If you read our list of reasons other cities are jealous of Fort Collins, you certainly gathered that biking is a significant part of our culture. Or just take a look around! The residents of Fort Collins are trading car keys for pedals more and more, as biking is widely accepted and celebrated in our city. In fact, there are whole organizations focused on fostering this activity.
So when the temperature drops and rainy mornings are a little less motivating for a two-wheeled commute, we wanted to make sure you knew how to survive biking in the winter. So read over this list and help prepare yourself for the colder days ahead.
It should also be noted that this resiliency is not recommended for everyone. Obvious extreme and dangerous weather conditions mean you should avoid this form of transportation altogether. But for those who are determined to cruise the streets year-round, here are some tips that may help you survive and thrive on the road.
Let’s start with something you’re probably most concerned about on the subject of biking in the winter — staying warm. However, this area is often misunderstood while preparing for a cold bike ride so make sure you clue into this piece of advice: don’t overdress! It’s easy to stack on the layers and overcompensate for the chilliness, which can actually lead to hypothermia or dehydration. Confused? Basically, your body will generate plenty of heat after you start riding, which will turn into sweat and make you colder when you stop pedalling at a stoplight, or some other reason for delay. And add wind to the mix and you’ve got an uncomfortable — and possibly even dangerous — combination!
Instead of bundling up like the kid in A Christmas Story, you’ll want to wear just enough clothing to keep you warm. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to wear what will leave you feeling a little cold as you start your trip. After enduring a few minutes of chilliness, your body will adjust and you’ll be perfectly comfortable and thankful you didn’t overdress.
If you’re like The Grinch, you may be asking yourself, “But what will I wear?!” We’ve got you covered (pun intended). We’ll go from your head to your toes.
Unless you’re nodding your head to a song, your head won’t be moving much during your ride. That means it is prone to getting much colder than the rest of your body and can be a significant place your body loses heat. So be sure to trap heat in with a warm head covering, such as a stocking cap. Make sure it fits under your helmet though! For added heat insurance, pack a scarf somewhere on board to throw on during the chilliest of days. Or start out wearing one and easily remove it if you get too toasty.
Your base layer should help keep you dry. Try to avoid cotton fabrics, as it will become a sweat sponge and since this layer will touch your skin, this will make your body temperature drop significantly. Gravitate towards polyester, nylon and spandex when choosing your base layer material. Choose something that will resist moisture, and will therefore keep you warm and dry.
Hands are another place you need to be wary of while gearing up for biking in cold conditions. You can picture it now — white, freezing knuckles exposed to the elements and enduring the harsh winds head-on. Not on our watch! Cover those fingers with the right gloves. Whatever the precipitation levels, it’s safe to stick with waterproof gloves just in case. But consider cycling gloves to ensure grippiness on slippery handles. It’s also smart to buy gloves that are flexible and will allow you to maneuver to adjust your brakes or shift gears.
To add to our list of movie references, it’s wiser to be more like Lloyd than Harry from “Dumb and Dumber” — on the subject of gloves at least.
Outerwear is another important type of clothing to equip yourself with. Well, let’s face it — when dealing with winter weather and cycling through it, all items of clothing are important! Regardless, make sure you have an outer layer that will be a proper first line of defense against the wind and rain. If you’re traveling through cold but dry conditions, which is common during Fort Collins winters, a soft-shell jacket might just do the trick. It will keep you warm yet allow just enough wind to reach your body to counter the heat your body produces with physical movement. In cold and wet conditions, waterproof materials are a must. Consider a high-quality rain jacket with two-way zippers, so you can open the jacket from the bottom to allow some heat to escape if the rain pauses for a bit. Whatever the weather, it’s important to find an outer layer with a long back so it doesn’t ride up while you’re cycling.
Last but not least, let’s talk about your feet. Thick, wool socks are the wisest choice for properly keeping your feet warm and dry. But to further the dryness, you might consider adding waterproof booties on top of those. Now, how will all of this fit into those sleek and slender biking shoes? Maybe this is an area in which you might sacrifice your fashion for comfort and usability. You may need to wear oversized shoes or lightweight boots that are sure to fit your thick socks. Wear whatever footwear best fits your level of biking intensity.
But where do I get all of this stuff?
Consider buying bicycle clothing gear from a local Fort Collins company. Some of our favorites include The Gearage Outdoor Sports, Performance Bicycle, JAX Outdoor Gear and Khumbu Adventure Gear. All in all, we’re just trying to help you avoid looking like this guy:
So now you’re equipped with the right clothing and you’re ready to go! Not so fast. You first need to make sure your bike is ready to endure the elements as well.
Read this comprehensive checklist of winter cycling gear for your bicycle from a brave winter rider in Minneapolis. He explains the different components better than we could, due to his several years of experience cycling through harsh winters.
The number one thing to remember while biking in the winter is to stay safe! It’s easy to forget that you’re riding in dangerous conditions once you get into a rhythm. The road surface can be significantly different in the winter, as rain and ice may make the roads slick. If it is too severe to handle, be sure to have an alternate form of transformation as a fall-back. No joy ride is worth a possible injury due to dangerous conditions.
It’s also important to remember that other commuters may be impaired due to the road conditions. Drivers are sometimes flustered in the rain, as their visibility decreases and they are more susceptible to experiencing sliding or hydroplaning. Not to mention, with darker lighting, they may miss seeing you as they change lanes or make turns. Be hyper-aware of distracted drivers and be on high alert, anticipating their every move.
Check out these more in-depth tips on staying safe while biking in winter conditions. If you are taking on this feat for the first time, it’s vital that you take all necessary precautions before doing so.
It’s easy to forget to stay hydrated during winter rides because you already feel surrounded by moisture and the hot sun is not beating down on you as a reminder to drink up. So it’s important to be proactive in your H20 consumption by staying hydrated before, during and after your bike ride. This is a common mistake winter cyclists make, as they may be so focused on staying warm and dry. Don’t forget to take care of your insides just as much as your outsides by drinking plenty of water and eating the proper fuel food prior to your ride.
We hope you were able to learn a few things about surviving — and possibly even enjoying? — biking in the winter. It shouldn’t be a dreadful task, and can instead be enjoyed if the proper preparation is done ahead of time. So don’t be intimidated by the weather forecast during the winter months, and help keep the “beer, bands, bikes” trio alive year-round in Fort Collins.
Check out Recycled Cycles in Fort Collins if you’re in the market for a bike! They have thousands of new and used bikes for sale, suitable for all sorts of cycling.