“Wow, winter biking – that’s hardcore!”. I hear that a lot when I meet someone for lunch and plop my winter biking helmet down on the seat next to me. But, I disagree. With the right gear and clothing, winter biking is just as enjoyable as riding on a cool, above freezing type of day and does not seem particularly “hardcore” to me at all.
First, a disclaimer. The following winter biking tips are best for:
- Conditions 20ºF and above. Riding in temperatures less than 20ºF is still possible but requires more specialized gear.
- Rides of 3 miles or less. I find that my fingers and toes get colder on longer rides and therefore I wear more layers than what I’ve described below.
- Dry roads with no snow or ice. I think biking on snowy and icy roads with poor visibility is risky and way too hardcore for me.
My current bike commute is an easy 2.5 miles and takes me about 15 minutes. My alternative to winter biking is to take the bus. While the bus ride itself is warm, I’m actually outside, bearing the winter elements, for a longer amount of time when I take the bus than when I bike. Walking to and from the bus stops and waiting for the bus to show up takes time! So, my first suggestion for winter biking gear is to dress like you were going to spend 10-15 minutes at a bus stop, and you’ll have most of the bases covered.
For me, this includes:
1. Merino wool base layer. I always wear leggings (not as underwear though, because I usually take them off at the office) and a short sleeve or tank top for my upper body. I like the wool because it’s warm, lightweight, and thin so you can still wear them under skinny jeans. Icebreaker and Smartwool are good brands for these items.
2. Thick scarf. I like a bulky scarf that I can wrap around my head several times and pull up and down to cover my cheeks as need be. I think the scarf is good for adding some color or style to your winter ensemble so I have a few to choose from. Scoutmob has a nice selection of scarves from indie makers.
3. Insulated boots. Insulated and waterproof boots are a must-have for braving winter weather and I use the same ones regardless of if I’m waiting for the bus or biking. This season I am sporting insulated Bogs. I like them because they’re tall and easy to clean, which is good for winter biking because road gunk seems to splash up on you more.
Next, you have to consider the ways that winter biking is different than standing at the bus stop and get the gear for that. This includes:
4. Super warm gloves. Since you won’t be able to shove your hands in your pockets to keep them warm, it’s imperative to have warmer-than-usual gloves. Look for gloves that are waterproof and insulated, like these from Pearl Izumi. Note: You have to sacrifice style to keep your hands warm as cute winter biking gloves are hard to come by. However, I also keep a pair of thinner, cuter gloves in my pocket that I can use either as glove liners or as “casual winter gloves” if I don’t need the extra protection.
5. Winter biking helmet. I absolutely love my Nutcase snowboard helmet for its insulation and ear coverings. Bern makes nice ones too (and still has some in stock this season). Worried that a snowboard helmet doesn’t provide enough protection for biking? Then I suggest getting a bike helmet with as little venting as possible and wear a merino wool hat underneath it.
6. Skiing Goggles. It’s good to have ski goggles, like these from Giro, on hand for winter biking days that are particularly windy. They help cover up the skin between your helmet and your scarf and protect your eyes from the cold wind. My eyes start to tear in cold weather which is no fun! Plus, they look badass.
To recap, here are my top six accessories for winter biking:
1. Merino wool baselayer
2. Big scarf
3. Insulated boots
4. Super warm gloves
5. Winter biking helmet
Do you have any gear that you can’t live without for winter biking? I’d love to hear what you use. Please leave in comments below.