Ride through the winter with these tips from Broken Spoke owner Michael Chamberlain.
Generally, a skinnier tire with knobby tread works best for riding in a city that salts and plows its streets. This will make it easier to keep the front end straight and heading where you want when the front wheel cuts through the snow and gets down to the hard surface.
A wider tire tends to get directed by the terrain, which causes the front wheel to go all over the place. Studded tires work especially well when it is icy and slick out. They have a knobby tread with metal studs to help dig in and provide grip on slick ice.
I personally use a 32mm studded tire on the front of my bike where traction is paramount for steering and control. I use a 35mm knobby cyclocross tire on the rear since it is lighter and cheaper than a second studded tire. If cost and weight are less of a concern than the utmost in traction, then double up on the widest set of studded tires that will fit your bike. Studded tires start at around $65-70 each.
A set of full fenders will protect the bike from most of the sloppy slush and snow. Even though fenders will keep the nastiness from spraying onto your back and legs, the bicycle is the bigger benefactor from fenders.
Your drivetrain will remain cleaner and your headset, bottom bracket, and seatpost will remain mostly healthy throughout the winter. Everyone wins with a set of full fenders! Expect to pay about $45-50 for a good set.
Your bicycle will require more regular cleaning when riding in the winter. Sand and salt is a terrible combination for your drivetrain. There are chain cleaners (about $30) that allow you to very easily clean it without removing anything from your bicycle. They simply snap onto your chain, after which you can pedal your bike backwards with your hand to start the process. Use some degreaser, and allow the cleaner’s small, rotating brushes to thoroughly remove the gunk and grit from each chain link. This should be done every week or two during the winter months depending on how much snow and slush we’ve had.
It has been said many times that there is no bad weather, just bad clothing. A windproof shell is worth more than its weight in gold since it will keep the cold air out and your body warmth in.
Layers are usually key and wool definitely helps, allowing you to adapt to the temperature changes throughout the day. A cold morning commute might turn into a much warmer trip back home, for example. Generally, for rides less than a mile, it is best to overdress so you will be warm. For rides over two or three miles, it is best to dress so you are a little cold during the first few minutes of your ride, as you will be at an ideal temperature once you are warmed up.
If you find yourself colder than you would like to be, ride faster! This will create more body heat and warm you up surprisingly quickly. For those of us with cold hands and feet, a nice pair of insulated boots and wool socks are wonderful to prevent those toes from freezing.
Handlebar mittens are also fantastic for shielding your hands from the cold and keeping your hand warmth from escaping. These attach to the handlebar of the bicycle and are pretty much windproof.
The Right Attitude
Finally, no amount of gear will do you any good if you do not have a can-do attitude! My biggest tip for people is to just keep riding everyday into the colder months. By doing this, you will have a day to day experience of what works and what doesn’t as the temperatures gradually decrease. Figure out what was too hot or too cold today and adjust accordingly for tomorrow. It is amazingly easy to ride in the winter if you prepare and adjust and keep on riding when the weather gets cold!
Michael Chamberlain is the owner of The Broken Spoke (602 South Dubuque Street) and will be riding his 11th consecutive winter in Iowa City.