Get in Gear: Tips for Winter Biking

by Rachel Zavala

Biking through Boston’s peculiar streets can be complicated during fair weather; mixing in snow, slush, salt, and ice makes for a nearly impossible ride. However, the right bike equipment and maintenance can mitigate the problematic road conditions and make a snowy ride successful.

“I feel good about [biking] since eight out of 10 days the roads are fine,” says second-year Agriculture, Food, and Environment student Robert Cushman, who continues to bike to school in the winter. “Drivers tend to slow down in the winter, which is to your benefit, but I still have to be vigilant.”

“Winterizing” your bike involves being more vigilant about cleaning since slush and sand can wreck havoc on breaks and cause rust. In addition, waterproof gear to thwart nature’s snow showers is strongly advised. Here are some tips for riding through the winter from Friedman School cyclists and Bicycling magazine.

Fenders: Fenders keep snow and slush from splashing up on you and your bike, and will keep you clean (except for your feet). Second-year Food Policy and Applied Nutrition student Lena Nguyen says her fenders are “very important” during the winter months, and Cushman keeps his back fenders on his bike at all times since “the slush is extra evil stuff.”

Tires: To prevent your bike from skidding in the snow, changing to a wider tire is recommend. Additionally, dropping your tire pressure by 10-20 psi is optimal in order to increase surface area and gain more traction on snow and slush, according to Bicycling. “I don’t put too much air in my tires, and check the pressure every day in the winter,” Nguyen says.

If you are bold enough to ride in icy road conditions, specially designed studded tires that stick into the ice are a necessity. However, Friedman bikers tend to store their bikes away and take the T when it is slick out. “I don’t feel safe traveling on icy roads with cars,” says Matthew Hast, associate director of student affairs for admissions. “It is easy to slip on the ice and out of my comfort zone.” Cushman adds to beware of the freeze after thaw as well.

Lights: Attaching lights to your bike is an imperative safety move during the winter since there are fewer sunny days and visibility is reduced when it is raining or snowing. Cushman recommends keeping lights on during the day since the outdoor light is “flat and gray in winter.” A solid, cheap option is the Vistalite Super Nebular, which can be purchased online or at a bike store for about $15.

Gear: Though it can be an expensive upfront investment, thermal underwear and a waterproof/windproof jacket and pants will make a snowy ride far more enjoyable. Nguyen, who wears waterproof gear, also brings an extra change of clothes with her to school, saying, “I am either sweating or soaking wet from the rain, so it’s not pretty.”

Cushman recommends wearing a balaclava under your helmet, a piece of headgear that covers the entire head, only exposing the eyes or small portion of the face. They are typically made of neoprene, fleece, or acrylic and can be purchased at most biking or running stores for $18 to $35.

A particularly vulnerable spot is the ankle slot between shoes and pants, which Cushman says is “highly susceptible to slushy water even with fenders.” Ankle boots or gators will help protect your ankle and make for a comfortable ride.

Fingers can easily turn frigid when gripping the handlebars, facing wind and snow, making gloves vital piece winter equipment. Hast recommends “lobster gloves,” which are designed to keep hands extra warm without impairing movement the way mittens do when breaking and shifting. They are split down the middle with one pocket for your first two fingers and one for your last two fingers, as well as a pocket for your thumb. Lobster gloves typically cost $40 to $80, and can be purchased at bike shops.

Even if you and your bike are outfitted with a barrage of snazzy gear, bikers still need to be extra cautious in the winter. “It can be very dangerous in the winter,” Hast warns. “Plowed bike paths and secondary and tertiary city roads may be ok, but main roads where cars are going fast can be scary when the conditions are bad.”

He specifically cautions against biking on the Boston University Bridge, since bikers may have to share a lane with aggressive drivers when the sidewalks may be piled high with snow.

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