When snow threatens to keep me off my bike, I reflect on how I’ve been able to bike to work for a remarkably high percentage days in late fall and winter this season, with minimal investments in gear. This capability depends on three things:
1. Alternatives to driving: my commute is short (2.5 miles), and moderately convenient to the T. That is, on days when I’d rather not bike (rain, snow, ice), I can walk 1/2 mile to the Highlands station, take the T two stops to Chestnut Hill, and walk another 1/2 mile to BC, making my commute a pleasant 25-35 minutes. “How nice for you!” you might say. Well, yes, it’s quite convenient that I live and work on a T line… but that’s no accident. One criteria for moving out to the ‘burbs for me was that we’d live within a half-mile radius of a T station, so I wouldn’t have to spend every day in a car. And in job searches I’ve prioritized positions near (ish) to public transportation, and luck did the rest. I know I may be in the minority, and I don’t expect people who have 5+ mile commutes to keep going all winter… but I can, so I’m taking full advantage.
2. Two warmth items specific to biking: a skull-cap to wear under my helmet, and serious gloves. I should call them gauntlets. Dad just sent them to me for Christmas. (Thanks, Dad!)
These gauntlets kept my fingers toasty the other morning at 11 degrees. B.G. (Before Gauntlets), my lower limit was 15 degrees, and that was pushing it. A.G., I’m pretty confident I can go pretty close to zero. Of course, I’ve only got a 2.5 mile ride; if it were longer, I don’t think I could go below 10 without adding a neoprene face-mask to my wardrobe.
3. Lights. Lots of lights. I have one powerful headlight on the handlebars, a smaller headlight on top of my helmet and a flashing red on the back of the helmet, and another flashing red below the saddle. And a reflective vest. And reflective ankle-straps. I briefly balked at the prices of headlights, and then reminded myself that aside from brakes, it’s probably the most important safety feature on the bike. I set my front headlight on flash during the day. Why? When I drive in Newton and I’m stopped or going slow in traffic, I frequently am startled by the sudden appearance of a bike to my right – right where I often am on my own bike, and right where even I, veteran biker that I am, might fail to see a bike as I turn right. Once, something in my passenger side-view mirror caught my eye: it was a flashing bike headlight about 100 yards behind me. From that day onward, I set my headlight on flash during the day.
And that’s it! Alternatives to driving, a few warmth items, and lights.
Aside from the skullcap and gauntlets, none of my warmth gear is bike-specific: sweaters, tweed jackets, an LL Bean jacket, a scarf for those below 20 days, and I always have the option of wool socks and thermal underwear, though I haven’t needed them yet.
People think I’m nuts, biking when it’s under 20, but it really isn’t: nobody blinks about skiing in those temperatures, so why not bike? To be honest, now that I’ve done it, I much prefer biking when it’s 15 degrees to biking when it’s 90. If I get the layers right, I’m not even sweaty when I get to work.
Nuts? I’ll show you nuts: the guy I saw on a skinny-tired road-bike the day after a snow, when shoulders were still snowy and icy, in dark clothes, with no lights. Now that’s nuts.