Autumn's cooler temperatures and changing colors make it a fantastic bike riding season, but as the days get shorter, darker and wetter, cyclists should take care to outfit their rigs, and themselves, for better comfort and visibility. Read on for some tips on how to stay safe and warm while freewheeling through the worst weather fall and winter have to offer!
Front and rear lights are crucial year round, but even more so in winter. The sun is setting earlier in the northern hemisphere, so even if you only use your bike for the commute to work, by the time you head home you’ll be riding in the dark. Foggy, rainy and otherwise hazy conditions will also reduce visibility for drivers and cyclists. Switching on the brights is never a bad idea when you’re on a bike.
Bike light technology and design has come a long way in the past decade, and there are many choices on the market today. Halogen, LED, HID (High Intensity Discharge), and glowing tube lights are all good options. HIDs provide the most light by far, but they are also fragile and expensive. Halogen used to be the industry standard, but its inefficiency left the market wide open for LEDs, which are becoming increasingly affordable.
If you’re the kind of person who forgets to replace the batteries, consider USB rechargeable lights. And if you’re hesitant to buy, you can always build your own. One commons setup: white light in the front, red lights in the back and reflectors on the side. Attire can make all the difference as well. “Bright is always helpful,” says Pedal Revolution employee Cole Sanchez.
2. Stopping Power
You may love the minimalist aesthetic of fixies, but wet roads mean less traction and more potential for disaster — if fixed gear is your preferred riding style, consider attaching a brake this season. One is better than none and you don’t have to use it, but it will be there for the “Oh S*%t!” moment when you do.
Brake pads are the next item to consider. New brake pads have grooves to channel water away from the rim and improve wet-weather braking. Inspect these grooves to gauge how much brake power you’ll have on your next venture. Don’t put off replacing this cheap rubber any longer. It’s a quick fix and makes a world of difference.
Switching out narrow racing tires for something with more pronounced tread is another way to provide traction and keep you from skidding out at stop signs. Cole tells us, “You don’t necessarily need to go with something mountain bike knobby, there are a lot of options out there. Touring tires are a good choice because they’re for mixed terrain and will work well on something like a road bike or a hybrid.” If you don’t mind the extra turbulence, you could go the DIY route and strap zip ties to your Continentals.
4. Dressing to Stay Dry
Adverse weather conditions impair visibility and stopping time for cyclists and drivers alike, but only cyclists feel the chill of the elements. Choosing the right clothing can make the difference between having a fun night or a miserable one. In these upcoming months it’s a good idea to keep a pair of gloves and an extra layer or two in your bag. The goal is to keep the core of your body warm and dry. Incorporating layers into your wardrobe gives you more versatility to add, remove or vent as your body temperature changes. Zippers are especially helpful.
When choosing a base layer, opt for silk, wool or polyester. Cotton naturally absorbs moisture and prevents air circulation, while these natural and synthetic fabrics wick moisture, allow air circulation and dry quickly. Don’t forget to cover your hands, feet, head and neck. These are major areas of heat loss. Scarves, gloves and bicycle-manufactured skull caps (that your helmet can fit over) are packable, lightweight ways to help regulate body temperature. A windproof layer will minimize windchill and can also keep you from having to dress too bulky.
Riding in the rain is a great way to product test high-tech waterproof shells and one of our all-time favorite deluge defense systems are rain booties. A good pair of booties will cover any shoes, add an extra layer of warmth, and make it so you’re not weighed down by a pair of musty sneakers.
“I like riding in the rain. If you’re well prepared, if have rain gear and you have fenders, it’s really not that bad” says Steve, owner of Pedal Revolution.
4. Adding Fenders
Fenders are the last (but not least) accessory worth mentioning. These devices will help keep you dry and add style to your ride. From bamboo and hammered steel to carbon fiber and plastic, there are many options to choose from. A pair of fenders will cost anywhere from $15 to $100, but if you’re in a pinch, here’s a simple DIY solution: Carve a gallon jug or two-liter plastic bottle in half and secure it to the bicycle frame with duct tape or zip ties.
Even after all the above preparations are made, there are still the little annoyances: “As I was riding [to work],” Cole recounts, “I was squinting because you are riding into the wind and the rain is getting into your eyes…I’ve been experimenting with how to get water out of my eyes. I borrowed some safety glasses from my sculpture studio and that kind of helped a little bit.”
Riding conditions can’t be controlled, but you can heed the advice above to minimize negative impact and cruise through the season with little disturbance.
Thanks to Pedal Revolution, a nonprofit bike shop with an inspiring social mission, for sharing tips for the season. Pedal Revolution’s unique business model allows the workshop to hire 15 at risk youth every year. These teenagers are taught basic job skills and trained in the art of bicycle maintenance.
Lead Image: © Ian Sane