Braving the Elements

There’s nothing quite like an Iowa winter to make you want to lock yourself inside the house (with a few dozen tins of leftover holiday cookies) and not come out until March. As the temperatures drop, my wimpiness skyrockets. Venturing out to the grocery store makes me feel outdoorsy and I grant my bicycle an extended leave of absence.

While many of us put on the brakes come winter break, a handful of hardcores cycle through the season. Neither rain, nor sleet nor snow will keep them off their bikes. We asked Adam Blake, mecahnic at World of Bikes, and Michael Chamberlain, owner of Broken Spoke, to give us the inside spin for a happy winter on wheels.

Free or Cheap

Get Slick

Five bucks and an old t-shirt can do wonders for your bike—and your future funds. Pick up a bottle of basic Teflon lubrication (available at hardware stores or any bike shop) and wipe down your chain or any moving part each day after you ride. Sand and salt can chew up your bike fast, creating less than ideal riding conditions. Daily upkeep of your ride will keep you pedaling smoothly through the winter and into the spring, saving you money on repairs and replacements.

Lay on the Layers

Adam Blake says that new apparel isn’t necessary for winter—you just need to wear your existing duds in a new way. “It’s not that you have to go buy a whole new wardrobe. It’s wearing it in an intelligent and functional order,” says Blake. He suggests a three-layer system consisting of a dry fit, a wool layer for insulation and a shell on the outside to break the wind and water.

Lose the ‘Tude

You can buy as many cycling doo-dads as you want, but you won’t be a true year-round cyclist until you embrace the outlook. “The right attitude is totally free and totally necessary,” says Michael Chamberlain. “You need the willpower to keep riding through the winter. Take it on as a challenge—don’t stop riding.”


Bicycle fenders

Fender For Yourself

Fenders protect both you and your bike from being sprayed with whatever the weather has in store, be it slush, mud, water, salt or sand (or all of the above…this is Iowa). Available at your local bike shop, mechanics can help you choose which fender is right for your tire size and help you install it.

Bicycle glovesHand Check

Lobster claw style gloves offer the warmth of a mitten with the control of a glove. “These are typically pretty good because they’re warm and they allow some sort of dexterity for shifting and using the brakes,” says Chamberlain. If your hands are extra sensitive to frigid temps, bar mitts are an even better choice for winter riding. Available online and at some bike shops, these neoprene mittens attach to your handlebars and let you slip your hands in. They are functionally designed to give you control over the brakes and gears, while staying both water and wind resistant.

Give it a Glow

Headlights and tail lights are not only important for keeping you visible on the ride—they’re also state law. As winter sets in the sun follows suit, forcing you to face the darkness at the end of your 9-to-5. Stock up and shine on with bike lights and reflective clothing, available at your local bike shop.


Trade In Your Tires

Studded tires help prevent slipping and sliding while you roll over snow and ice. These tires are adorned with knobs and studs to create traction against slippery surfaces. They will run you around $120 or more, so they should be used only in slick conditions. “I recommend judicious use with these tires. The studs can start to wear, and that’s what you’re paying for,” says Blake. If studded tires are out of your price range, Chamberlain suggests a knobbier, chunkier tire.

Studded tires

Give Frozen Toes The Boot

Nothing ruins a ride quite like a pair of frozen feet. The key to toasty toes? Wool. “Wool in general is a great material in the winter,” says Blake. Top your wool socks with a pair of insulated boots—try something with 300 or more grams of insulation. Keep in mind that you’ll need to switch to standard pedals if you’re buying a standard outdoor boot. If you want to continue clipping in through the season, you can purchase shoe covers to don over your cycling shoes.