Riding in a winter wonderland: Stay safe after dark, in the cold, rain and snow

Copy of Melamed_BikeColumnWinter“Don’t skimp on being seen,” says UB Sustainability Planner, Jeff La Noue. You’re more likely to be riding in the dark during the winter because of shorter days. Windshields can be foggy or icy. Visibility is reduced on the road. Sometimes it’s raining, sleeting or snowing.

Wear bright and reflective clothing, lights on your bike–both front and back, as well as lights on your helmet or backpack, says La Noue, who commutes to UB by bicycle.

“Reflective tape on the bike is a cheap way to increase luminescence.”

“The more you glow and light up the dark the more likely it is you will be seen,” says La Noue.

“Lights are the biggest thing,” says Bernardo Vigil, who works at Baltimore Bicycle Works (BBW) a bike shop two blocks from campus on the Jones Falls Trail.

BBW sells lights that allow you to be seen–and lights that allow you to see. There are red lights for the back of your bike and white lights for the front of your bike. Some lights can be adapted to fit on your backpack or helmet. Other lights are made specifically for these locations.

I rely heavily on a 300-volt Cat Eye white light that sits on my handlebars. I don’t leave home without it. It does double duty: it lets me see on dark, wet streets, and it makes me visible to drivers and pedestrians in similar conditions.

I also wear a turquoise helmet, and sometimes even day-glow orange yoga leggings which do double duty as cycling pants. Both stand out at night and against a snowy background.

A bright orange wind jacket helped Pete Ramsey stay visible whenever he commuted from UB at night during the winter. Pete, who used to work at UB’s Langsdale Library, always set his lights to flash before he took off.

“I always use lights after dark,” says Pete. “One small flasher in each wheel, two lights forward–one flashing and one to see the ground–and one bright red flasher in the back.

Now you know several ways to stay visible. But how will you ever stay warm?

It can be done, say staff at BBW. “It’s all about layers,” says Casey McMann, who has experience bike riding through Michigan winters. Vigil agrees. Vigil is from Minnesota and bike rides in winter as well. “I’m very partial to Merino wool for everything,” says Vigil. “It doesn’t smell as bad as synthetics. It’s very warm, but still breathable.” Virgil advises not to wear a heavy jacket, as you heat up very fast once you get moving.

I’ve seen bike-riders stuck with a heavy coat, luckily accompanied by friends with backpacks. They always, without fail, pass their coat over to the person with the pack.

“I might wear a pea-coat if I were going a really short distance,” says Virgil, “but otherwise a thin waterproof shell is essential. It should be large enough that you can layer underneath.”

You also want a good cinch between your sleeves and gloves, says Vigil, to keep out the wind. A tube-like scarf can keep your neck warm, without risk of getting caught in your chain or your wheels.

About gloves, Vigil says “You want them!”

Vigil wore wool liner gloves under leather work gloves, while bike-riding through Minnesota winters, mainly because he had them around.

They need to stop wind, said Vigil of winter-riding gloves. They shouldn’t be bulky—you want to make sure you can maintain dexterity. BBW has cycling-specific gloves made for various temperature ranges, says Grace Blair, who also works at BBW.
Endura Deluge gloves are designed to keep you warm down to 35 degrees–but Blair has worn them at 20 degrees while cycling downhill 7 miles, from Towson, to BBW.

The shop also has Giro gloves for winter. According to the label, the Giro gloves (specifically the “proof” glove) will keep you warm down to 25 degrees.

BBW also sells wool caps you can wear under your helmet.

Pete Ramsey doubles up on socks when it drops to 25 degrees.

You can find winter-specific cycling shoes at BBW as well as covers you can put over your existing shoes.

Now that you’ve got the gear down, how do you get around?

Vigil recommends non-studded winter-specific tires that can handle the regular road as well as snow and ice. They are a little wider and a little softer than regular tires, but they harden when exposed to cold. These tires have a little extra tread, as well.

Another option for winter riding, says Vigil, is to get the fattest tires your bike can handle. Don’t fill them up as much. You want them a little soft, so they widen when you’re on the bike, giving you a little more traction.

Allow extra time for travel. “I leave more time so I can ride a little slower and pay a little more attention than I usually do,” says Vigil.

Fenders help, Vigil adds, but wouldn’t say they’re necessary. They do keep your drive train clean, though, which includes the chain, crank set and cogs. You need to clean your bike more often in winter, says Vigil, especially the chain. Otherwise, grit will wear things out faster.

Do you want to save money?

BBW is having a 30 percent off sale on all Endura products. Also, there may be a tune up special in February.

BBW is located at 1813 Falls Road on the Jones Falls Trail

BBW Hours:

Mondays 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 7p.m.

Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Go visit them before you get cold feet.

 

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