Fall in MN means one thing – winter’s coming.
For a lot of people that means its time to put the canoe, shorts and bike away until next season. And honestly, we pass no judgement on those who choose to take the winter season off from riding their bike. Its cold, its dark, its icy and we totally get it. That said, there is a hearty bunch of folks who elect to ride through the dark days of winter and we salute them. If riding through winter is something you are interested in, here is some helpful tips to make your winter rides a little more pleasant.
Your layering system is your first line of defense. It will take a few tries till you get the hang of what works best for you. But here are some general rules of thumb. First off, your base layer. Your base layer should NEVER be cotton. When you sweat - and remember even though its cold out your are riding your bike and you will sweat - cotton gets wet and stays wet which then will then equate you being cold. No good. Ideally your base-layer should be wool - preferably merino wool. Merino wool is extremely soft like cotton but will wick moisture off your skin and help keep you dry and warm. Furthermore wool is a miracle in winter as it can get wet without make you cold. Pretty killer. Next you want a good insulating layer. Something that will keep you warm like a thin down jacket or sweater. For myself, this is the layer that changes with the temps, the base layer and the outer layer tend to stay the same but I can adjust to the days temps by altering my insulating layer. Finally your exterior or weather proof layer. There is a couple things I tend to look for in a good weather proof layer. First up, though it seems counterintuitive I look for a thin outer layer. It needs to be highly wind and water proof, but I also want it to be thin and have almost zero “warmth” to it. Why? Well, this is usually going to be the most expensive piece in the layering equation and the thinner it is the more use you can get out of it. The problem with buying say a ski jacket is that in the mid fall or late spring you will sweat to death in it. If you buy a really great thin weather proof layer you can usually use it year round to keep wind and water off your person.
Fenders are a great idea for winter riding. As they will do 2 things for you. First, they will keep water, sludge and general crap from covering you. Second they will help keep your bike cleaner in the dirty winter riding months. Thankfully Handsome makes a killer full coverage fender that will work great year round. The Mud Butlers come in Silver or Matte Black. One little trick that I personally do through out the winter is back my fenders off a little further from my tires. This will make sure than any snow or grime that the wheels pick up will not get stuck between the tire and fender and slow me down.
Its gets dark out pretty quick in the winter months so having front and rear lights installed on your rig is always a good idea. Legally in the state of MN you are supposed to have a front light and at least a rear reflector to ride at night. We encourage to just go ahead with the rear light as well as they can be had for under $20 and greatly increase your visibility on the road. When it comes to front lights we generally say there is 2 different kinds, ones to be seen and ones to help see. The ones to be seen can usually be had for around $20 and won’t light up the road much for you but atleast will help drivers identify that there is a cyclist on the road. The ones to help see can range in price wildly but tend to start at around $30. We tend to recommend these types of lights as they are slightly more than a “to be seen” light and offer a whole lot more safety.
This where the rubber meets the road when it comes to winter riding. See what we did there? Your tire choice in the winter months can make a huge difference in your ability to get form A to B without wiping out. There are a ton of different winter riding tire options out there so lets chat about a few different style and where and why they might make sense. First up studded tires. Where we are (Minnesota) there is a lot of folks that elect to use a studded tire in the winter months. Quite honestly we feel that for 3/4 of the winter this is a bit of overkill. Studded tires are great in MN in late January and February when there can be a thick layer of black ice covering the street. They grip like nothing else can because well… there is a bunch of metal spikes sticking out of the tire. Studded tires however are not cheap, especially the good ones. If you want to do down the studded tire route we recommend getting carbide studs instead of steel studs. The carbide studs will last a lot longer than their steel counter parts. That said both will wear quickly if ridden on concrete. These bad boys are really made for ice and ice only. Another option, and quite frankly the one we usually elect for is either using a cycle-cross style “nobby” tire or a winter specific tire from Continental Tires. They will greatly improve your traction in the winter riding season. No matter which tire you choose one sure fire way to help you keep your bike upright is by lowering the PSI in your tires. I tend to cut my PSI almost in half in the winter riding months so that my tire flattens out more on the ground and thus gives me a wider contact patch with the ground creating more grip and traction.
Winter riding is nothing short of brutal on your bike. Don’t get me wrong - your bike can handle it, but it will need a little love to keep it rolling smoothly. If you live in a state like MN where they use a lot of salt and chemicals on the streets you want to be sure to regularly wipe down and clean your bike. Those chemicals are quite corrosive and will eat your parts up and spit them out if you let them marinate in it. Ideally when you are done riding you would bring your bike into above freezing environment and wipe it off as good as you can. This simple task alone can make a huge difference in the longevity of your bike and all its parts. After all, a clean bike is a happy bike. The next best thing you can do is routinely lubricate your chain. This is something you probably want to do every other week or so. Your chain gets pretty filthy and dried out in the winter so regular lubrication will help keep it rust-free and moving freely. Let us emphasize as well - WD40 is NOT a lubricant. We really like the cleaner/lubricant that we offer in our webshop (funny the way that works) or something like a Tri-Flow which can be picked up at most bike shops. The added benefit of a Tri-Flow is that you can use it to lubricate just about everything on your bike from the cables, to the deraileurs.