Parka Time?

On one of the most frigid nights before 2010, we went on a late-evening errand to the art store. Not wanting to have yet another "I am too cold to enjoy cycling" experience, I resorted to my floor-length down parka.

It may seem improbable that one can cycle in a coat like this, but it is doable. What you need is the kind of parka that unzips both from the top and from the bottom. I simply unzip it from the bottom to create whatever size opening I need for pedaling.

Bike and parka in motion. The shot is blurry but it shows off my headlight beams. The dynamo-powered headlight points forward (the beam furthest ahead of the bike), while the LED headlight points down at the road. This is essential when there are trecherous patches of black ice on the road, like now.

The art store is about a 20 minute walk from my house, or 5-7 minutes by bike. This is fairly representative of what my winter rides are like. Most of my current daily destinations are only 1-2 miles from my house, which makes for very short bike rides. For longer destinations, I used to rely on the Charles River Trail, which is not accessible once there is ice or snow on the ground - so in the winter I have not been going to those further-away places nearly as much.

Goods from the art store. The small bag looks deceptively modest, but the content - paintbrushes - can be painfully expensive. The store was having a sale and this was the last day of it, so I am glad I remembered on time.

Happy with my new paintbrushes.

After the art store, we decided to experiment with what it would be like to take a longer ride in freezing temperatures, and rode for a bit on a major road that leads out of town, stopping at a coffee shop and then heading home. It was okay, but did not feel entirely safe. The right lane was like an obstacle course: clusters of hardened snow suddenly popping up, potholes, icy patches. In addition to the parked cars on the right and moving cars on the left, it was a bit overwhelming to constantly watch out for all this, especially after dark. The good news is that with the parka I was at least able to finally cycle in these temperatures without feeling uncomfortable. A parka may look silly on a bike, but so what!


  1. Studded tires. (I'm not going to stop pestering you about this.)

    Also, I think the last photo in the post is a stunningly terrific portrait. And the parka seems great for winter cycling. Don't feel weird about wearing it!

  2. I know that everyone keeps telling me to get studded tires. It's not that I disagree that studded tires are effective for what they were designed for: patches of ice and thin, even coatings of snow. But they won't help with my main problem: chunks of hard an uneven icy snow; my bike will flip sideways from under me if the side of the tire unexpectedly goes over one of those - studs or no studs. Neither will studs help in the deep, uneven, hardened snow that covers the CR Trail and the Minuteman. In other words, they will not help me with 80%+ of my winter riding problems - making them, for me, not cost effective given the limited nature of my budget and how expensive they are...

    Thanks for the compliment on the portrait; it's the Co-Habitant's doing and he will be pleased.

  3. Love the black and white images - so appropriate for a cycle in the snow. And I agree with Giffin, that portrait with the paintbrushes is beautifully composed and shot. It's a great pic of you.

    You're 'game', riding after dark in such snowy and treacherous conditions. The chunks of icy snow sound particularly interesting (as in "may you live in interesting times"). That headlight setup is really impressive though - I'm sure it helps a lot.

  4. Help! All the lovely colors have disappeared from the post!

    I think about studded tires this way. They are a $150, two-year insurance policy that will eliminate the one danger of winter cycling -- black ice -- that you can't avoid by being careful. That breaks down to roughly $25 per month. Is it worth it? Confession: not for me. So I won't nag you about them anymore. :)

  5. Carinthia - Thanks, but you need only to look at the comments I get whenever I post about winter riding to see that I am a complete wimp compared to some of my readers. Heck, I needn't even go that far - I am a complete wimp compared to the Co-Habitant!

    Giffen - Colours? What colours? You must be imagining things : )

  6. Filigree, I live in a city that has rarely seen snow. Maybe an inch, on the higher ground, once every twenty years. I've driven in snow, on unploughed roads, and that's bad enough. Cycling in the muck that the ploughs push to the side deserves a medal in my book. And many medals to all of you who get out there and commute on two wheels in whatever nature sends you. (You can see I'm firmly in the wimp camp.)

  7. I beg to differ with you assessment of when studded tires are useful. I commuted year-round for 6 years between Norwood & Sharon, MA so the conditions were very similar to what you face. The first winter I tried using MTB tires but found that the black ice on the am commute was getting me too often, so I added studs using a pop-rivet tool to my front tire. That helped a lot. The next winter I went to a pair of Nokian Mount-n-Ground studded tires. They were great, allowing me to maintain control climbing hills, going over ruts, and yes in snow up to 6 inches deep. I've ridden home (8.5 miles) in "slushing" conditions that completely iced my cassette turning my bike into a single speed, also making my front rim brakes inoperable, but my winter bike had a rear disc brake. I now have osteoporosis, so to appease my husband and MD I have stopped riding in wintery conditions. I would strongly urge you to consider getting a studded tire for your front wheel. Look for one of the cheap IRC studded tires on-line to make it a more affordable experiment. I think you will find that it does make a difference in control crossing ruts.

  8. Happy New Year to you!
    New Year, new paint brushes!

  9. Mmm.. art + bicycles :)

    I'd like to get a cape for cycling. Haven't tried one, but they seem useful. Has anyone tried cycling in one?

  10. I so love your winter riding posts. I love that you are suitably cautious, but continue to experiment and integrate the bike into your life. That's not wimpy - it's smart and inspiring to anyone considering winter cycling.

    I am curious about what you will create with your lovely paintbrushes. :)

  11. "Colours? What colours? You must be imagining things. :)"

    Grr... You sneaky, sneaky you.

  12. Nice !
    Only one thing ... just a thought and curosity : Maybe in Spring-summer you'd change photo in which you're in summer-dress? Just a thought. :p (no offence intended,huh)


  13. Lemony - That's a good idea. I could change the banner bi-annually, like setting the clocks : )

    Christa - I know that the ladies from Chic Cyclist and Biking in Heels have made/bought capes and cycled in them. I have cycled in an enormous pashmina wrapped around cape-like, but its blowing in the wind made me nervous.

  14. Christa, I have a cape and love cycling in it. It actually works really well since you get better ventilation than with a regular jacket, which keeps me from getting overheated. But once it gets really cold I retire it, since I don't have arm-warmers and your arms are more exposed than in a regular coat.

  15. what dottie said!

    Also? I'm going to write a post on it but I got a felted wool scarf for xmas and it is THICK and super warm and does not let in air. I love it.

    My long coat has the double zip too and I agree that is is so great to have something covering my bum and legs and have leg room. I think you look fantastic.

    I'm a cold weather wimp as well. so we can push our boundaries together. I left my house twice since New years day. It was nice to be inside and enjoy the warmth and drink tea. my house is kind of tidy too.

  16. Thanks Vee : )

    A felted wool scarf sounds nice. I have a collection of hats and scarves that is getting out of control, but I suppose one more couldn't hurt...

    I have also ordered some thermal silk and wool base layers, so that I can experiment with winter outfits that don't require a parka. I will review them once everything arrives.

  17. That is a good shot of the lights.
    And I don't think the parka looks silly, and if it does, who cares. better warm and 'silly' than cold and cool (pardon the pun).
    Happy New Year!

  18. I, too, love the portrait of you with the paintbrushes.

    If you're doing short rides in the cold, the parka makes sense. I've ridden in my long coat with the bottom buttons opened so that I could clear the frame.

    As for studded tires: I agree with you. If you ride rarely or occasionally after snowfalls, they won't really help. They're meant for hard, smooth surfaces, not for snow of uneven texture and density.

    Happy New Year to you and Co-Hab.

  19. Silks and wool are the way to go. For me I stop the silks and switch to the merino around the 30 degree mark. There is a reason I live in the Deep South, though this week one wonders if one shouldn't move to the Carribean Islands...


  20. I don't like wool right next to my skin - especially under the arms - so I plan to wear a silk baselayer, then a thin wool midlayer, then a thicker wool outer layer. Wintersilks and a few other companies seem to have baselayers rated for winter temperatures, so hopefully it will work out.


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