The end of daylight saving time always comes as a shock to me. Suddenly, from one week to the next, it gets dark and cold way too early in the evening.
And, on a chill Santa Barbara morning, when it’s time to leave the bubble of my warm home, the heated comfort of a car with bright headlights and insulation sure seems appealing for getting around.
But winter riding can be comfortable and safe and full of pleasant surprises not often seen from within a steel cage. With the right gear and attitude, I find myself looking forward to those brisk morning rides and the quiet, still moments when I’m on my bike, away from it all, on a fresh, clear night. You, too, can begin to look forward to riding through the winter by following some of these tips.
Light Your Way: Likely the single most important thing you need for happy, safe winter riding is a good lighting system. Legally, your bike needs a white front light visible 300 feet in front and from the sides of you, a rear red reflector, and reflectors on both wheels.
I’m a big fan of being more visible than the law requires. A motorist needs to identify me as a cyclist in order to know how to pass me safely; lights and reflective materials on my bike and body help that happen more quickly. I’m sure we’ve all shared that sense of shock and fear when we’re driving and we don’t see cyclists until the last moment because they are in dark clothing with no lights. Announce your presence with lights. A bell can help, too!
There are many great bike lights on the market now, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to get one that’s bright, reliable, and long lasting. Head to your favorite bike shop and ask about your options. I encourage you to spend the extra money to get a rechargeable light. You’ll make your money back by not having to purchase batteries, and rechargeable lights tend to be more durable and sustainable. Rear flashing “blinkies” are another best bet. They are far superior to a standard reflector because they emit a standard flashing light that is associated with a bicycle.
Search bike lights on YouTube to have some fun checking out what cool products are out there. Add flair to your bike with colored LED designs!
Safety Vests: High on the cool hipster list of bike accessories is the safety vest! I wear my vest at night regardless of whether I’m in my riding clothes, street clothes, or dressed up to go dancing (Yes, even when I’m in my heels, the vest goes on). Time and time again, I’ve watched motorists slow way down and pass me with a wide radius when I’m wearing my trusty vest. Vests rock.
Be Ready for Rain: Is your bike winter-ready? It doesn’t take much. After you make sure you you have reflectors and lights, it’s time to think about rain. A pair of fenders is easier than you think. You can have some installed at a shop or get quick-release fenders for road, hybrid, or mountain bikes that will save your clothes during the rainy season.
Rain also affects your grip on the road, so consider moving from slick, narrow tires to something a little wider and with more tread. It’s also important to keep chains and joints lubed and to find a place to store your bike out of the rain.
Riding Clothes: Cooler temperatures require some strategic thinking when you’re picking out riding clothes. It’s the same situation Goldilocks encountered in The Three Bears. Too few clothes and you’ll freeze. Too many and you’ll burn up. Smart riders get it just right. They know that layering is the key to success. Dressing in several light layers allows you to add and remove clothes as the temperature changes and as your body heats up or cools off.
Start with a base layer with good wicking properties. That will help draw sweat away from your body and keep you from getting chilled later if temperatures drop, winds increase, or you are riding slowly. A middle, insulating layer that helps keep you warm and yet allows air to circulate around your body should go on next. Finally, you’ll want a lightweight outer shell that serves as a windbreaker and can offer you protection from rain.
It’s a common mistake for riders to overdress for cool weather. They end up being too warm very quickly. If you are warm before you start riding, you’ll get hot in no time once you start pedaling. Start out lighter, with the option to add additional layers if necessary. If you get soaked in sweat while riding in cold weather, you will get chilled when you stop or slow down.
Arm and leg warmers are versatile and handy riding accessories for cool weather. They help keep you warm on those chilly mornings, yet can be removed quickly and tucked in your pocket or pack as the day gets warmer or your body heats up. Another easy way to regulate your body temperature is to cover your head under your helmet: A wrap around your ears or a thin hat will have a dramatic impact on your body’s temperature.
Attitude: Have fun, and remember this simple reality check: Winter is not so bad in Santa Barbara. It isn’t Minneapolis, for example. Those people ride in snow! Get on your layers of clothing, turn on your lights, and adjust your attitude for adventure to push through our modestly cold mornings. Congratulate yourself for taking on the day, and relish in the victory of arriving to work or play invigorated. Like jumping in a lake, the hardest part is the first foot forward; from there it’s a feeling of fun and being glad you made the trip.