I’ve been commuting to work by bike virtually every day for the last two years now. It all started while I was working nights full-time in the warehouse at QBP and attending classes three days a week. This only left two days where I had the option to ride my bike on the commute, so naturally I took advantage of every opportunity!
Last year was my first time biking entirely through the winter and it made for quite the learning curve, fat tires are great but studded tires make the difference. My commute is relatively short, being about 10 miles one way, which allowed me to commit to riding without risking any real dangers from cold weather. With that said, it’s still a tough choice to wake up and pedal the whole way into work.
Over the last couple years, I picked up a few habits to make the decision easier to roll out of bed in the morning and grab my bike helmet instead of my car keys. Although, it’s still an internal battle to choose being out in the frigid ice box of mother nature rather than my warm incubator on wheels. One of the last things I want to do in the morning while I’m half asleep sippin’ on some hot coffee is mentally check off all the items I’ll need for the day.
What if I wake up late and in the haste of making up time forget to pack underwear? Speaking from experience, these days are not fun. But hey, you win some, you learn some.
To combat these morning struggles I prep everything the night before, this way I can grab and go in the morning without second guessing if I packed the necessities. Typically, I prepare my lunch before going to bed and leave it in the fridge, shove some work clothes in my pannier and if I know what to expect for weather, I’ll set out the layers I plan to bundle up in for the commute. The less time I spend in the morning getting ready, the easier it becomes to make the decision to ride in. I feel it’s a great motivator because in the morning everything is already prepared so there’s no excuse to bail. In a sense I’ve already told myself, “I’m biking in to work today”.
In addition to what I prepare for the day at work, it’s equally important to think about what I’ll need during the commute. Winter can be extremely cold; batteries die, skin freezes and more than likely I’ll be biking in the dark at some point. I always ride with two headlights and two tail lights because backups are important. Likewise, an extra layer stashed away is good insurance in case the weather takes an unexpected twist.
Another big motivator for me is the ability to change up the route I take in and soak up the scenic views I don’t see every day. I’m fortunate to live in a state that has an abundance of lakes and waterways. In the winter these provide icy avenues of adventure into work. Any chance to get variety in the daily routine keeps things fresh and exciting. Plus, if I leave early enough, I’m greeted with a welcoming sunrise on the horizon!
Personally, once November rolls around I switch over to exclusively riding the fat bike for the season. Not only does this force me to get reacquainted with my fat bike setup and keep the dust from accumulating, but it provides one hell of a workout! Nothing beats hopping on the drop bar commuter come spring and feeling like a feather on the big climbs. I also compete in several fat bike races throughout the winter and commuting every day on a loaded bike provides me with all the training I need. While fat tire bikes aren’t a necessity for winter commuting, I strongly recommend considering a studded front tire.
During my first winter I rode a Surly Straggler with a 38c Gravdal up front and full coverage fenders. I knew if the rear tire kicked out on some ice, I might take a spill but there’s a good chance I could catch it with a foot on the ground before falling completely. If the front tire decided to break loose, I’d find myself face to face with some unforgiving, ice-covered pavement.
The current setup on my fat bike, the Salsa Blackborow, is a Dillinger 5 in the front and a Wrathchild in the rear, both mounted to 70mm rims. I’m a firm believer in getting the widest tire I can under me and floating over whatever terrain comes my way. Once it’s consistently below 20 degrees, I mount my Cobrafist Pogies on the handlebars for a windbreak and added insulation (also a great place to store snacks or glove liners).
There are a lot of options and varying combinations for winter setups, but it all comes down to the rider and their level of comfort. Know the conditions and know your gear, confidence is key when it comes to braving the elements.
Riding a bike to and from work every day is exhausting and can be a burden in the beginning. After a few weeks, it slowly becomes less of a task and more of a routine. I saw it as something I accepted as a part of everyday life, the same way we accept traffic in rush hour as part of the commute. The decision to ride to work may not get any easier but the challenge of continuing to pursue it is the best part. I hope my experiences and lessons learned can provide inspiration for you to get on your bike and pedal, regardless of the weather!