Posts Tagged ‘winter’
This winter, we’re looking for the brave, the bold, and those willing to get cold. We’re having a bike education class for our committed Bike Ambassador volunteers on Saturday, January 21st. While this class is primarily for the Bike Ambassador volunteers, it is also open to the general public.
The class will be our Confident City Cycling 1 curriculum, which covers basic bicycling information and on-bike skills. Half of this class will be in the WABA classroom and half will be on-bike practicing bike handling skills.
You might be asking “Who are the Bike Ambassador volunteers?”
The Bike Ambassador program is our way of outsourcing our bike outreach and education. Bike Ambassador volunteers are just like you–people who love bikes and bicycling. We give them tools and resources to go back into their own communities and workplaces and help WABA spread the word about bicycling. They answer questions, attend events, and generally act as one-stop mobile information booths for all things bike-related. It’s a lot of fun, and we’re always looking for more volunteers.
You can fill out this form, and our Bike Ambassador Program Coordinator will let you know how you can join the Ambassadors!
The story continues from Winter Riding Part I: How to Ride
Hello, and welcome back. We hope you all enjoyed yesterday’s article about what to watch out for out there on winter roads. Today, we want to talk about what to do before you even get on the bike. Winter riding is all about preparation, and a big part of that is knowing how to dress correctly.
The key lies in layers. When it comes to clothing your body, you want (at least) three of them, and they all start with “W”:
Also called the “base layer,” this is the innermost layer, against your skin. The idea behind the wicking layer is to use a fabric that will absorb sweat from your skin through capillary action, or wicking, and transport it through the material to the space in between the wicking layer and the warmth layer (or all the way out to the open air), where it will evaporate. Since evaporation cools the skin, getting moisture away from the skin before it evaporates will keep you warmer and more comfortable.
Merino wool is a good natural fiber that is very warm, has excellent wicking properties, insulates even when wet and is naturally odor-resistant. SmartWool makes amazing socks and other garments, most of which are 100% wool, and is available at REI, among other places. Many synthetic materials and blends like Patagonia’s capilene will also wick very well, and are generally cheaper than the wool garments. Silk is not as warm as wool, but wicks decently and is supremely comfortable. Cotton is commonly used, but it does not regulate temperature or wick, and it will not insulate at all when wet (in fact, it will suck the heat from your body when wet). So, stay away from cotton as a base layer.
Just like the name says, this layer is all about keeping you warm, but one of the key ways it does that is simply by trapping air between it and the wicking layer underneath (or between multiple warmth layers). That air acts as an excellent insulator all by itself. The key to the warmth layer is flexibility. You don’t want it to be too tight or it will reduce air circulation. Too loose and the wicking process will be interrupted. Multiple thin warmth layers often work better than one thick warmth layer, and you have the added benefit of being able to remove one layer if you are overheating.
Again, here, wool is one of the best options out there, but you can also consider down fabrics and any of the wide variety of fleece and fleece-type synthetic fabrics on the market. If you have to use cotton, use it here, but only when its lousy insulation ability won’t be a big drawback.
Finally, on the outside you’ll want to wear something that can stand up to whatever winter is dishing out. Waterproof fabrics come in two major varieties: waterproof and waterproof breathable. Basic waterproof shells are cheap and are typically made of some variety of plastic and will do an amazing job of keeping you dry, so long as the water is coming from the sky. The downside is that they are just as good at keeping sweat from escaping. Many waterproof shells have vents under the arms or on the back to help with this problem, but on a longer ride (or if it’s really coming down hard), they may not be enough.
Waterproof breathable fabrics, on the other hand, are designed to block liquid water (rain/sleet/snow) from getting through while allowing water vapor (evaporated sweat) to escape. The most famous of these fabrics is Gore-Tex. They tend to be quite expensive. Oh, and don’t forget the pants.
Head & Neck
For your head, try a helmet liner–a thin cap that fits under your helmet to keep your head warm. If your helmet is the type with lots of vents designed to keep your head cool in the summer, you could buy a less-drafty one, or you can just cover the holes with a helmet cover (or even a shower cap). Try not to use a hood, as many of them will impede your peripheral vision.
For your ears, a 180s is a great choice if the helmet liner doesn’t quite cover your lobes, but be aware of how it affects your hearing.
Or, if you’re more of an “all-in-one” type of person, go for the windproof-fleece balaclava.
For your eyes, sunglasses are a must-have. They’ll stop the snow-glare, of course, but they’ll also keep you from tearing up at the wind and will keep grit, sand and salt away from your sensitive peepers. Get a pair with clear lenses (or safety glasses) for after dark.
Hands & Feet
Gloves are a no-brainer, and there are lots of options to choose from. For the budget-minded, you can slip your fingerless summer bike gloves over a pair of thin winter gloves or even glove liners and be mostly fine. For your feet, good socks are key.
We like SmartWool socks–they’re amazingly warm, your feet won’t get clammy and they come in a huge range of styles and colors. For shoes, you have three options. You can buy winter cycling shoes, many of which will work with whatever pedal technology you favor. Or you can use your regular shoes and cover them up with something like these cycling gaiters. Or you can try some combination of doubling up on socks, keeping spare socks/shoes at your destination, using waterproof hiking boots, or the old “plastic bag over your socks” trick. Keeping your feet dry is an inexact science, but wool socks will at least keep them warm.
Know Your Body
Unless you just started cycling, you probably know how quickly you can heat up while on your bike. Learn how to adjust your layers to make sure that you stay warm and stay cool. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes people make when they start winter riding is actually overheating!
- A good rule of thumb is that you should be a little cold when you first hop on your bike.
That way, as you ride, you will work your way up to a comfortable temperature that you can maintain for the entire duration of your trip. If you’re already toasty warm when you start pedaling, you’ll be way too hot in ten minutes or so (and sweating your base layer wet). This can take some trial and error to get right, so go slow and maybe do a few test rides with different combinations of clothing.
Extra tips from the WABA Staff
From Chantal, Events Manager – Tuck a couple of tissues into your gloves to help with the inevitable runny nose. Oh, and while you’re tucking things, remember to tuck your base layer into your pants! Nothing says “good morning” like that first draft on your lower back.
From Greg, Outreach Coordinator – Grow a beard! It’ll protect your face from the wind and give you a little extra insulation in the process.
From Henry, Bicycle Education Coordinator – Perfect your snot-rocket technique. Avoid the whole runny nose thing and impress people at the same time!
We all knew this season was coming. It seems like only yesterday we were riding around in shorts and cranking up the AC, but here we are in December already, and that means cold-weather bicycling is on everyone’s minds. Right about now, some of you are probably thinking, “Why on earth would I want to ride my bike in the winter?” In fact, the winter isn’t all gray skies and gloom, and the best way to learn that is to get out there and see it. If you’re at all troubled by Seasonal Affective Disorder (and really, who doesn’t feel a little down when it’s cold and dark for so long), then winter riding can be a great way to get some sunshine on your face and get the blood pumping. Plus, you get to stay active during the calorie-filled holiday season! To top it off, the reduction in bike traffic means you have those lanes and trails mostly to yourself.
Here are WABA’s helpful tips to face the winter head-on and stay warm, happy and safe.
Riding in the Dark
First of all, winter riding means riding in the dark, especially for the evening commute. Everyone should know that the law in DC, MD and VA says a front white light and either a red rear light or red rear reflector are required. But that’s only the bare minimum you can do to make sure you are visible out there:
- Reflective clothing – These days, you can find reflective material on all sorts of gear, from gloves to shoes to jackets to pants. Even if you don’t want to go the full reflective vest route, a few points of reflectiveness on your arms and legs (your moving parts) will make a big difference in how quickly drivers can spot you. Don’t look now, but WABA sells a fantastic reflective pant cuff!
- Light it up – Cars can only avoid you if they can see you, and driver visibility is reduced in rain, snow, sleet and fog. So use extra lights and make sure they are on the “blink” setting–they will attract more attention than solid lights.
- Ride visibly – When you control the lane, you make sure that you are in the most visible place on the roadway. Remember, visibility is your top priority!
- Know where to ride – Specifically, get to know which roads have good ambient light available and which do not. Ride smart and err on the side of caution–just because you can see them does not mean that they can see you!
Riding on Snow & Ice
This is the tricky part where a lot of three-season riders simply might say “you’d have to be crazy to get on a bike with that stuff all over the road.” But we’ll be riding in it and we think you should too. There’s nothing like the feeling of riding through a lightly falling snow, with the only sounds the crunch of your tires and the rush of the wind. Come on out and join us, won’t you? But first, here’s what to expect:
- Pedal smoothly – Try to maintain a steady pace, but you don’t want to go too fast if conditions are bad. Watch out for the rear tire slipping when you start from a standing stop.
- Brake OR turn, NOT both – Start braking early and shed a lot of speed before you start turning. When turning, try to keep pedaling smoothly and your weight centered over the bike. Keep your eyes up and focused about 100 yards ahead of you, along the line you will take when you finish the turn. This will help you keep both your body and the bike where you want them.
- Feather your brakes – Wet, cold rubber is not as effective at stopping you than dry, warm rubber. Tap your brakes lightly before you need them to dry them off slightly.
- Not all snow is created equal – Dry powder is easy to ride through, but can cake on your rims, brake pads, etc. Wet snow is hard work to ride through, but if you’re heavy enough, you can cut right down to the pavement. Ice can be hard to spot, unpredictable and may be best avoided if you can. Packed snow behaves like ice when it’s cold out and like a combination of ice and wet snow when it’s warm. You will learn to recognize these types and the gradations between them pretty quickly.
- Caution, roadway narrows – Winter Bike Law #1: When there’s snow on the ground, plows will deposit it in bike facilities. Don’t expect anything other than main roads to be plowed, and don’t even expect those to be well-plowed. Take the lane. Oddly, drivers are often more respectful of cyclists in the winter.
- Not everyone knows what they’re doing – Also, don’t expect drivers to be experienced at winter driving. Do your best to be predictable so drivers don’t have to react to you. Follow the laws and communicate with them through hand gestures and eye contact. Again, err on the side of caution!
- Watch for metal and paint – They get very slippery when wet. This means manhole covers, metal bridge surfaces, grates, metal construction plates, crosswalks, stop lines, bike lane markings, etc.
- Think about lower tire pressure – Most tires have a range of acceptable tire pressure (85-95 psi, for instance). On the lower end of that range (or even below it), you will get better traction out of your tires. Just beware that your chances of a pinch flat go up when your tires are under-pressurized.
- Be ready for extra maintenance – Winter riding puts different kinds of wear and tear on your bike. Extremely cold temperatures can make your tires, chain, brakes and any parts with bearings (hubs, headset, pedals & bottom bracket) behave differently, so keep an eye or ear open for anything abnormal. Consider a tune-up before winter really begins and again after it’s over. At the “before” tune-up, ask the bike tech for some all-weather chain lube and wet weather brake pads. Oh, and the cold will also drain the batteries in your lights faster!
Remember folks, practice makes perfect! If you’re at all unsure of your winter riding skills, wait for a snowy/sleety/rainy/freezing day and head out to a parking lot and practice for a while. Get the hang of starting, stopping and turning. That way, you’ll be prepared for whatever January and February throw our way.
Continue reading Part II: What to Wear