Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips
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WHAT ABOUT THE WEATHER?
I'm fortunate to live in California, where the climate is generally favorable for bicycle commuting. But every bicycle commuter needs to prepare for cold, rain, heat or snow. Riding a bike in rainy conditions can actually be fun: motorists tend to be more cautious, you'll keep cooler, you won't stall out in huge puddles, and pedestrians smile in amazement as you pass. The worst part of cycling in the rain is that your bike gets mucked up; and even that can be quickly remedied by a bucket of soap and a garden hose or a green citrus cleaner like Pedro's Bike Wash. Experienced bicyclists have a saying: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."
There is a great availability of clothing suitable for all weather conditions. Many "retrogrouch" types will advise wearing wool, which is the classic material for cycling jerseys and shorts. It wicks away perspiration, retains warmth, is often light-weight, and feels pretty good. However, others will advise wearing the new "technical fabrics", polyester or nylon garments that have many of the same properties as wool. These synthetics include Polartec, Akwatek, Coolmax, and others. There isn't any formula to dressing for bicycling. Most days I travel in cotton shorts and a T-shirt; for longer weekend recreational rides I'll wear my hi-tech garments. Decide for yourself what works best, given your budget, climate, and fashion sensibilities.
Riding In Rain
For riding in rainy weather I have several outfits. For light rain, I have a nylon poncho (cape), which is the classic European mode of rain protection. For really heavy and cold storms I have wear a waterproof jacket and rainpants, waterproof boots or cycling shoes with neoprene overshoes (booties), and waterproof gloves. Goretex, Omni-Tech, and other modern waterproof fabrics are supposed to "breath." That is, it allows perspiration to evaporate through the material while keeping precipitation out. This is only somewhat true. No miracle fabric can completely evacuate your body heat if you're really riding hard. During rainy conditions, reduce your cycling tempo to keep cooler.
Another essential item for bicycling in the rain is a set of fenders, which should be standard equipment on every bike. But since bicycles are marketed as sports equipment (see earlier), things like fenders, kickstands, lights and racks are generally not included as standard equipment. This makes the bikes "lighter" and more "high performance," while perhaps keeping the price down. But don't hesitate to install fenders, which will keep the wet weather slop off both you and your bike.
Extra caution is necessary while riding in the rain. Metal objects in the street (manhole covers, construction plates, train rails, etc.) are very slick, as are painted road surfaces. Your stopping capacity is also diminished in the rain. But if you're properly outfitted, riding in the rain isn't a terrible ordeal. You will certainly avoid a lot of those multi-car pileups that delay so many motorists during rainstorms. By wearing the right protective clothing and riding at a moderate pace (i.e. below perspiration stage), I arrive at work on rainy days drier than if I'd stood waiting for a bus.
Hot Weather Cycling
In many areas of California, such as the Central Valley, we do have periods of extreme summer heat. Riding in hot weather can be challenging and stressful. The critical factors are hydration and sun protection. To stay hydrated, many cyclists use a hydration system, such as my Camelbak M.U.L.E. hydration pack, which I use on longer rides. For most every day cycling I manage with standard water bottles (BPA free!) or an insulated bottle. For sun protection, use sunscreen with a high SPF, and sunglasses with good UV protection. While commuting in the Central Valley, I generally ride wearing a loose-fitting, long-sleeved, perspiration-wicking SPF shirt; many other bike commuters wear a standard technical cycling jersey.
Cold & Snowy Conditions
Unfortunately, I don't have much experience riding in the "Snow Belt" during the winter. Fortunately, there's a great website devoted to cold-weather cycling--including commuting--at Icebike. I hear from many bike commuters in colder regions, who persist with bike commuting year round. It can be done. In most cold weather regions, the streets are often dry and clear within a day of a snowfall. Outerwear used for cross country skiing or snowshoeing can be used for bicycle commuting. There are snow-specific tires available, including rugged tires with studs for icy conditions. You may need to wash your bike more frequently to rinse off salts and road grime. Again, it's a matter of being smart about clothing, planning and protection.
Cycling in the rain -- oh, what a glorious feeling, San Francisco Chronicle
Wet Weather Cycling Video - produced by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Winter biking, easier than you think, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Fenders critical for happy bike commuting, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Bike commuters laugh at the cold, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Winter cold no obstacle to bike commuting - Bike Commute Tips Blog
Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips: Low-Tech & No-Tech Ways to Find, Ride, & Keep a Bicycle
Comments? Suggestions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org || Updated 10.14.11
Image: Bellwether Aqua-No Jacket