Winter Warrior

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Q: Can I Commute by Bike in the Snow?

My New Year’s resolution is to commute to work by bike. How do I do this in the snow?

By: Question from: The Editors, Santa Fe, NM

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A:

Well, first off, congrats. Bike commuting is a great way to get exercise, get outside, and create a clear separation between work and home.

Snow and ice are certainly deterrents for many cyclists, but it is indeed possible to get to and from work in slick weather. Start by picking a safe route—one that is plowed but not too busy. Well-maintained bike paths are the most obvious choice, although not every city is diligent about keeping its cycling paths clear during the winter. “Take back streets, if you can,” writes Kate Powlison, a research analyst for Bikes Belong. “On small neighborhood streets, you don’t have to worry as much about car traffic. It also gives you the chance to scope out who has built the biggest snowman.”

Once you’ve got your route down, the next goal is to stay upright. “Traction is important, and anything that improves it helps,” says Nate Means, a competitive cyclist and associate professor of biology who commutes daily to and from work—about eight miles round trip. “I ride either the mountain bike or cross bike in the winter, and the larger tire contact helps with traction.” Studded tires and lowering tire pressure also helps.

Also, slow down (but not too much, as there’s a certain amount of traction that can be gained from pedaling—it’s  a fine line). “If there’s a chance you’ll spin out of control on snowy and icy roads, it’s cheaper and likely safer to do it on a bicycle on a back street than in a car on a busy road,” says Powlison, also noting that even in bad weather, biking short distances can be faster than driving.

For many folks, staying dry and clean is the biggest challenge, especially when churning through melting snow and slush. “I use and recommend full fenders, which keep road salts and grime off the bike and me,” says Means, who’s been commuting via bicycle since he was in elementary school, 30-some years ago. “When I know it is going to be melting, I have a pair of waterproof pants that just slide over my dress pants that work great. I use a similar riding jacket to keep me dry, warm, and clean.” If all else fails, keep a set of work clothing in your office, just in case.

So really, you have no excuses. Bundle up, and start pedaling.

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