Happy Tears? Bracing for Winter...

At first glance, this might look like a "sad panda", but it's really not. It's just that today was 35° F and windy out. Riding to my destination I must have been a site, because tears were streaming down my face, then freezing in disgusting patches all over my cheeks. Mmmm!

So yes - Now I understand what cyclists mean when they discuss goggles for winter riding. I don't do well with goggles, because they mess with my spatial perception. But (some) sunglasses I can deal with, so I think I will wear them in the winter just as I wore them as "bug shields" last spring.

One thing I truly love about the winter is the beautiful light. Velouria thinks it flatters her colouring and gives her a sense of mystery. She also thinks that she will look quite nice once the snow arrives. What a vain bicycle!

Dramatic self-and-bike shadow. That lumpy stuff on my face is the tears - next time the sunglasses are coming for sure.

Overall, I am still trying to figure out how to be consistently comfortable cycling during the cold season. While I continue to cycle almost every day, I have to be honest: It does not feel as great as it did in the warmer months and I do not get the urge to go on rides (as opposed to using the bike solely for transportation) when it is below 40° F. Maybe I just need to allow myself to get used to it gradually? Also, I must admit that I am getting slightly terrified at the prospect of riding in the snow. On the one day it seriously snowed here so far, I was sick and didn't ride anywhere, but more snow is coming soon and I am going to have to face it. The posts on other blogs make it seem like "wiping out" on ice is not just a possibility, but an inevitability, and that doesn't sit well with me. I can't imagine not cycling during the winter, but I need to think of a plan and to brace myself.


  1. This is my first winter biking too! So far, I've learned that biking in a blizzard is 500x easier than walking or driving in a blizzard. Also, I learned that Delta Cruisers are not that great on snow and that it is impossible to keep salt spray off the bike. (Tell Velouria to be careful, although depending on her personality she might not let you take her out in slushy weather anyway.)

    Are you planning to get studded tires for Eustacia Vye?

  2. Safety glasses come in many different varieties and you may be able to find a pair that don't mess up spatial perception without the darkness disadvantages of sunglasses. In contrast to clear goggles, my glasses are barely noticeable when riding and they keep the tears away down to about 20F.

  3. Lovely pictures! The light is beautiful. Boston sounds like it's going well with the weather, though I'm sure it will turn soon. Chicago's weather got mean quick. I'm about to head out in 8 F. Boo. I definitely don't go on fun rides when it's this cold, just transportation.

    I don't like goggles; I use safety glasses. They're just like sunglasses but a bit bigger (well, not bigger than for example Kanye West's sunglasses) and have clear lenses. I can't use sunglasses for the ride home in the winter because the sun sets at 4:15.

    I addressed some of your wiping out concern in response to your comment. Not sure how helpful it is.

  4. Studded tires for sure, there is no other way to stay upright on ice. Peter White Cycles has some great information on tires and winter riding and also stock all the best studded tires. I bought some last year and was amazed, though I realized I needed studs for the feet, as putting a foot down on ice will also bring you down. I am planning on trying a different type this year on another bike, so will compare my Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires with one of the Nokian models (which one, I don't know yet). I wanted an extra bike with studded tires last winter, so I could talk someone else into riding with me!

  5. giffen, i agree that it's impossible to keep salt spray off of a bike, fenders or not! that's what keeps me from riding anything but my cannondale beater bike after the first salting of the season. (within a week after the ONE time i rode my dutch bike in slushy salt, the hardware all began to rust!). i've never used studded tires before, but i'm considering getting a pair for my cannondale beater this season. i try to cycle to work every day, but i place a limit on what conditions i'll ride in, and i won't ride on days when it's actually snowing or when there's an ice warning. still, studded tires are a good idea (gotta keep the risk compensation in check, tho! ;-))

    filigree, i find sunglasses are a must in the winter, not only for helping keep the wind out of my eyes, but also for reducing snow glare, which can be pretty intense in winter-- even when then streets themselves are clear and dry. (my problem with sunglasses is that i'm chronically losing them!)

    and although it's probably fashion "suicide" to some readers here, i wear a pearl izumi balaclava under my helmet, and sometimes ear muffs. the balaclava is a must for me when riding below about 35F since my sinuses are very sensitive to cold air and i get unbearable sinus pain from breathing in cold air. the balaclava helps immensely in that regard. the balaclava is great down to about 20F, and the the balaclava/ear muff combo is sufficient to keep my head warm and sinuses happy even riding in 10-15F temps.

  6. I can relate to your concerns. I wiped out for the first time on my bike yesterday on a patch of ice. I wasn't going that fast (and doubt I ever would or could in wintery conditions), so I didn't get hurt, but still: not fun.

  7. Oh man, it hasn't gone above freezing all week in Portland (and most of the week had highs of about 25 - it's been about 16 degress when I've gotten to work), and I have to admit, in that case I do generally only want to leave the house when I have to - but personally I still prefer that to 95, that just makes me want to die. I'm weird, I know.

    I don't generally have problems with tears, so I haven't had to wear glasses or anything while riding, but other than that I've found that a good sturdy wool coat, a good wool scarf, a hat that covers my ears, and some good mittens have kept me pretty warm on my (approx) 30 min commutes. The wool, I feel, blocks wind just as well as a windbreaker, and the scarf keeps it from blowing down your neck.

    I haven't ridden much in the snow, but from my small experience even with just normal city tires (and a fairly heavy bike), if you're careful and don't make sudden movements, you can be pretty stable. I've heard really good things about studded tires, so I would definitely consider that possibility as snow comes closer. That being said, nobody in Portland could be an expert on that subject :)

  8. Your pictures are great!
    I'm trying to coax myself to do some winter riding. Strangely enough, we have very little snow yet so it won't be that different than summer riding, except for the cold part.
    I'll have to see what happens when it really does become Winterpeg again.

  9. Filigree,

    You should also look into getting a mudflap for Eustacia Vye. It at least helps to keep slush off your feet. Velo Orange sells a nice one, but I think it's too small. (It must be about half as wide as the one Dottie's Oma has.)

  10. I spent several winters biking around Ottawa when I lived in the downtown core. A few things I learned:

    For short rides it doesn't matter what you wear (normal winter clothing). For longer rides, the temptation is to overdress: when cycling, you can get pretty hot so I tend to wear fewer layers than I would if I were walking outside. Put your nice wool sweater in your bag and put it on once you have arrived at your destination. Just make sure to cover all your skin.

    It's a good idea to have a bike dedicated to foul weather. It hurts me to see beautiful bikes, especially Pashleys and vintage Raleighs, suffering through deep snow and salt. I built myself a fixed gear on the cheap especially for winter riding complete with fenders and everything. It's not a pretty bike but I'm more comfortable riding in the snow if I'm not worried about rust build-up on my fancy bikes.

    I have never used studded tires. Immediately after a snow fall, biking in the city can be difficult, but once the road starts to clear, normal tires are fine, especially if regular car traffic melts paths in the ice.

    Sliding around is an inevitable part of winter cycling. Ride your bike prepared to put your foot down at any moment. The saddle on my winter bike is lower than my other bikes so I can sit on it and still put my foot down.

    Cycling in the winter is lots of fun. One major advantage is car drivers tend to be more patient.

  11. So today I learned one more thing that I'd like to share. Short trips are VERY different than long trips. On short trips, anything goes really. Not so on long trips. I got overconfident and learned this the hard way -- 6 miles from home I realized that I wore the wrong shoes :( and my feet were going numb and ... okay don't want to scare you too much. So I think the best strategy is to work your way up, first become 100% comfortable with a 50 foot trip, then a block, then a few blocks, then a mile, then two, etc. No hurry.

  12. Giffen - I agree that traveling by bicycle in cold weather is better than walking and other options. Good to know that Delta Cruisers are not good on snow - what exactly happens? If the snow this year justifies it, I will most likely get studded tires on the Pashley.

    Dottie - good point about the dark; I had neglected to consider that!

    somervillain - Is your Cannondale aluminum? Or do you just not care that it rusts?

    portlandize - You are not weird. I hate driving and have not been behind the wheel for over 2 years now. When I need to get somewhere, I do not view it as an option, because the stress and claustrophobia of driving in the city is just not worth it.

  13. Delta Cruisers -- they seem too narrow, smooth and round for snow. Narrow means that they sink and don't handle the roughness of the snow too well. Smooth -- the thread is not grippy at all, especially since the narrow grooves quickly fill up with ice. Round -- as soon as the bike the bike tips, they start slipping.

    Disclaimer: I don't have experience with winter riding on any other tires. However, the way they behave sounds nothing like dottie's tires.

  14. somervillain & Anon 4:48 - I still have my old mountain bike from highschool languishing in the basement that I guess could be used as a winter bike. But truthfully, the components on it are so crappy and worn-out that I'm afraid to ride it. Also, while on the one hand I understand the reluctance to ride a nice bike in the winter, on the other hand don't you want the most reliable and stable and comfortable bicycle given the adverse conditions? If so, does it really make sense to get a beater bike when I have the Pashley?.. I realise it will rust faster if ridden in the snow and salt (though note that I store it exclusively indoors), but aren't bikes meant to be used?

    Giffen - I have a Brooks mudflap that I have not attached yet; time to get on that! I know about feet going numb - it happens to me a lot during XC skiing and when we do long photoshoots in the winter. Wool socks and/or gel warmers inside the shoes solve the problem nicely.

  15. Haha, so that's normal? I thought I might need to go to the e-room to get feet amputated. I would hate to do that because dealing with out-of-state health insurers is *such* a hassle.

  16. I don't personally have the salt problem, as it rarely snows here enough to stick and they don't salt the roads when it does, but would just a few minutes wiping the bike down a little after riding help the issue? When my bike gets all gunky from riding in the rain, I find it really only takes me a few minutes with a damp cloth to get it mostly cleaned off again. Dunno what to do about the inside of the fenders though.

    Not sure about the Pashleys, but I know the frames of some Dutch bikes are coated with stuff to prevent rusting in maritime climates with salty sea air, seems like that would help alleviate this problem as well.

  17. Giffen - It depends on the person's circulation and temperature regulation. I have very bad circulation, so my hands and feet go numb quickly. This is probably what happens to you as well. It is "normal" but you still shouldn't let it happen, because you really can get frostbite that way, even if other people wouldn't at those temps.

  18. "note that I store it exclusively indoors"

    That will turn out to be your primary rust inducer right there. Heated garages are death to cars as well.

    There are two factors at work- the first, rust happens faster the higher the temperature, it's an energy thang. Much below freezing and hardly any rusting goes on at all. Warming the bike and crude gets the rust juices flowing. The second is that going back and forth in temperature creates condensation INSIDE the tubes/body panels - where the metal is bare unless it's been treated. While you're worrying about the salt and slush on the outside it could well be inside out of sight and out of mind that turns out to be the fatal problem.

    As for the beater bike issue, it may well be a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other. I've always ridden good (steel) racing bikes year round (often on skinny sew ups). That said I have a cheap aluminum u-frame coaster brake bike now and I do note that it relieves the mind about taking it out into the slop.

  19. Filigree,

    I'm sorry for being lame, but I just looked at the specs on the Brooks mudflap, it's even smaller than mine! The problem is that water/slush that flies off the wheel bounces (that's right, bounces) off the mudflap and flies around the sides. If you by chance come across a larger mudflap, do consider swapping it in.

  20. filigree, yes my cannondale is aluminum, but that's not why it's become my winter bike. other parts on it can and do rust. for example, the pedals, which i replaced only three years ago, are so rusted onto the cranks that i can't remove them without fear of breaking the cranks! and the freewheel and chain became rusty after one winter. the bottom bracket got destroyed after only one winter. i have to repack the wheel bearings at least once a year. and so on... the maintenance that i have to do on this bike is so much more than on bikes that don't see salt. so, on the question of whether bikes should just be ridden and not worried about, that of course varies depending on personal comfort level. but personally, i would rather ride a "beater" that i knew was in mechanically good (and safe) condition and was comfortable enough but didn't have expensive top-tier parts that i would worry about replacing every couple of years, and whose appearance and cosmetic condition i didn't care about. because, no matter what quality of components are on your bike, salt will accelerate their decay many times faster than wetness and moisture alone. i can't bear to see bikes that i care about suffer that kind of abuse!

    portlandize, i know that some of the more expensive dutch bikes (azor, for example) use powdercoating on top of galvanized frames, so the frames themselves are essentially rust-proof for many years. however, the components themselves are not as protected. (some dutch bikes go a step further and use stainless steel nuts and bolts everywhere). and i'm jealous that portland doesn't salt when it snows-- that's probably the single biggest winter downer for me, the way the snow belt in the US is so CYA-paranoid that salting and is done to an extreme. literally, many times more salt and sand is used than is needed to be effective. it just wreaks havoc on the environment, on air quality, and on vehicles. and it just looks yucky.

    kfg, i know where you're coming from with your reasoning, but i would limit your reasoning to a relatively narrow situation: one in which you ride daily in very cold temps AND allowing water or moisture inside your bike, and then bringing your bike in to your house for the night. under normal circumstances (dry roads), winter air is actually dryer than other times of year. and in the instances when you do get your bike wet, the colder temps keep the wetness from evaporating. so, you are correct that the oxidation process is slowed in colder temps, but the moisture is retained longer than if brought into the house and allowed to dry up over a few hours. and the amount of condensation that forms inside your frame tubes by bringing the bike into warm temps is so minimal that it evaporates within a couple of hours. so, in my opinion, unless you are riding your bike *every day* in the cold, it's a good idea to store it where it is warm and dry.

    generally speaking, i leave my "beater" out 24/7, but protected from direct rain and snow by being on our porch. all my other bikes, which get ridden only occasionally, get kept in a heated basement.

  21. ". . . unless you are riding your bike *every day* in the cold . . ."

    Which was my assumption in this case. I haven't seen many tubes that failed from internal rust, but I have seen a few, with the caveat that they were all thin walled racing bikes.

    One of the reasons that traditional Dutch bikes are so god awful heavy is that they use extra thick walled tubing to provide a "sacrificial" amount of metal so that the bike can rust a bit still remain structurally sound.

  22. kfg, that's interesting about the thicker tubes on traditional dutch bikes. i've always wondered where they pack all that extra weight!!!

  23. It's all part of the semi-lost art of designing things that are intended to remain serviceable for generations - and beyond!

  24. I am thinking about this myself now, this is the first week of below-freezing temps in Boston (amazing--it's mid-December!) and I am riding my Pashley to work just like I did this Summer and Fall. It handled so well in our first snow fall that I can't imagine riding any other bike. So what if a few things get surface rust? I will clean it with a rug every now and then and hope for the best.

    Powder coat and stainless hardware should help and the chain guard will keep most of the winter spray out of the chain. It takes 60 seconds to drop the bottom part of the chain guard on the Pashley, so you can inspect and oil the drive train and take another minute or two to re-assemble the guard.

    As far as studded tyres go, I'm on the fence. Since I ride exclusively on the road surface and Boston salts like crazy, I might just keep things as they are.

  25. I experience the tears and the painfull, frozen fingers, as well. So far, winter riding has not been the pleassure for me that it is the rest of the year. I haven't ridden in the snow yet because I can't safely do so. If I have to take a break from bike commuting so be it. I do this for my enjoyment, as well as for my health and financial convenience. If I am not getting out of it what I need, I can defer it to when conditions improve. I might be a fair-weather bike commuter but I don't see that I am doing the idea of bike commuting much good if I appear miserable the whole time.

  26. MDI: "As far as studded tyres go, I'm on the fence."

    I just came back from a ride through about a half inch of fresh powder over the odd ice patch (which in many ways is the most dangerous of riding conditions). I was riding 1.5 slicks and felt reasonably secure, although I'll note again that I'm used to riding much narrower tires in adverse conditions and also that I'm the sort of person who thinks that kicking the back end out is rather a bit of fun. The only thing I really miss in being human powered is being able to keep the throttle open to slide around corners.
    the perfect drift is beauty and to those who appreciate it as such is an endorphin high, not an adrenaline rush.

    SRaB "If I have to take a break from bike commuting so be it."

    You won't hear any complaints about taking the middle path from me.

  27. I like sliding around as much as the next person, but I wouldn't like to hammer out dents and repaint scratches on my Pashley. Once, its weight made the hot July asphalt buckle and the thing came crashing into a bush and I didn't like it one bit--even if it was okay. So, my main concern here is actually the bike.

  28. Winter falls cause surprisingly little damage to either bikes or riders. After all, you fell in the first place due an extreme lack of surface friction.

    Your chief worry is that the car behind you ALSO has a similar lack of friction for braking. That can be cause for a bit of an adrenaline rush.

  29. The winter tears are so annoying!

    Where's a list of -cool- goggles?

  30. I've never liked to wear goggles unless it's really cold (less than 15F or so) because, within a minute or two of riding, I fog them up.

    I prefer to wear wraparound sunglasses that are slightly open at each end. My eyes are sensitive, so I do tear. I've gotten really good at wiping them as I ride. I've had them freeze to my cheek, and even just below my eyes. Sometimes I have a daymare (the counterpart of daydream) about my tears freezing my eyes open, as happened to the denizens of Dante's Eighth Circle, if I recall correctly.

    Dressing for winter can be best summed up in two words: wool layers. The only problem with wool is that it doesn't block wind. So, if you're on a longer ride, you may want to take a windproof layer that will fit over your woolens.

    Back in the day, I used to ride with US Army issue leather gloves and wool liners. They were great, but you don't have to enlist: Just go to any shop that sells fishing, hunting or camping equipment--or an old Army/Navy store--to find wool and leather gloves. If you like, you can splurge on some cashmere gloves: They'll feel nicer on your hands.

    As for your bikes: I don't think steel vs aluminum is the issue. The latter can corrode badly from road salt, just as the former can rust. I think it's more important to have fenders that'll keep the road salt and moisture off your bike--and you.

    I also don't think studded tires are that useful, except perhaps in newly-fallen snow. I've found that it's more important to have as much rubber as possible touching whatever surface you're riding on when it's wet or icy. For city riding, tires with "reverse treads" (grooves) are best, as they channel away water while offering a lot of contact area.

    I still recall the morning, in my youth, when I rode to work and it was -8F. Before leaving, I had a liquid breakfast, if you know what I mean. But, of course, I don't recommend that now!


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