I just put a windproof layer over my business casual attire and add a fleece jacket, facemask or heavier gloves at cooler temps.

    Thanks for showing the variety of folks that ride in the winter.

    Who was that masked woman? Great work Julie, Jason, John and Kevin spreading the joys of winter biking.

  • Eduardo Acosta

    Same here with a 2.5 mile suburban Chicago commute. I got my casual business attire with my waterproof jacket, fleece winter hat, gloves and vented lens glasses. In cold days I wear wool socks, with liners in my gloves and a balacalva.

    Good to see other brave souls ride in the chill.

  • http://twitter.com/yaweneep yawen

    The streets seem so clear in Chicago! I feel like streets here in NYC needs a lot of work - plowing. Often it's the blocked lane filled with slush or even ice that makes me avoid hopping on my bike, NOT the cold. But I do sneak in a few rides here and there... the few days after a snow storm when the snow have satisfactorily melted.

  • http://twitter.com/jamesmoore80 jamesmoore80

    Great video! This is the best winter cycling video I've ever seen! This is my first winter biking and I had been preparing for it since summer. I definitely went a little overkill, but it's ok because the bike and gear I have make for a really comfortable, safe, and fun ride. I've found that I definitely prefer it as cold as possible out there. I'm happy with 10F or below. I also find that a really good set of lights helps me feel secure about being seen on the road when it's dark or during inclement weather. It took a lot of research to find the lights because you have to order them online since most shops don't carry them. Also I find that one of the best pieces of gear are my Bar Mitts which are also called pogies. Basically they are big neoprene covers which fit on the handlebars and you can just slide your hands in and out real easily. This way I can wear no gloves or thicker gloves with them and have full dexterity. I also made a few winter cyclists lists on twitter so that people can trade ideas on there and maybe motivate others to give it a try.

  • http://www.chrispaluch.com Chris Paluch

    The woman interviewed with her baby taught me in her yearbook class in high school. I remember her riding to school every day rain or shine. She's a rock star. 

  • http://www.bikeview.ca Ken Walker

    Some footage of biking in Winter in Ottawa and bike maintenance here:


    I should document what I wear for the various types of cold I have to deal with.

    Anything you can do to get more people bike is great! Keep it up!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/inwoodist Urbanis

    I agree with yawen that what's keeping me off the roads in NYC right now is all the snow and slush, not the cold. As soon as the roads are clear and dry, I'll be out there!

  • Kevin Love

    What’s with the astronaut suit? And the goggles that look like an alien invader. And was there one person wearing a helmet and face shield looking like an Imperial Stormtrooper?

    All that garbage is totally unnecessary. The absolute last thing that we need for bicycle advocacy is to project a message “What I’m doing is a bizarre fringe activity for weirdos who dress accordingly.”

    Here’s Kevin’s much more sensible advice tips for winter cycling.

    Tip #1: Clothing. You should wear your normal clothing for being outside in winter. The activity of cycling will generate body heat so be prepared to pull down a zipper or undo a button to ventilate to avoid overheating.

    Tip #2: Lights. Absolutely necessary. You will probably be riding home from work in the dark.

    Tip #3: The bicycle. Roads in winter have dirty, salty glop on them, so make sure that you get a bike that keeps itself and yourself clean. Internal hub gears, internal hub brakes, full chaincase and coatguard are needed to keep yourself clean and keep the road salt from turning your chain, gearing and brakes into piles of rust. For a good example of a suitable bicycle, see:


    Tip #4: Lose the Imperial Stormtrooper look. Unless you are doing stunt jumping, helmets, face shields, etc. belong in the garbage, not on your body. Cyclists should present a calm, professional image of ordinary people in ordinary clothing going about their ordinary daily business. We should inspire onlookers to say “That could be me!” NOT “What a weirdo!”

    Take a look at this video for positive examples of winter cycling:


  • http://www.bikeview.ca Ken Walker

    In Canada we have to ride with the cars to bike in the winter so while I don't dress like an Astronaut I do wear a biking jacket and a helmet.  Trying to get segregated bike lanes in an automobile dominated country is like riding up an 11% incline in top gear.  In Ottawa, the vote to start our first pilot project is up next week with city council.

  • http://twitter.com/jamesmoore80 jamesmoore80

    For the snow, my extra knobby 29er tires work great and for the ice I use studded tires from Nokian.

    Here's a video of my first ride through the snow.


    I agree with Kevin Love that you don't have to wear too much. For me I just simply wear wool socks, fleece lined amfib softshell bib tights, wool base layer, wind/water proof jacket with pit zips, a balaclava, saftey glasses, a helmet, and a reflective vest.


  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Mitch Mitch

    Here's a helmetcam video of a ride to work by an intrepid biker (not me) in Madison in 6 degree weather after a 13 inch snowfall. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRsNb5M88fw Apart from a minor spill and an unfortunate moment when half the handlebar breaks off, the ride is pretty uneventful.

    I was probably riding to work at the same time in the opposite direction. It's actually less heroic than it looks; if you dress right, you'll stay warm, there's no slush, and traction on hard-packed snow is pretty good. Best off, you don't have to worry about bugs in your face.

  • David H

    That looks like summer riding up here in Canada, not winter riding! Why do you have to put on all that stuff on?  It was -11 F (-24C) here in Calgary yesterday, and I was overheating in half of the clothing you recommend.  I am guessing 'winter riding' up here in Calgary means a WHOLE different thing than for you guys!

  • Chuck N

    single digits here in Anchorage,Ak is actually good for my eleven mile commute - I agree that the warmer weather above 32 is colder but usually solve the problem with polyprop and a light fleece or wind jacket. Now if we could get the snow plows to NOT out the snow back onto the bike paths! That is a workout going thru some of that stuff.