How to Ride All Year

It's one of those grey November days here at 440 , where the damp and the gloom seem to be conspiring to make life just a little more blech than it really needs to be.

We should go for a bike ride!

When the cabin fever strikes, ya gotta get outta the cabin, even if the fair skies and sunshine missed the invite to join in on the ride. Sleet, snow, wind, dark, and the never-ending grey rain that may have it in for us this winter - you can ride through all of them, amazing your friends and preserving your sanity.

"When I saw the weather this morning, I smiled."

 - Lars Boom, winner of the rain-soaked stage 5 of 2014's Tour de France

Making it through the rain, the mist, the drizzle, the sleet, the snow, and the occasional thunderstorm requires a bit of preparation. Rain jackets and fenders are nice. So is knowing, accepting, and embracing the fact that it's gonna be Fun out there. Grippy tires help, but not as much as ridiculous multicolored striped socks that defy the pervading grey and gloom.


There's a reason I wear cycling caps with butterflies and kittens on them, along with tasteless socks, a bright white raincoat, and those obnoxious blue shoes. Whoever decided that black was the best color for winter cycling gear...well, it may keep the cold and damp away, but not the dreary. The existential gloom is your worst enemy; it keeps you inside, off the bike, going a bit more stir crazy every day.

Embrace the absurdity. You only get wet once, you're not made of sugar, it's not cold but refreshing, and it'll make for a great story when it's done.

Rule 9: if you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

 - The Rules

I once worked with a mechanic who counted it as a personal victory for the cause of reason and good sense each time someone put fenders on their bike. Fenders are your friend. They keep the skunk stripe off your back, your gear dry from the spray, and your legs from getting coated in road groad the day after a good rain. They're your bike's friend too, keeping frames clean, drivetrains free of grit, and corrosive salt away from everything.

If you don't have fenders, you'll be wanting them something fierce soon. Trust me on this one.

Planet Bike's Cascadia and Hardcore fenders are the standard - light, durable, and effective. Of course, nothing looks as sharp as classic metal fenders - hammered Handsome Mud Butlers, smooth and shiny Tankas, or Art Deco fluted VeloOrange from our friends in Annapolis. Heck, you can even put PDW's Full Metal Fenders on your road bike, no mounting eyelets required.

Another option for clip-on fenders are Topeak's iGlow X, featuring red LED stripes running down the center. You get 50 to 100 hours on replaceable CR2032 batteries. 



Tires? Nothing's worse than fixing a flat in the rain, except when it's also cold. Frozen, fumbling fingers and tire levers don't mix - especially as your body temperature crashes once you stop moving. Keep the thin and skinny race tires at home - the cold's going to make them less supple anyway - and try something wider, stronger, and grippier. 

Continental Gatorskin

Continental Gatorskin

Schwalbe Marathon Plus

Schwalbe Marathon Plus

Clement Strada LGG

Clement Strada LGG

For instance, on my Commuterschwinn, I use a Gatorskin on the front and bombproof Schwalbe Marathon in the back; while the Gator is a better handling tire, I hate changing rear flats. I've seen people pull half-inch shards of glass out of Marathons and keep riding. The road bike gets 700x25 Clement Strada LGG's - which I think I may keep year-round. They corner better, are more comfortable, and hold their grip on questionable or wet surfaces better than any other tire I've used - and that's before we mention the puncture resistance.

Now that it gets dark at 4:30 or so, you'll be needing lights. Lots of lights. Those of us who live out in PG County on the Anacostia Tributaries all have deer-related horror stories...and really good lights so we don't wind up with more. Light & Motion makes the best and the brightest out in California. You and the deer will both appreciate them.

As for keeping the human half warm, dry, and happy: protect the extremities. Gloves, bike caps, shoe covers, bike caps, arm and leg warmers, bike caps, helmet covers, and bike caps are all good ideas. Most "general" cycling kit (especially shoes and helmets!) is made for summer riding, with good ventilation; either cover the holes, put something under them, or try something cool-specific. Shoe covers keep the breeze off your otherwise-soon-to-be-frostbitten toes, arm warmers give your usual shirt or jersey easily removable sleeves, and caps keep your head warm, your hair unmussed, your glasses dry, and your face out of the stinging sleet.

Of course, the other half of the challenge is keeping warm without ever getting too warm. Overheat, sweat through your gear, and it'll be a miserable time all around. There's a reason why I like knee-high socks (roll 'em down), arm warmers (stick 'em in a pocket or pannier), Mad Alchemy embrocation (feels warm, keeps the rain off, and smells great!), and that bright white and super reflective Showers Pass jacket that can be vented and adjusted fifteen ways from Sunday to keep the airflow juuuust right.

Anything else? If you're looking for fellow crazies to ride with - of course you are - join Bike Arlington's Freezing Saddles "competition." Sure, there's a challenge to see which riders and teams can ride the most miles over the most days between 1 January and the last day of winter, but there are also all the random side bets, pointless prizes, random quests, and general absurdity that really make it worthwhile. Going out to get ice cream from the Maryland Dairy in a sleetstorm (Midnight Madness won't melt if it's below freezing - and it's half off if the weather's truly abysmal!) to rack up a few extra points for the Unexpected Maryland Inquisition was only one of many, many memorable moments from last year's challenge.

Remember: the looks of astonishment mingled with admiration you get from baristas when you come in from something truly gross and grey are so worth the ride.