Yes Virginia, there are people who ride all winter in Boston. Even though global warming seems to be doing its best to push winter back further and further each year, in a month or so it is going to get very cold, and yes people are going to still be out on their bikes. I have pushed my trusty bike though several Boston winters and before that many brutal northern Midwestern ones, so I feel like I can share a couple secrets to riding a bicycle in winter.
This is going to be the first in a series of articles dealing with different aspects of winter riding. Winter doesn’t just show up one day, it worms it’s way slowly into your bones, getting colder each day. This is both a blessing and a curse. Sure it gets a little colder each day, but if you ride each and every day your body adjusts to the slight temperature change. I honestly feel this is the secret to winter riding, get out there every day, you will not notice that it is 20 degrees out, because the day before it was 22, whats two degrees?
Before we deal with things like snow, ice, studded tires, how to keep your fingers attached and your toes above freezing we will deal with the problems of “pre-winter.” Pre-winter is that time of the year when it is getting cold (35-50), but not yet brutal (30 and below). There are a couple of skills you will need for pre-winter.
1. Gloves with a soft spot on them:
(note the black part on the back of the glove, absorbent, and soft)
I am still riding around with my summer fingerless gloves, I usually switch over to a full glove once the weather is consistently below 40 when I ride in, and move to a serious glove once it is below 30. The key here is to have a glove with a tiny absorbent patch on them, the reason of course is cause when it gets chilly out your eyes tear up and your nose runs. The soft area will allow you to wipe these tears and snot away without having to stop and pull out a tissue.
2. Plan for 10 minutes into the ride:
Yes it is getting a bit colder, but that doesn’t mean you need a parka. If you put on a really heavy jacket you will find your self dripping with sweat by the time you get to where you are going. Moving your feet makes you warm, plan accordingly. You might be a bit cold at first, but you will warm up fast.
3. The snot rocket:
(here you can see a really good snot rocket)
Where I grew up this was called the farmers blow, and I learned it from an old grizzled farmer who was tougher than nails and stronger than an ox (true story). When it gets cold your eyes tear up and your nose runs (if you want to know the medical reason for this see here). Moving though this colder air on your bike will only make it feel colder and cause more tears and snot. It has been my experience that once you get going you warm up and the snot stops, but for the first bit of your ride you are going to have a running nose and perhaps a tear or two. You could pull over every ten feet and blow your nose, or you can learn the ancient art of the snot rocket.
What I am about to share with you has been passed down from farmer to biker through the ages, and is holy knowledge not to be used for anything but the most holy of purposes, so prepare yourself padiwan because this is important stuff. The snot rocket is the act of ejecting snot (and anything else) from your nose without the use of tissue. When done correctly you can completely blow your nose free of all obstructions without slowing down, and without getting it all over yourself (a key point).
So how does one do this magical feat? First wait until you got a bit of snot built up, it is important to have some shot in the cannon, or in my experience this wont work. Beware however if you wait too long you will have too much ammo and the results can be disastrous. I recommend waiting till you start to feel the snot run a bit, that’s when you strike!
a. Place a finger against the nose hole you will not be clearing, I use the pointer, some people use the thumb, either way you are covering up the non-business hole. You don’t have to take both hands off the bars for this, but sometimes it is easier if you sit up and ride no handed for a couple yards. This can also be done with gloves on.
b. Point your head to the side. You need to get your head far enough over so that the wind takes the snot past your shoulder, not into it. Remember to adjust for the wind.
c. Check that no other cyclists are behind you. We are going to use our powers for good, not evil. If there are cars behind you, don’t worry, they will have the windows up and heater on, they will not be bothered.
d. Exhale a short staccato breath through your nose. Think of yourself as an angry bull from an old Warner Brothers cartoon, or pretend you just got punched in the gut. This is the key, a hard short breath that ends abruptly will launch the contents of your nostrils into the air and the wind created by your forward motion will carry it safely past you.
e. Repeat with the other nostril.
f. Wipe any leftovers off with that soft part on your glove or sleeve.
Combines with a good spit you can completely clear your entire head of snot and tears at speed with no tissues. Earth friendly and efficient. Plus I have had more than one compliment from pedestrians who have witnessed this (“holy shit that is disgusting!” is a compliment right?). But seriously if you want to ride in the winter you are going to have to master this move. It allows you to breath easily and will greatly improve your riding experience.
Seriously, get some lights people. You may have noticed that it gets dark as soon as you get up…this is called winter. Without lights you are invisible. When you suddenly appear in front of me I (and everyone else) freak the fuck out. Nothing is worse than having to suddenly dodge a bike ninja. Go get some lights. If you don’t have lights, don’t ride your bike. Simple.
In a city like Boston, lights are not so you can see things, the street lights do a fairly good job of that, lights are so we can SEE YOU! Red back light, white front light, just like a car. Hell get some reflectors to go with them, get a couple lights, light your pants on fire, but please, for the love of Pete stop riding around dressed all in black with no lights! This goes for runners, and pedestrians as well. If you are dressed all in black, with no reflectors, and you are crossing the street against the signal in the middle of the street from behind a car, no one is going to see you until they run into you. Honestly even if you dress all in white with a big foil hat, you still need lights. Reflectors only work when another light source bounces off of them, I don’t have laser eyes, so please, get lights.
5. Cold Rain:
In my opinion this is the worst possible weather to ride a bike in. Before the snows start in Boston there is a whole season of cold rain. Ridding in the snow can actually be a ton of fun. Cold rain is the worst. The only times in my life I have ever had a bad time on my bike is when I was caught in some brutal cold rain. The secret here is staying warm, not necessarily staying dry (although they often go together). Get some rain pants, get a rain jacket, if it is really bad put these on over your normal riding clothes. These will keep you both warm and dry. I usually just let my head, and hands get wet. If you don’t like water on your head a bike cap placed under my helmet will keep the water out of my eyes, and your head pretty dry. If you have trouble with your hands getting too cold, try putting a pair of rubber gloves on under your normal gloves, thus making them water proof.
Get some fenders. I can not stress enough how awesome fenders are. They keep you and the bike free of the nasty grit-water from the ground and keep you from getting that skunk stripe up your back. Most of the water that gets you wet comes from the tires throwing it on you, fenders will solve this problem. The one part I often have trouble with is the shoes. They sell little waterproof footy things, but a plastic bag over the socks and under the shoes will work also. I would also recommend fleece or wool socks. They will keep your feet warm, even if they get wet.
So there you go, a couple easy tips to make your Pre-winter riding much more pleasurable. If you ride all winter in Boston, leave your tips for “pre-winter” in the comments. I will cover colder weather riding in the next post.
If you ride all winter and want to proclaim your street cred pick up one of our great “This bike survived a Boston winter” stickers at the store.
Tags: gloves, lights, prewinter, rain pants, snot rocket, winter riding
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