The Well-Tempered Bike Commuter: Cold Weather Cycling

By Steve Chambers

Cool equipment and weird-weather clothing.

by Steve Chambers


If you become a serious bicycle commuter, willing to ride on other than bluebird days, you’ll need some special equipment. A rear fender prevents the rear tire from drawing a nice, straight line of water, mud or other road gunk down your back. Front fenders keep your feet and the lower part of your bike clean.
A rear rack is nice, especially if you plan to do any shopping. These attach to the seat post and to eyelets on the rear hub. When buying a bicycle, if you plan to get a rack, make certain the bike will accommodate one; not all bicycles will. A rear rack also functions as a rear fender.
Panniers are saddlebags for bicycles. They fit over a rear rack, one on each side of the wheel. They’re useful for carrying heavier loads because they keep the center of gravity low, making a loaded bike more stable. If you use your bike for quick trips to the corner convenience store, a milk crate strapped to a rear rack works fine and is much cheaper.
When riding at night, you can’t possibly have too much illumination. The biggest danger of night riding is not being seen by drivers, so think about your back and sides as well as the front. Wear light-colored clothing and a reflective vest. If you wear a backpack or bike messenger bag, put the vest over the bag, or festoon your backpack with strips of adhesive reflective tape. Put more strips on your fenders. Get a flasher and attach it to your seat or fender. You can also put adhesive Velcro strips on the flasher and on your backpack so you have a second one on yourself.
Don’t skimp on headlights. Most bicycle headlamps are so weak that they can’t be distinguished from car headlights when a car is behind you. You might be 30 yards in front of a car, but anyone looking toward you and the car will see only the car’s headlights and might pull out in front of you, unaware of your presence. Ride defensively and never get complacent.
Dressing for the elements
There is a wind-chill factor associated with biking. Over the years, I’ve developed some rules of thumb for dressing. Above 65 degrees, I’m usually good in shorts and short sleeves. About 65, I generally wear a long-sleeved shirt. When the temper?ature drops to the low-60s, I add full-fingered gloves and might add a second upper layer. At 55 degrees, I pull on tights. If the temperature drops below 50 degrees, I will definitely have at least two upper layers and possibly a wind shell. Below 35 degrees, booties over shoes and additional layers are necessary. 
Consider what conditions will be throughout your ride, not just at the start. If you ride in the morning, and the day is expected to warm up while you ride, it’s better to start a little cool and let the exercise and warming temperatures do their thing. Two of the neatest inventions for cyclists are arm and leg warmers. These are tubes of fabric that pull on over your arms or legs, converting short sleeves or shorts into long sleeves or tights. Knee warmers are shortened versions of leg warmers that turn your shorts into knickers. They are quick and easy to pull on or off and store in a backpack or the pockets of a cycling jersey. All bike stores sell them.
Fall is a great time to ride. It’s light enough at both ends of the day to commute, and temperatures are moderate. Go for a spin.
Steve Chambers is an attorney and outdoor enthusiast. He commutes in lycra because it makes him feel fast, though he says he is not, has never been and probably never will be fast.
Resources for Cyclists
Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee (MBAC) meets monthly, the second Wednesday of each month at 5:00 p.m. in the City-County Building. The committee is an informal committee of residents and city employees dedicated to making Salt Lake City more bicycle-friendly. 
Salt Lake County Bicycle Advisory Committee (SLCBAC), the Salt Lake County committee, much like the MBAC, publishes Salt Lake County bike route maps, available at area bicycle shops, county libraries and county recreation centers. 
Cycling Utah is a free publication about cycling in and around Utah. It has a great link to bicycle commuting where you can download a pdf file about commuting in Utah. You can often find it next to Catalyst.
Local Bike Shops. Bicycle shops around the valley have a wealth of information about rides, classes to build skills and clubs you can join.

This article was originally published on November 3, 2008.