Winter Biking: Not as scary as it sounds!

You know all those reasons you love biking? Getting places faster, saving money, getting some exercise, actually enjoying your commute? They don’t go away just because it’s cold!

I started as a recreational cyclist, but as I started doing more and more of my day-to-day transportation by bike, gradually my standards for how bad the weather had to be to keep me off my bike kept getting higher and higher. Even on miserable rainy days I’d be sitting in a Red line train, stopped in the middle of the Longfellow Bridge, bursting with jealousy of the cyclists whizzing by.

Eventually I moved away from the Red Line and onto the Green Line, and riding the T became a major time investment. Thanks to my impatience, I officially became an all-weather cyclist. The funny thing is, I don’t mind it at all, in fact, I would probably go crazy if I had to go without biking for three (or four, or five) months. Here’s why:

Best-Kept Secrets of Winter Cycling:

  • Most of the time you’re actually WARMER than you would be taking the T. As long as you have a good pair of mittens and a coat that blocks the wind, you generate enough heat in the first five minutes of the ride to make the rest of the ride much more comfortable than waiting around for the bus to come.
  • Biking after a snowstorm is EASIER than walking. The only time I don’t ride is when there’s actually snow in the streets. But even last winter, with crazy amounts of snow, they always had the streets plowed and salted within a couple hours or by the next morning. The same cannot be said of the sidewalks.
  • Driving still sucks. All those year-round reasons why driving is expensive and stressful still apply. Plus you have to wake up two hours early to shovel out your car, deal with even worse traffic on your way to work and back, and then hope that no one stole the parking spot you worked so hard to clear. Not to mention building some exercise into your daily routine comes in very handy in a season with never-ending opportunities to eat decadently.

A wise woman once said, when it comes to cycling, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing. Once you’ve gotten over the mental barrier against winter biking, the practical barriers are much lower than you think.

Winter Biking Gear:

Some people go all out with the gear. I like biking because it’s inexpensive, so I keep things to the bare essentials. (Except when it comes to tricking out my non-winter bike with custom wooden fenders, a Brooks saddle, or a colorful handmade basket.) Here are the things that are a must:

  • Mittens. Windproof is nonnegotiable. Waterproof and down-filled are also key. I got a pair for around 30 bucks, and they changed my life.
  • Hat/earmuffs/helmet liner with ear covers. A scarf is totally necessary as well.
  • Fenders. Snowing or not, the roads are gross for a couple months straight. You don’t want a muddy, salty stripe up your back, and the person riding behind you doesn’t want it in their face either.
  • A crappy bike. The roads are gross, remember? If you’re like me, you have a bike that you love. It’s going to be tough to neglect it in the basement for a couple months, but your bike would rather be lonely for a little while than get destroyed by the salt and sand and everything else. I recommend getting a cheap mountain bike or steel-frame cruiser on craigslist or wherever you can find one for less than $200. Take it to your local bike shop to make sure the brakes and tires are in good shape, but don’t spend more money on this than you need to. (Studded tires are not really necessary.)

Finally, the most important thing to remember is that winter biking is like all biking: don’t stop yourself from doing it at all because you’re not ready to swear off all other forms of transportation. However much or little you bike, it’s a win-win situation. And sooner or later you’ll realize that the more you bike, the more you win, and you just might swear off all other forms of transportation anyway.

Jessica Robertson, MAPC Transportation Coordinator