commute · cycling · snow · winter

Riding in the cold and the snow: A how-to, complete with bonus fashion tips!

Why ride in the winter? Here’s one reason: Snow commuting, still faster than driving.

It’s also a very practical thing for me right now. I don’t own a car or a campus parking pass. With my “bad knee” I can’t always walk to work. And perversely I like riding in bad weather: Twelve reasons why Sam loves biking in the wind, the rain, and the cold.

But it also can feel absolutely magical when there are very few cars out and everyone is driving slowly and I feel super visible. I love to watch snow fall. I love crunching through the snowy back streets. Partly, I think, it’s because I love winter but I have to be moving fast to stay warm. Sometimes walking just doesn’t cut it, but biking? Biking in the snow can feel great.

But I get asked a lot, how do you do it? Don’t you get cold?

It’s partly a matter of having the gear but it’s also a matter of moving. I complained once to a year round commuting colleague about getting cold and he said I wasn’t riding fast enough/working hard enough. There’s truth in that.

I’m not a fan of the cold but up to -10 I’m very happy winter riding. I actually get colder walking. And when I drive? I never park nearby and so I have to walk in quite a ways. On driving days I tend to skimp on the outer wear (my fault, I know) and I do get cold. I get more cold sitting in the cold car waiting it for it to warm up and de-ice than I do just hopping on my bike and riding to work.

I often arrive at work warm and sweaty, not cold and shivery.

What do I wear?

First, there’s my high visibility jacket. It’s red, see above, but looks pink because it’s got loads of white reflective dots. See the video below. It’s windproof and I wear a warm sweater underneath when it’s cold.

Second, there’s my pricey amazing cycling gloves. They’re Sugoi Firewal XTs. Reviewed here.

I don’t wear fancy shoe covers but I do own them. My commute is too short. Instead, I go for thick smart wool socks in my cycling shoes.

Third, I wear a merino wool buff under my helmet that can either go under my helmet like a hat or around my neck as a scarf.

Fourth, I wear winter cycling tights.

But what about work clothes? Underneath the cycling tights I wear either tights or leggings and often a black t-shirt of some kind and throw a dress or jacket on top when I get there. I tend to keep all my work jackets in my office. That’s my go-to work uniform. It means I don’t have to run off to change to get back on my bike and I can ready for meetings fast if I need to.

Here’s an example of long jacket over cycling friendly clothes.

But what about the snow and slipping?

This year for Christmas I got snow tires for my commuting bike. (Thanks Jeff!) The winter bike tires aren’t studded. They’re Continental top contact and they’re more like car tires. Here’s the Mountain Equipment Co-op description: “Studless tires for northern winter, these ones grip when other cyclists are left spinning their wheels. Hundreds of lamellae (tiny biting edges, like those found on gecko’s feet) interlock with slick road surfaces.” So far: they work.

So, I know it’s not for everyone. And I get that. I really do. But I also love riding to work. I’m happy when I get here and I’m happy when I get home. A few minutes on my bike will do that. And the people who ask me how to do it and what gear you need seem serious. I don’t think they’re all humoring me. So here’s my ‘how-to commute in the snow and the cold.’

Oh, also, I have good lights!

UPDATE: Please come ride with me. International Winter Bike to Work Day is February 8, 2019. Commit to ride at: