I had a fantastic ride home last night. It was crisp and clear, probably in the low 50′s, not a cloud in the sky and not a leaf moving. The sunset was spectacular and the full moon was rising just as twilight set in. Traffic was light and I mapped a route that takes advantage of our lovely bike lanes and off-street cycle paths. The only thing that would’ve made it better is a few more bike riders on the road. It seems when the temperature drops this time of year, ridership plummets right along with it. The good news is that there’s plenty of wonderful riding available right on through the year (at least here in sunny NorCal); all it takes is a little preparation and a few cold weather clothing items you probably already have in your closet.
Around here, winter is the best time of year to wear street clothes while biking because you don’t perspire so much. I commute in my work clothes all winter and just add a couple of layers on top when the temps drop below 45F or so. Fleece vests are great for this approach because they keep your core toasty without restricting your upper body and arm movement. I’ll often add a full fleece jacket or a breathable wind shell on top of the vest if needed. And if it’s really cold, I’ll add a wool base layer under my dress shirt. The idea is to remain flexible and adjust your layers based upon the specific day’s weather conditions.
Along with adding layers, I also wear a wool cap with ear flaps under my helmet. If it gets down below freezing I’ll replace the wool cap with a full balaclava. And though I don’t normally wear cycling-specific gloves, a nice pair of wool gloves are a must-have item this time of year. In our relatively mild conditions here in Northern California, I don’t find it necessary to wear anything special on the lower half of my body; a stout pair of khakis or cords provide plenty of warmth for our conditions (I’m showing my middle-aged geekiness here).
Obviously, for those who live in less temperate climates, serious cold weather gear is in order. And there may often be conditions where it’s just not practical to ride a bike (snow and ice come to mind). But even here in California, with our unusually mild conditions, the weather seems to have a dramatic effect on the number of bike commuters on the road. So I’m here to remind my local bike commuting cohorts that, with a little bit of effort, it’s not difficult to keep riding comfortably and enjoying the many benefits of riding a bicycle for transportation throughout the year!