Posted by: jdantos | November 16, 2012

Bicycling into the Winter

As the days grow very short and the temperatures drop, the opportunity and allure of long bike rides seems to fade.  The stretch of cold and dark from November to March, about “Fall Back” to “Spring Forward” is the toughest part of the year for me, especially during the week. Does anyone else have trouble this time of year?

  • I am a year-round cyclist, but I tend to withdraw into my shell a little bit between now and March. My daily riding sometimes retrenches back to a 6-mile round trip commute, and no more.
  • To motivate, I tell myself I have no excuse but to ride to work anytime the high temperature is above 40. If the high doesn’t crack 40, I cut myself some slack. The top left corner of the Washington Post front page becomes my “commute horoscope.”
  • Winter is a time to focus on other pursuits – reading, music, analysis, work, cooking. The holidays are a welcome distraction.
  • Good gear helps. Someone wise once said (probably) “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” – or something like that. So I try to bundle up for winter riding when temperature and sweat regulation are key.
  • Lights help.  I’m in the “Christmas Tree” school of thought when it comes to bike lights. I don’t care how silly I look, or how many batteries I have to change or recharge, I want as much visibility as possible.  Especially in the winter if you want to ride after 4:45pm. I run two front handlebar lights, two rear blinkies on the seatpost, glow-lights stuck into my spokes, and a ReelLight rear blinky at the axle.
  • Cold toes and fingers, especially on long rides. I hate, hate ’em. On my short commute, no proble, but on long rides, everything else can be icky sweaty but the tips of my toes and fingers can be numb. Has anyone found a good solution to this problem? Moose Mitts? Toe warmers?
  • Cold-bike whistling. Whistling a song as I pedal definitely helps keep warm. Singing also works.

Once you’re out, biking in the dark and cold can be a peaceful, calming thing. Pedestrians and other cyclists have thinned out, and you have the trails and lanes to yourself. The creak of a chain and the rattle of a pannier can seem downright loud on a cold dark ride home. Dark and cold brings it own kind of quiet, which I have trouble putting into words. Ride up the Mount Vernon Trail as the moonlight glints off the Potomac, cruise along the Mall on Jefferson or Madison, or pedal down the W&OD under the stars, and you’ll know what I mean.

The trick is just getting up the motivation to get the right gear, and get out there.



  1. Just give me some pavement for traction and will travel!

  2. Great post! I too have a harder time convincing myself to get out there in the colder weather. Since June I have been doing a multimodal Baltimore – DC commute. It has worked quite well but since we’ve resumed standard time, I find the last leg, a 4 mile uphill ride, to be daunting. I pretty much have the hill part down. It’s the extreme dark that is getting to me. Though my philosophy is “There is no such thing as too many lights…or reflective gear,” it still feels scary to be slogging uphill in the dark on a narrow road. The other challenge, as you mention is regulation of body heat. I keep trying different approaches to being properly layered for the morning downhill trip, and not wearing too much for the heat-generating return home. My regular commute to DC is coming to its final days. As of 11/30 I will be the sole proprietor of a home-based consulting and coaching business. I am hoping things shape up so I can regularly pop out for a daytime ride. I’ve tried various cold finger and toe fixes. Liners under socks and gloves help some, but I don’t have that one solved. Let me know if you find a new solution!

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