It’s really not such a big deal. I barely left the house in January, as I was writing. But now that I’ve got to go to school and it’s cold out, let me put in my two cents for biking in the cold. To repeat: it’s not such a big deal.
Most “normal” people think it’s crazy to bike in 15-degree weather. But then I would say half of the “normal” people on the street have their ears exposed and don’t have hats on. So no wonder they’re cold. And stupid, too.
Biking is not colder than walking. And it’s much warmer than waiting for a bus or sitting in car waiting for it to warm up. Sure I’d prefer it to be warmer, but it’s not like it’s going to be warmer if you’re not on a bike.
Right now in Chicago it’s minus one degree. Now that’s cold. I grew up in that. Below zero is cold. And now this is a little crazy, but I kind of miss it.
It never gets than cold in New York. But I like extreme weather. At least in short doses. Or more specifically beating extreme weather. I hate being cold. But I did used to bike all winter in Boston, which doesn’t get as cold as Chicago, but still gets pretty nippy. The problem with winter isn’t that it’s too cold. It’s that it’s too long.
But here’s the basic rule about biking year round: you just have to assume you’re always going to bike. If you wake up and debate whether you should bike, you’ll never bike unless it’s 70 and sunny. You don’t always have to bike. But you have to convince yourself you always will. Then it’s not such a big deal. You can always put on another layer to keep warm.
Ironically, the real risk of biking in the cold is getting too warm. Biking into Manhattan I got too warm and had to take off my jacket and ear muffs. I just had two layers on underneath. Not a whole lot, but biking is exercise, it keeps you warm. In the cold, it’s very important to have wool or some wicking fiber next to your skin. You don’t want a wet cotton shirt next to your skin. The key to biking in hot and cold weather is letting your body regulate your temperature. You can help by wearing clothes that wicking sweat away from your skin.
So bike in the cold. The essentials are to keep your extremities warm: hat, warm wool socks (I wore two pairs), gloves, and a scarf to breath through. I don’t go all-out biking in the cold. But it’s fine.
It’s most cold at the very beginning before the exercise warms you up. After a mile or two you will warm up. So don’t dress too warm. But it can help to dress inside and wait a minute or two to get nice and toasty before you start riding. That warmth can carry you through the first cold mile
One problem I can’t work around are glasses. If I breathe through a scarf (and I like to when it’s below freezing), I don’t wear my glasses. I can get away with that because my vision isn’t that bad. But I can’t figure out how to breathe through a scarf without fogging up glasses.
And of course be careful with ice. You can actually bike over ice without a problem. But... and it’s a pretty big but... you can’t steer or break while doing it. Just don’t freak out. And there’s not much ice out there. It’s only really potentially a problem when there’s snow actually covering the street perhaps hiding the ice. But that’s rare.
Still think it’s too cold? Remember people survive in much colder climates just fine. Though I did pass somebody on a moped and thought, “Now he must be cold!”