I’m always looking for ways to make January more bearable, and last year I hit on a big one: riding my bike whenever possible. It cuts my commuting time in half, it rescues me from rush hour on transit, and the fresh air and exercise boost my mood exponentially. Now in my second January on the road, I’m still working out the best ways to stay comfortable and safe. To this end, I checked in with two people who cycle all the time — Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, and Ella Morton, a courier who delivers meals for Foodora. They shared their tips on the best clothing and gear and how to manage winter roads. Here’s what they told me.
Get some lobster gloves
“They’re better than gloves because you get a little bit of warmth from the other fingers but are still able to control your gears and your brakes,” says Smith Lea. “[But they] aren’t cheap.” This Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Amfib pair costs $95 at Mountain Equipment Co-op.
Or layer your gloves…
“I usually wear a couple of pairs of gloves — thinner ones underneath my top gloves if it’s not too cold, but if it’s -5 or -10, I’ve got some thicker wool ones,” says Morton. “And then there’s these disposable hand warmers called Heat Factory.
When it’s really, really cold out, that’s a life saver.”
…and the rest of your clothes
“I have a few shirts that are synthetic fabric and moisture-wicking and bike pants that are fleece on the inside and windproof on the outside,” says Morton. “I’ve got a Gore-Tex rain jacket…and then depending how cold it is, I’ll probably wear one or two sweaters underneath. It’s pretty easy to keep your core body warm because you’re exerting yourself.”
Check your head
“[You need] some kind of helmet liner,” says Smith Lea (who posed for the above photo sans helmet). “You can get a balaclava, those are good.” Or try a Buff, which is a super-versatile little piece of fabric that you can wear as a kerchief, scarf, headband, even a pirate cap (check out the video). The Foodora office gives these out to riders, Morton tells me. “I like having the option to cover up my nose and lower face.”
“As soon as you’re wet, you lose body heat so much faster,” says Morton. She usually wears waterproof hiking boots while riding, though if it’s raining, she opts for rubber boots and when it’s especially cold, she has heavier-duty, insulated boots. Smith Lea wears rain pants in wet weather.
Fenders are key
“With fenders, your feet and legs are going to stay a lot dryer,” says Morton. “And it’ll keep a lot of salt off the body of your bike and out of your drive train, which really helps to keep your bike from getting rusty and needing more maintenance.” [The drive train includes the pedal, chain and everything that makes the wheels turn.]
Take it easy
“The main, main thing is just to slow down,” says Morton. “I’ve wiped out a handful of times but it’s always been in good weather when I’m feeling really confident and I’m going really fast.” And mind your corners. “If I ever have trouble, it’s in turning,” says Smith Lea. “I always slow right down when I’m turning. It’s when you’re actually changing direction that you can really slip and your bike can go out from under you.”
It’s always critical to have good bike lights, but in wintertime, it’s dark more often. “That’s one thing that keeps people from riding — it’s dark when they go to work and it’s dark when they go home,” says Smith Lea. Her first choice for lights is the built-in variety; they’re always on your bike and they always work (their power is generated by the bike itself). Smith Lea also uses portable lights with USB chargers. “You plug them in when you get to work, then plug them in when you get home.”
The off-ice rule
You always have to be alert on a bike — in winter, a little more so. “If there’s bare pavement, I’m going to ride on the bare pavement,” says Smith Lea. “If I see that there’s snow built up, I’ll try to avoid it. If it’s been raining and then the temperature drops, be prepared. [Maybe] leave your bike at work and take transit home.” Apart from ice breaks, Morton says, winter cycling — with the right gear — is “pretty doable.”