Photo Courtesy of Andy Romang
Bike commuting isn't just for the Summer months. In fact, Anchorage and many other winter cities are home to thriving communities of winter utility cyclists. Considering becoming a year-round cyclist? Learn more below about getting prepared.
Just about any bike will work for winter riding. Mountain bikes, hybrids, touring bikes and old ten speeds work great. Anchorage is the birthplace of the fat tire bike, and for good reason. Those wide tires are great for snowy trails. They keep you on top of the snow, especially when you ride at a low PSI. Head over to any of our awesome Anchorage bike shops to learn more.
Fenders are highly recommended, as winter streets are often wet, and nothing can, ahem, dampen your enthusiasm for winter riding like having gritty road-water soaking through your trousers. Remember that salt and moisture is going to be all of your bicycle as well, so this probably not the best time to take out your shiny new ride with the custom paint job.
What about tires? Regular mountain bike tires work well as do hybrid and touring tires in the 32-42mm thickness. Even road racing tires in 700x23c will work well on dry, plowed roads. However, Anchorage winters tend to be icey, so studded tires are a great idea. They've got metal studs built into them, which provide better grip on icy surfaces. Whatever tires you use, running them at the low end of their recommended air pressure range will give you better traction.
Flat pedals are best for winter riding, especially ones with a grippy surface. Stay away from clipless pedals or any sort of toe strap, as you may need to put your feet down in a hurry. Lights and reflective gear are very important, especially with our dark winters here in Anchorage. A bright white front light and rear red light (blinking is better) are a must.
You really don’t need much for special clothing for transportation cycling in the winter. Generally, most things you’d be comfortable walking around in are fine (layers are key!). However, the wind chill on exposed skin increases quite a bit while riding at even moderate speeds, so you do want to make sure you have a good pair of gloves. Combining gloves with a good pair of Pogies is even better. A number of local companies make warm pogies, available for sale at local bike shops. A buff or scarf to cover your face is another great idea. Sunglasses or ski goggles are nice, as white snow means more sun glare, and they protect your eyes from the wind. There are a number of beanies and headbands that will fit underneath a helmet (like the one you get when you sign up for the Big Fat Ride) to keep your ears warm while riding in the cold.
The biggest bit of advice is to take your time and pay attention. Take turns wider on sloppy road conditions, and watch out for places where the weight of cars has packed snow down into irregular ice lumps—those can be tricky. Ride on clear pavement when you can and don’t be afraid to take the lane if the street is too narrow due to snow banks for safe passing.
If you an encounter a spot that looks too slippery for you to ride over, don’t hesitate to dismount. Keep one hand on the brake lever and you can lean on your bike for extra stability as you walk through the tricky sections. As you ride, periodically lightly squeeze your brakes to clear off any snow or ice that may have been accumulating as your ride, and if you have to stop, do so as gradually as conditions allow.
Have fun playing in the snow!