Biking in frigid temps: Readers share tips for cold-weather cycling

Through rain, sleet and even vortexes, District bikers don’t quit.

A bicyclist crosses the Key Bridge on Thursday morning January 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)
A bundled-up bicyclist crosses Key Bridge on Thursday morning. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)

In response to writer Ashley Halsey’s report on intrepid cyclists – and their determination to stick to two wheels even in winter – several commenters shared their tips for cold-weather cycling. Got your own tips for cycling through snow? Have these inspired you to brave the flurries on your Schwinn? Let us know in the comments.

“Cold’s not a problem. I commuted by bike 5 of the last 7 days this week. Snow pants & fleece, a fleece cap under the helmet, the right gloves, & you’re fine. Rain’s not a problem, either, as long as you have waterproofs. Wind is a problem. Of course, the biggest threat is still drivers.” musician1

“I bike 20-26 miles a day, year round, and find the trick is to get on the bike every [sic] unless there’s a downpour or ice. The body adjusts to the change in temperatures. After a few days leaving the house when the temperature was 5 degrees, today’s mid-20s feels like shorts weather. I normally take the Capital Crescent Trail, but with snow on the ground, I can safely take a lane on slow-moving Connecticut Ave during rush hour without slowing anybody down. One other suggestion: A strip of velcro holds a blinking red light on the back of my helmet and I use a tiny rechargeable light on top facing forward to make sure that cars can see me in the dark.” marionPark

“One synthetic neck protector you can wear over your head and cheeks will do wonders and you don’t [need] much more. With the right equipment [it] can be as enjoyable as skiing or any other winter outdoor activity, and it’s a great way to start and end the day. (Frankly, I’d be downright unhealthy were it not for my commute).” Justafan

“I was a little nervous that 7-degree day, never having biked in that kind of cold before, but it was really fine. The right gear was key for me. The ice on the trails is difficult, but I’m fortunate enough to be able to use neighborhood streets as a workaround when needed. Arlington has been doing some salting and plowing on the Custis trail too. While not expected, it is appreciated, even if salt isn’t my favorite thing to get on a bike.”  — huskerDE

“I bike commute 2-3 times a week from Arlington to Capitol Hill regardless of the temperature. I find that being outside that much has actually helped me to have fewer colds. Obviously biking is great for your cardiovascular health, but biking in the cold also seems to build your resistance to colds.” — skronzek

I think most [people] figure out the cold. If it’s too cold, they probably just stop somewhere along the way to warm up (e.g., CVS). Same thing with my nose running. Many cyclists call it perfecting the art of the snot rocket. Except I notice it basically at any temperature below 50. No frostbite for me on ~15 miles each way although I fully admit to stopping the one day when my glove just wasn’t doing the trick. … People don’t have to ride into work like many of us do, but it’s good for them to see that the option exists. National Bike to Work Day comes up in May, and it’s a great time for people who are thinking about trying this (even to a Metro stop) to give it a shot. Some of us more experienced folks will guide folks in at a pace everyone can do. And it’s a great oppotunity to see what it’s all about. Don’t bang it until you try it. It’s easy to make excuses, but many of us will tell you that once you start riding, your excuses become why to ride to your spouse/friends/family rather than why not to ride. Give it a try.” TerpAlum

“One nice thing about bicycles is that they are inexpensive compared to cars. Many people who are car-free can afford to keep more than one bike around, like a speedy commuter and a slower “grocery store” bicycle. I have three bicycles (the third is a travel/touring bike) and keep snow tires on my commuter bike in the winter (on snow-free, ice-free winter days I ride my touring bike). The snow tires are slower than regular tires but make all the difference. It helps that the Wilson Bridge path is plowed when it snows. We need to plow other commuter trails as well, like they do in other cities. There is no need for DC to be behind the times when it comes to transportation and public health.” — Jonathan_Krall

“I think the threshold varies by individual. Whenever I rode with the temperature much below 70 I would wind up with coughing fits related to asthma. But I was good to go above that, and for me the optimal temperature was between about 90 and 94, where my body didn’t need to waste any energy keeping my internal temperature up. Above 95 or so it got so the wind no longer provided much cooling and I would have to take more rests. The longest I ever rode nonstop was 322 miles, but I would try to get in a century every day I had off (and would get in 30 to 50 miles every day I had to work, riding at least from my home in Dranesville to my job at Main Justice downtown and back and everywhere else I had to go). I just LOVED that hill down to Difficult Run on Old Georgetown Pike, although cars would sometimes get in my way.”  FergusonFoont

“I bike commute (from Arl, about 8 mi) frequently. It’s really refreshing — a great way to wake up in the morning, and to leave work behind in the evening. I also keep a fold-up bike in my office (so I don’t have to get fully geared up) for running around downtown during the day — so much faster and easier than any other way of getting around, and a lot more fun. I don’t enjoy riding much below 40 when there’s potential for ice or brain freeze, so I don’t, but more power to those who do.” — zekepeterz

And some final encouragement from frequent commenter DCB23:

“It can be done! I started riding from Cap Hill to Foggy Bottom for work three years ago and I have not missed a single day…polar vortex and snowpocalypse included.”

Julia Carpenter is a digital audience producer at The Washington Post.
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