Back in March of this year, we started a commuting challenge for all of the employees here at the shop. Not only did we do a “team challenge” of “upstairs” vs. “downstairs” employees (upstairs is killin’ it), we have an unofficial individual challenge as well. We handicapped the points, so that for instance Hannah’s 25 mile commute is worth 1.5 points, while Kevin’s 5 mile commute is worth .5 points, my 17 mile commute is worth 1 point, and Drew’s 14 mile commute is worth .75. Drew is currently leading, with 73 commutes total (his commutes are 14 miles each way), to Kevin’s 72. (Drew is actually destroying Kevin in points since his commute is worth .75 vs Kevin’s .5). In total our staff here at GWB&Tri has commuted approximately 6000 miles this year so far, saving about 300 gallons of gas, and 726,300 grams of CO2 (based on EPA estimates).
It’s actually easier than most people think to commute by bike, although it get’s a little bit more tricky when the weather get’s colder. But this does not stop our hardcore commuters, and below are some of their tips.
So what are the keys to year-round commuting?
1. The right clothing
Selecting the right commuting clothing can make or break your cold weather riding experience. New for us this year is the Gore Clothing line which is going over extremely well. The factors that make Gore and other similar clothing pieces great is there ability to shield you from the wind and cold while wicking away moisture from your body during activity. Wear non-wicking clothing and you’ll be drenched with sweat, cold and miserable by the end of your ride. You’ll quickly figure out what cold weather gear works best in certain temperatures. For instance, you can usually get away with windstopper gloves until about 40 degrees F, below that and you’re going to want a lobster glove or mittens. Shoe covers are another absolute must when the temperature get’s below ~50-60F. Your feet are farthest away from your heart, getting the worst blood circulation, so they’ll get cold quickly without the right gear (and trust me, riding with numb feet is not fun). Balaclava and/or a headband or bike helmet cover are also key so your ears, face and head don’t freeze. Last but not least is a baselayer if it’s really cold (ie: below 30F, I use the Craft Pro Zero Extreme Base Layer) in addition to a windblocking jersey or jacket and windblokcing knickers or tights. Riding in anything below 25F you’re going to want to cover up nearly all exposed skin.
2. The Right Bike
We prefer our road bikes as much as possible, since these allow us to get to work as quickly and efficiently as possible (I actually bust out my TT bike in the summer if I’m running late). In the fall, most of us throw on 25mm or 28 mm Bontrager Hardcase tires and leave them on all winter and spring. These tires are absolutely bomb-proof against punctures on the crappy roads, and quite stable on crushed limestone trails like the LRT trails. I have my detachable fenders ready to go in the garage in the case of wet weather. With the shrinking daylight hours, almost all of us have the NiteRider MiNewt headlight for our bikes. In order to truly ride at night, you need a minimum of ~100 lumens, and nothing beats the small size and ease of use of this light. Kevin also likes to mount one on his helmet as well to get a little more light out front. You’re also going to want a small red tail light so approaching cars can see you.
3. Commuting Pack
We’re all lucky in that we usually don’t have a ton to carry to work. We all try to keep it pretty minimal with jeans, shirt, underwear, socks and shoes and throw it all in a nice backpack with wide shoulder straps in addition to front straps. I do the backpack instead of a rack/trunk pack system in order to keep my bike light and nimble for normal training rides (I don’t want to have to constantly put on/take off the rack). Unless you’re carrying more than 15 lbs of gear to work, I think a good backpack is the best way to go. We have a shower here, otherwise I would use the Fresh Start Body Cleansing 1 use wash cloths.
So there you have it, the 3 keys to year round cycling. Now, there are some really hardcore commuters who ride in after it snows on cyclocross or mountain bikes with studded tires, but I would leave that for the people in the commuting points race.