Monday, February 27, 2012

Winter Biking

I'm happy to say that I've bicycle commuted through most of the winter, thanks in large part to help from Augie of Southern Tier Bike Club with regards to gear. Augie has accumulated many bits of incredibly helpful gear, including heavy warm leather gloves. My bike itself was well set up for sloppy commutes from the start with its fenders and good chunky enough (but not too chunky!) commuter tires.

Here in Binghamton, in the Southern Tier of New York, the biggest challenges to winter commuting are cold, snow and ice, and short days. These are fairly serious barriers, but there are tactics that can effectively combat them.

 The cold weather and wind are general guaranteed factors you will be fighting if you commute year round via bike regularly. The morning commute tends to be colder then the afternoon one, as the sun has not yet had a chance to warm the ground. In serious cold it is critical to have a wind-breaking layer. I wore wind pants over my dress pants and a rain jacket over a hoody. Warm socks are critical, along with decent boots. One handy tool that I swear by are ankle warmers. I use old socks, with the foot cut off. These perform several functions including keeping my pant legs out of the chain and my feet warm, and adding a walloping dose of fashion. Good gloves are also essential. I really like wearing mittens (as opposed to gloves because they keep your hands warmer.

Riding during daylight was a real challenge for me this winter. I wound up shifting my hours earlier so I could have daylight on both the morning and evening legs of the commute. I rode into work from 8:00 am- 8:30 am, and made an effort to leave work by 4:00 pm. There were cloudy days that left me riding in very little daylight. I also did have the luxury of being able to tweak my hours a little. The temperature also drops off quickly as the sun sets.

This past winter was unusually mild for this region, but there was still some level of fighting snow and ice. Others may feel differently, but fresh snowfall is one condition I won't bike in. You can't see potholes in the road, and are much more likely to slip around. Also, snow and slush gets stuck in the rear derailleur. The more common result of snow is the sides of the roads being slushy. This will push bike riders further into traffic.

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