Cold Weather Newbies
You've seen them - those bikers out there powering through a chilling wind on a cold winter day. Here's your chance to learn more about what it's like to ride your bike during the coldest months of the year.
Jesse, Grace and Jonathan all ride fairly often (or all the time) in the milder seasons—but had previously opted out of winter. Until this year! For those curious about winter riding, we chatted with these awesome newbies to see how their cold-weather biking is going.
So why bike in the winter?
Some people are baffled by the choice and others feel the answer is obvious. So why are the newbies biking through the winter?
Grace has been in DC for eight years and digs the mild Decembers compared to those of her Michigan home, but still found winter weather reports keeping her off her bike last year—leaving her with a bit of FOMO. “I was disappointed with myself of how often I would Metro in, only to discover the weather was not that bad at all! I’d see the folks on bikes and wish I was one of them. “
For Jonathan, an office location change in the fall made his metro commute more difficult, and he found himself using his bike more often. And cold weather seemed worth braving as, “I loved the bike commute so much (20 minutes or less by bike!!).” Jesse had a similar experience when he switched to a job just a few miles from home and vowed to start riding to work. He figured he “probably wouldn’t ride at all in the winter” until a friend mentioned Freezing Saddles, a local winter riding challenge, and he found his motivation.
So how’s it going out there? Is it matching your expectations?
Despite our reporting work disproving it, most people have a vision in their head of “winter biking”—and it’s one that involves snow, sub-zero temperatures and maybe ice-beards or eyelashes. Is that what it’s been like?
Somewhat surprisingly, their winter experiences have interesting parallels to other bike riding experiences. For Grace, “it was just like figuring out a new route to take. It took me a few days to figure out what combination of layers were the best match for weather conditions, but after doing it daily, it has become routine.” Jonathan remembers to check the weather so he can be prepared for snow the same way he prepares for summer weather. In fact, he’d take a winter snow dusting over a torrential DC thunderstorm any day.
Jesse’s friend talked about enjoying her commute because she biked, which is “not a sentiment you hear very often about commuting in the DC area.” He himself is “starting to have the experience of really enjoying the ride as well.” A somewhat unexpected boon has been that he “feels a certain degree of camaraderie with the other folks out on the trail on those cold dark commutes.” Which is awesome, as this NYC native is starting to reconnect with his roots by using a bike for non-commute transportation, too.
Any good stories to share from the roads and trails?
These three have had their fair share of fun experiences biking in this season.
Jonathan also brought up community, noting that the “especially satisfying part has been the camaraderie that has come from getting myself more involved in the greater DC bike community. Winter biking has led me to Google solutions for things, and that led me to joining and becoming active on the BikeArlington Forums, which in turn led me to participating in Freezing Saddles.”
Actually, all three newbies are participating in Freezing Saddles, the team-based winter bike challenge. The challenge is operated by an amazing group of volunteers and organized through the BikeArlington Forum, which provides motivation to get out there and ride–making winter a bit more fun.
In the challenge, your team gets ten points for every day you ride, and one point for every mile after that. This leads to a lot of creative thinking about how to get in a daily ride. Jesse travels for work, and managed to find a bike to borrow—but it was dark when he got time to ride and the bike had no lights. But he went for it, and is sure “employees got a rather strange impression when they saw me riding loops around the parking lot at the end of every work day.” For fun photos of similar madness, check out the Freezing Saddles website for leader boards.
But Grace’s story might be my personal favorite. She recalls a recent, bitterly cold and windy ride across the Key Bridge into Arlington: “No one else was around—with the exception of a weatherman from Channel 7, who was being filmed gesticulating wildly at a thermometer. They moved to let me pass and he told me to “Stay Warm!” I told him it would “take more than this to keep down Bike Arlington!” I was probably warmer than he was!”
4 First steps for winter riding
Advice for New Riders, from New Riders!
1. Accept that winter is happening.
“Back home, winter is a fact of life. You then prepare for it with warm coats and boots and make peace with it. The same goes for winter biking! If you plan ahead (warm gloves!) you can have some beautiful rides on open trail/road and arrive at work feeling like a champion!” –Grace
2. Prepare for cold and dark weather.
“It seems daunting, but it’s really not too bad! Invest in the basic equipment (including lights!) and give it a try.” –Jonathan
3. Use layers you already have.
“I am a tremendous cold wimp. I hate the cold, and so a big concern was staying warm. I would encourage people to invest in gear to stay warm while riding. It doesn’t have to be high end cycling gear. My winter attire is a mix of cycling-specific clothing, re-purposed running clothes and stuff out of my regular closet. And if you’re still cold, pedal harder!” –Jesse
4. Make sure laundry is done.
“Riding in winter requires a little bit of advance planning, because I only have a certain amount of true cold weather gear for really cold days, so I have to make sure that laundry is done.” As someone who has limited cold weather layers, I appreciate this tidbit from Jonathan.
So three cheers for Jesse, Grace and Jonathan for biking through their first winter! Huge thanks to them for sharing their insights.
Do you have a great commuting story? We want to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.