Winter Biking: BCU Staff Tips

Winter cyclist braves the roads during heavy precipitation, January 23rd 2023

Winter makes all transportation tough. So many of us pack away our bike gear and wait for warmer, dryer weather. Unfortunately winter biking has a perception of being reserved for just the “hardcore” cyclists. It can seem inaccessible for ordinary folks who ride their bike here and there. It can seem like a high investment, both gear-wise and emotional just to get out during the colder season. Here at the BCU, all of us take the roads in the winter and want to share our stories and tips! Winter biking is not as scary as it may seem. While there are some considerations as far as what to wear, you probably own a large amount of what you need to be comfortable!

Jeff Gang, Interim Executive Director

Someone said “the perfect bike is the one you already have” and I think that’s generally true in winter too. The important exception however, is that you keep an eye out for ice on the road. Even in Boston winters, there’s only a handful of days when it’s not safe to ride in winter, i.e. when it’s bitter cold or actively precipitating or black ice. If you can stay in or take the train to work those days, you’ll still be able to bike through most of the winter. My big trick is ski goggles. You can get $30 ones with a clear lens, and you won’t arrive with your eyes full of tears. I also recommend a headband instead of a hat – it fits better under your helmet, and it’s annoying when you get too hot and can’t take off your hat easily.

Panniers or a basket are helpful in winter (and also summer) because it’s way easier to regulate your body temperature if you don’t have a backpack on. Sometimes in winter I layer so heavily that I can sweat and that sucks if I’ve got a backpack on. Gloves are the most important thing for gear though.

I’ve also used Bluebikes in winter – they’re great because if it looks like it’s going to snow/rain later. I can still bike one-way and then take the T home

Ryan Waldron, Events Coordinator

I think I bike almost as much in the winter as I do the rest of the year, but if it’s actively snowing or raining I will take public transportation. I have a clothing system that I like: I wear wool base layers (a thin top and leggings and thick wool socks) and water/wind resistant top layers (a reflective raincoat and rain pants). Another key tip is that I wear a neck gaiter and full-fingered gloves with my regular biking shoes and cycling cap. If it’s extra cold I’ll add a fleece between the base and top layers, switch out the cycling cap for a beanie/tuque, put on my snow boots, and wear my (new!) lobster/Star Trek gloves.

I also make sure to have extra lights on me since it gets dark earlier. And since it’s hard to stay hydrated drinking cold water in the cold, I like to bring an insulated thermos of warm tea to sip at stops.

Ryan next to her bike decked out in her winter gear including a nice reflective rain jacket and lobster gloves. She is in a field with fading yellow grass and a pedestrian path.

Grey Black, Director of Organizing

I always try to wear extra layers under my clothes to stay warm. My biggest tips though are to take care of your bike more often during the winter. Definitely you want to make sure to pump tires regularly since they’ll deflate more. Keeping your bike (especially your chain) clean and oiling your chain weekly/biweekly is also so important. Your bike will constantly be wet in the winter so it’s important to take care of it more often. Cleaning helps prevent rust and cleans out the dirt and salt stuck in your chain. Most bike shops will do this affordably, and many will teach you how if you want to learn to do it yourself!

My other tip is to charge your lights. Visibility is low since it gets darker earlier, so lights are very important. It’s also useful to practice your hand signals for when bike lanes are snow-covered.

Mandy Wilkens, Communications Coordinator

Mandy with their helmet and BCU buff on their bike, snow on the sidewalk is in the background

I used to be terrified of winter biking, worried about the wind and frostbite. When the pandemic hit, I accidentally found out that wearing a mask while riding made winter riding much more comfortable. Since then I haven’t even thought about the change of weather! As long as the roads are plowed and its not blizzard conditions you’ll find me pedaling away.

I typically have a philosophy of wearing normal clothes while biking and that extends to the winter. Usually I wear a nice insulation layer jacket (hoodie + sweater works in a pinch!), and I’ll put a “shell” layer on it to protect myself from the wind, either a raincoat or a denim jacket. From there I always wear a scarf or my BCU buff to keep my face and neck warm. I’ll wear normal mittens or gloves, and thin hat that can fit under my helmet is also key. I wear boots and just loosen up my toe clips, the key is wool socks to keep your feet warm!

As far as setting up my bike goes – I use thin Continental brand tires year round and have never had issues with slipping. If you’re scared or struggling and have some budget for an upgrade, this could help boost your confidence! Otherwise my bike is just an ordinary single speed road bike. There’s no need for a specialized bike for winter riding!

Alex Shames, Community Organizer

I only started biking in the winter this year, and I almost exclusively use Bluebikes. The biggest trick for me is to make sure you have a good pair of gloves. Your body will warm up pretty quickly once you start moving but your hands will stay cold, so gloves are key. Also tucking in your shirt will help you stay warm. If it’s super icy on the ground I probably wouldn’t bike, and if it’s actively snowing make sure you have a hat or something to keep snow out of your eyes.

Bluebikes come equipped with good tires and lights already so no need to worry about those. If you’re like me and know literally nothing about bike repair you don’t have to worry about doing any maintenance yourself. Also (and this isn’t just a winter tip) I recommend bringing a bluetooth speaker with you! Strap it into the Bluebikes basket so you can blast music while biking. Biking while it’s snowing and blasting music is such a great vibe that will boost your serotonin by a lot. Try biking at night on the Charles River bike path while it’s snowing, 1000/10 vibes! Also, if it’s freezing and you want to take the bus instead there’s no shame in that. Winter biking isn’t a competition!

Want more tips? Check out tips from our Twitter following here

Hopefully these tips and stories are helpful and get you out on the road! Winter biking can be intimidating at first, and don’t get us wrong, it can be dangerous. However, with the proper care, you’ll be a winter biking expert in no time. Hopefully this article gave you some confidence to take the streets with us! See you on the road!

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