Here are a few winter riding tips from the Portland Office of Transportation, a place where they know a thing or two about wet road conditions.
Stay Dry and Warm
You don’t need the latest and greatest cycling gear to get around town by bicycle. A decent rain jacket and pants are your best defense. They both cut down on wind and keep you dry. If you can afford it, GoreTex or other breathable fabric will keep the rain out and keep you from feeling clammy. Fenders are also a very good investment — they keep your clothes from getting gritty and dirty. Nice extras include waterproof gloves, a snug hood or cap, a synthetic layer next to your skin to wick away moisture, and rain booties to go over your shoes.
Use Front and Rear Bicycle Lights
Lights are required by law when riding after dark. A white light visible at least 500 feet to the front, and a red light or reflector visible at least 600 feet to the rear. These lights allow other people to see you from the back, front and side. For more visibility at night wear bright clothing, an orange vest, or use reflective tape. The more reflectors whether blinking, flashing or solid, the better.
Brake Early and Often
Allow plenty of stopping distance. Gently squeeze your brakes in the rain to clear the water from you brake pads before you need to stop.
Avoid Some Painted and Steel Road Surfaces and Leaves
Steel plates, sewer covers, grates and other metal can be very slick in the rain. For paint, Portland City crews use non-slick paint and plastics for bike lanes and bicycle markings (and those blue bike lanes); however, crosswalks and other painted surfaces can be slippery. Avoid using your brakes or turning on these painted surfaces and on leaves and oily spots.
Stay Out of the Puddles
While it is tempting to splash through puddles especially if you have really good rain gear, a puddle can disguise a very deep pothole.
Slow Down on Newly Wet Roads
That first rain brings all the oil on the road to the surface making for a slippery ride. This is especially true after a long dry spell. Give yourself longer stopping distances and keep a firmer grip on your handlebars.
I recently acquired this 1965 Schwinn Deluxe Racer in Radiant Coppertone. The rear hub is a Bendix 2 speed kickback- yellow band. Originally the bike had black grips and saddle but the previous owner found matching replacements. The Coppertone paint is stunning against the bright chrome parts. The frame is on the smaller side for me, but it doesn’t matter much for my rides to the local stores and work.
Name: Aaron P.
Location: Belmont, MA, USA
Started bike commuting: 2001
Commute distance (one way): 6 miles
Describe your commute: My commute route was selected almost entirely for efficiency. Near my house the roads are quiet suburban streets and the first few intersections have crossing guards who insist on stopping traffic for me (even though I am, technically, “traffic” myself.) The roads get progressively larger and busier pretty much the whole way to work, culminating in the Longwood Medical Area, a complex area full of ambulances, people visiting for the first time, unsure of where they’re going, and lots of other cyclists.
I’m blessed with a secured bike cage provided by my employers and am often lucky enough to ride with a coworker for the ride home.
Describe your bike and accessories: April through November I ride a 2010 60cm Rivendell Sam Hillborne. I have SKS longboard fenders, a Brooks b17 saddle, Ortlieb backroller panniers, and really enjoy myself. Sadly, in the winter I don’t ride it. Instead, I ride a Trek xo-1 cyclocross bike with studded tires, fenders, but no rack (no mounts). This bike is bomb- and rust-proof, which makes it great fun, but nothing like the Sam.
What bit of advice would you like to share with new bike commuters?: To me, the most important thing in driving also holds true for cycling: Always have at least one way out. If you’re tailgating a car, you’re not leaving yourself a way around that car if it stops suddenly. Splitting lanes of moving traffic leaves little room to maneuver when there’s a surprise (and there will be a surprise, one day). Same goes for riding close to parked cars and their doors, recklessly running lights, etc.
Location: Lakewood, CO, US
Started bike commuting: 2008
Commute distance (one way): 9 miles
Describe your commute: My commute is a mix of road via bike lanes and bike path. I am going from the suburbs to a downtown city center. I have a little elevation gain, which is on the way home.
Describe your bike and accessories: My daily commuter is a vintage 1980 Holdsworth. I have it outfitted with a friction 14-speed drivetrain and Silver bar-end shifters. I also have a rear rack (vintage Jim Blackburn) with two bags (Axiom Cartier DLX Panniers). In the winter I just add my lights (Planet Bike Blaze) and change the tires to knobbies (Kenda K161 Knobby 27 1-3/8″) when the snow starts.
What bit of advice would you like to share with new bike commuters?: Here is my list of things to keep in mind: Be consistent with your bike routine and do not talk yourself out of riding some days (its too cold, I’m sleepy, I have a morning meeting). Be prepared, you should be able to fix a flat, add or remove layers of clothing, and have water, and lights for night riding.
The Sacramento Tweed Ride is happening today and there’s a special guest coming all the way from Portland to attend. From Sac Tweed:
I spoke with Ed Rae (the American distributor for English-made Brompton Bicycles in the United States) yesterday, and he confirmed he would be making the trip down from Portland to attend the Tweed Ride! He’ll be bringing several bicycles for people to try out at Pangaea, along with the new jacket Brompton is selling. Try to guess the color of the bike he’ll be riding! [Pink? —ed.]
Since we don’t currently have a Brompton dealer in the Sacramento area, this is a great opportunity to see these wonderful little bikes in person and take a test ride!
Here’s a video showing the output from Calhoun Cycle’s three most popular dynamo headlights.