Winter Bicycling: Essential Gear

Earlier this week I posted a list of winter bicycling essential attire. Today, I’ll finish the ensemble with some essential winter biking gear.

All you really need is a bike, preferably a beater, one you wouldn’t mind leaving in a ditch or launching off a bridge just to see if it explodes. For the past two winters I rode Frankencycle – a beast of a bike, scrapped together from numerous bike corpses abandoned around our apartment complex.


Somehow the front wheel escaped before I took the picture… It was actually a sturdy and reliable bike, and yet I never had to lock it up. I guess a bike thief is a poor judge of character.

Here are a few additional components that some people find handy:

  1. Studded tires – helpful on ice, but pricey, slower, and still not crash proof. These come in all sizes, even for road bikes, though the fit might be snug.
  2. Snowboarding helmet – full-face makes it warm and dry, but also bulky and heavy.
  3. Lights – absolutely essential. Here in the north the sun throws in the towel around 4:30, and the bike lane turns into a slosh fest which forces you into the road, so the more candelas the better. Since both my light mountings have busted I’ve strapped the front to my helmet and the rear to my backpack, which is nice because I don’t have to detach them when I park.

Last year, completely cankered with rust, Frankencycle disappeared into the northern countries to live its final days in solitude. I’ve since assembled Bikenstien, a mountain bike that’s just as scrappy, though not as loyal.


Winter Bicycling: Essential Attire

Fall snow

Last week it dropped into the single digits here in the Twin Cities. My wife shed a tear, which froze to her cheek. That only made it worse.

So we didn’t play outside on Thanksgiving, since it got well below 20° (Outdoor Thanksgiving Activities with Kids). I’ll be honest – the winter is going to kick our butts with its frozen foot, as always, but at this point I’m saying “Bring it on, punk!” I feel like lieutenant Dan on the Bubba Gump shrimpin boat, shouting into the hurricane.

One way I stick it to the winter is by biking to school, right in its face. Here, and in the next post, are some considerations for any fair-weather bicyclists or pedestrians who’d like to give it a shot.

For clothing, you don’t need anything fancy like spandex or gortex, even for the -30° temps that we’ll soon have in Minnesota, unless you want to be speedy or stylin. On the coldest of days my attire consists of:

  1. Thermal underwear – top and bottom
  2. Wool socks – heavy duty
  3. Jeans or dickies
  4. Waterproof low-top boots, or high-tops for deep sloppy joe snow
  5. Fleece – either light or heavy, depending on your jacket
  6. Jacket – insulated, hooded windbreaker. A shell is fine if your fleece is thick
  7. Ski mask
  8. Beanie, stocking cap, whatever you call it
  9. Scarf or neck warmer thing
  10. Mittens, not gloves

Note, I only bike 2.5 miles each way, so I could walk if I had to. I think 5 to 7 mile commutes are still bearable in the city with this much gear. Longer rides require more layers in case of an emergency, like a freakish wind chill or blizzard, wherein shelter is hard to find.

Note also that my eyes are exposed. This hasn’t been a problem, even at extreme lows, but on longer rides you might enjoy ski goggles.

Finally, some encouraging links: