Spoke Talk: How to bike in winter
November 24, 2010
Considering today is Scholarship Day at Steamboat Ski Area, biking might be the last activity that comes to mind for many Steamboat residents. Although I've made a solid commitment to biking more and driving less, it's a fair-weather pledge. Yet, I love to spend hours playing in the snow, so why not try to ride? After all, so many of the trips I make across town are fewer than three miles.
I asked Chris Johns, owner of Wheels Bike Shop and one of Steamboat's avid bike commuters, what I need to know about riding in winter.
Polumbus: Is there one type of bike that works best in the winter?
Johns: I'd say an old hardtail mountain bike. Older bikes have spacing between the rear cogs that accommodate snow a little more.
Polumbus: What are the must-have items to winterize your bike?
Johns: The No. 1 must-have is studded bike tires. No. 2: platform pedals instead of clipless so you can ride with boots. A lot of people have full fenders on front and back tires. Another good thing is a bike rack on the back of your bike, because then you can carry extra layers, or extra clothes for changing into at work.
Polumbus: What is the ideal tire pressure?
Johns: You want a lower pressure to create a good contact patch — you want more of the tire to hit the ground. I'd say maybe 25 psi. People may experiment with lower — down to 20 psi or so — but probably no lower than that.
Polumbus: What do you wear?
Johns: People often overdress. On most winter days and nights you get pretty warm once you start riding. I wear a Capilene base layer, waterproof top layers, and waterproof shoes or boots.
Two-finger bike gloves, what we call "lobster gloves" work pretty good, but a regular thick glove is good, too. Goggles — clear goggles at night — and a larger helmet that can accommodate the goggles and a hat or balaclava. Usually, you need one reflective leg band on the right side to keep looser fitting clothes from getting caught in your chain ring.
Polumbus: What about riding routes? Are there ways you go in winter that are different than summer?
Johns: When there's a lot of snow it can be tough to get around because the streets are narrower. They do a really good job in the city to keep the bike path that the city owns clear, but not all paths are cleared in winter. You want to stick to the bike paths as much as possible. It's actually really fun — it's quiet, kind of tranquil, you get your thoughts together before you get to work.
Other safe routes — I'd definitely take Oak Street with the bike lanes, you have more space there. All the alleyways are great. You do have to watch traffic when crossing streets.
Polumbus: What is your key advice for safety?
Johns: Lights. Days are shorter, so you need flashing lights all over the place. Have your head on a swivel, like an owl, being more aware. Keep you head up and use more caution. Also, if you ride your studded tires on clear pavement you can slide more easily.
Polumbus: What advice do you have for drivers?
Johns: Take more caution, as always.
Polumbus: What about commuting to the ski area with your skis or snowboard?
Johns: Some people just get a locker — that would be the No. 1 best way to do it. And because you are saving so much money on gas you probably can afford a locker.