riding tips for cold weather

Okay, yeah, I live in California so my cold is nothing like the cold some of you experience.  You have my sympathy and my utter admiration.  It’s daunting to ride in cold weather.  Where I live it’s been in the 20s at night, which is unusual.  It warms up to a whopping 30 degrees F by the time I bundle up and leave the house.  That’s cold to me!

This time of year you’ll find lots of great advice about what to wear when riding in the winter.  But I’d like to share some riding tips if you’re not normally a winter rider and you’re getting gutsy enough to try.  Do try – people will either think you’re crazy or freaking awesome!   I prefer to think I’m awesome for riding in all weather; your mileage may vary.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned as I’ve grown used to riding in the cold:

  • Consider going at a slower speed but pedaling at a higher cadence to stay warm.  This accomplishes two things: 1) there will be less cold wind resistance freezing your face at a slower speed and 2) the higher cadence keeps the blood flowing through your legs and keeps you warm.
  • Take an insulated water bottle or a spill-proof insulated coffee mug with you and fill it with warm water.  You always need water to help keep you hydrated in cold, dry air, but nobody wants to drink cold water on a cold day!  Just a sip of warm water can feel really good when you’re riding in the cold.
  • As you ride along, clap your hands to keep blood flowing to your fingers.  If you’re not comfortable going hands-free for this, clap them whenever you’re stopped at a traffic light.  Who cares if you look silly if your fingers are warm?  Alternatively, a couple of things I do to keep my fingers toasty is alternately gripping my handlebar grips and flexing my fingers in rapid succession and taking one hand off my handlebars at a time and shaking my whole arm out.  You’ll be surprised how much more enjoyable your ride is when your hands are warm.
  • Keep in mind that if your core is warm your body doesn’t have to “steal” heat from your extremities.
  • Be careful for water puddles that may have frozen and look out for painted parts of the street – they can get icy and slippery.  Also, if you’re on bike paths that have those yellow rubber bumpy strips at intersections, be aware that these can freeze and become very slippery when wet. Wow, I learned that the hard way (literally).
  • Let a couple of pounds of pressure out of your tires to increase road-to-tire surface area if it’s wet or snowy or icy.  Sure, you’ll go slower, but you’ll also ride with more stability.
  • Be prepared for the brighter sunlight of winter – the sun is at a steeper angle than in the summer and it can suddenly blind you.  Go slowly if the sun is in your eyes.
  • If it’s dreary and cloudy – even if it isn’t raining or snowing – use your lights.  Better to be too careful than not careful enough.  A lot of motorists don’t expect to see people riding bikes in the winter.  Make sure you’re visible.

And when you get done riding in the cold, have a nice huge cup of hot chocolate.  You’ve earned it!


how to fix the inevitable flat

Wow, is that lucky or what?

Wow, is that lucky or what?

Are you like me and hate changing a flat so much that if at all possible, you’ll limp along for as long as you can with a tube that’s failing?  Dumb, huh?

I usually lose tubes due to punctures or eventual failure at the valve stem.  I’m obsessive about checking my tire pressure before every ride so my valves get quite the workout.  There’s no mistaking that “sssssssssss” when you press your pressure gauge onto a stem and it starts leaking.

But this time my back tire kept losing more than the 1-2 psi it usually loses overnight.  At first I thought that it had to be due to the weather.  After all, when I’m done riding my tires are much warmer than they are the next morning, when they’ve been sitting on my cold balcony all night, the rubber contracting from the cold.  Then it lost 5 psi overnight.  Then 10.  Oops, now it lost 20 psi.  Seeing that it was a slow leak I knew there wasn’t a hole to patch; the tube needed to be replaced.

Tires can lose pressure when the tire tread gets worn, and I worried it might be time to replace my tires.  I have probably 4,000-5,000 miles on this set, and although I’ve rotated them about half-way through they are getting worn.  But the cheapest way to find out if it’s the tire or the tube is to just replace the tube and see what happens.  Thankfully, that’s all it was – just a tube that had been getting weak and losing its elasticity – although I procrastinated because changing a tube isn’t the easiest thing in the world if your tires are like mine – they have a stiff bead and they’re hard to get on and off my rims.   But now that I’ve got a nice new tube in there and my “tuffy liners” are protecting it from punctures I’m happily pedaling along again without worry.  

To help you, here is a fantastic video from Bicycling.com that shows how to change a tube.   The guy is a pro and he makes it look easy, but it really isn’t hard.  For me, the hardest part is working the tire back onto the rim.  Once you get it on your rim make sure you inflate it only part way, then check thoroughly to see that none of the tube is being pinched – you will get a pinch flat if so.  What I do is massage the tire and the tube all the way around the rim a few times, then inflate the tire a little and spin it, holding my fingers lightly against the sides of the tire and along the bead of the tire.  I visually check to see if there are any spots that look uneven. Once I’m satisfied it’s perfect then I fill it up with air and do a final spin check. Then I’ll check a few hours later to see if it’s holding.  Like I said, I’m a bit obsessive about my tires.

Of course, you can always take your bike to the shop to change a tube but I firmly believe everyone who rides regularly needs to know some basic skills, starting with fixing a flat.  A nice side benefit is that you feel a real sense of accomplishment once you fix your own flat.  Empower yourself!

follow-up post – bicycle chain lube

I’ve now been riding for a couple of weeks with Dumonde Tech D1 bicycle chain lube.  I wrote about it here: clean bike chain joy in the change of seasons.  Now that I’ve had the chance to ride some miles with it, here’s my assessment:  I love it.

It’s a little bit different than a traditional chain lube due to the way it is applied and several reviewers have written about grunge on the chain after first use.  I noticed it too after my first ride, but it was because there was definitely some residue I could still feel and it attracted dust.  Dumonde Tech says the trick to using it successfully is to wipe your chain dry after the lube has had a chance to adhere to the pins in your links.  And they mean really dry (always start with a glistening clean drivetrain before applying new chain lubricant; this is how I clean my drivetrain).  After my first ride I wiped my chain with a clean rag and it came off pretty dirty.  I rinsed the chain with plain water and let it dry, then I applied a second coat and let it sink in.  I then was very meticulous in wiping my chain dry again, and I mean really, really dry.  I held my chain with a clean rag and rotated my pedals backwards.  Then I held my pedals still and ran the rag back and forth over a section of the chain, rotated my pedals again to get a new section of chain, wiped a clean section of the rag back and forth over that section of chain, etc.  I kept repeating this until it felt really, really dry to my bare fingers.

All bicycle chain lubricants work best when the pins in the links are lubricated; not the chain link surfaces themselves.  Otherwise your chain will act as a dirt and grunge magnet.  This one is no different.  However, I’ve noticed it stays cleaner than an oil-based lube when it is applied correctly.  After every ride I wipe down my chain and very little dirt comes off, if any.  Mostly only if I ride through a puddle and dirty water splashes up on my chain.  After about 75-100 miles my chain is still silent and shifting is still a breeze, just like when I first applied it. And it is SHINY!  It takes a little bit more work than traditional oil-based lube to make sure it is applied correctly but it’s worth it.

how to crash


If you ride a lot, accidents and mishaps are inevitable.  Hopefully with the following tips they won’t be disastrous.

Today I had a minor crash with minor injuries.  Thankfully they were minor.  I have had more serious crashes in the past, including one where I was knocked unconscious (some discussion is here).  I’ve been reading up on crash techniques lately and I tried visualizing how to put them into practice if needed.  I visualize myself tucking and rolling, trying to go limp, and not locking any of my extremities to brace my fall.  As I ride along I imagine myself doing exactly that.  And you know what?  It works.  I’m scraped up and my ribs are pretty sore but my head never hit the ground and I haven’t broken anything.

So here’s my advice:  as you’re riding along, try to imagine how to react if you crash:  think relax, tuck, and roll.  Don’t try to stop yourself from falling; go with it.  Don’t hold your arms straight in front of you to brace your fall; try to tuck them into your chest and land already rolling, with your body relaxed.  Tuck your head in so you don’t land on your helmet. Let  momentum carry you until you stop rolling, staying relaxed the entire time.  Skinned knees and elbows heal rather quickly; bones take a lot longer to heal.

Stand up and take some personal inventory to see how you are – if you have grit embedded in road rash you can use your water bottle to flush some of it out.  It’s also helpful to ride with some band-aids and a wet wipe or two.  Hopefully you don’t have any broken bones.

Check your bike.  Your handlebars may be askew.  Are your pedals okay?  Is your seat crooked?  Do your wheels look to be relatively in true or are they wobbling?  Are any spokes loose?  In today’s crash I bent my rear derailleur; I managed to un-bend it enough to limp to my REI and the wonderful mechanic there straightened it out for me at no charge.  I have only accolades for the bike mechanics at my REI – they have always treated me so very well.

Since I am car-free and my bike is my only transportation, getting my bike fixed was my  priority.   Only after it was back in good working condition did I ride home and pop two ibuprofen before cleaning my road rash and jumping in the shower.  My bike is ready for the next ride although my ribs may need a couple of days to heal before I can lift my bike to carry it up and down my stairs.  But at the end of the day I’m so glad all the time I spent imagining crash techniques paid off and my body automatically did what my mind trained it to do.  Try to visualize these techniques as you ride along – they may help you avoid more serious injuries.

Ride safely!

shifting basics

Bicycling Magazine just put out a handy post on the basics of shifting that everyone should read.  Unless you’re a pro, you might learn something helpful.  There’s a nice graphic in the link as well.

In a nutshell:

  • It’s okay to look down at your chainrings to get a visual.
  • Shift up or down before you need to; in other words, anticipate hills and even the wind if you can.
  • Start in the middle – choose the middle gear in the front and back and make adjustments from there.
  • When you’re just starting out, use the middle cog in the front and experiment with the gears in the back.  When you’re comfortable, experiment changing both (but one at a time, please).
  • Let up on the pedals ever so slightly when you’re shifting into a harder gear to put less stress on your chain.

And a couple of my own:

  • When downshifting both front and back cogs, downshift the back first, then the front.  It’s much more comfortable.
  • If you’re in a relatively high gear and you need to stop at a stoplight, downshift into a lower gear before you stop.  Starting up again when the light changes will be easier.

You may find that if you ride the same route frequently you’ll have a favorite gear ratio.  For me it’s what feels pretty effortless but still allows me to maintain a good speed.  I ride on hilly terrain and sometimes I’ll pretend my bike is fixed-gear and I’ll stay in the same gear up and down the hills, just for a fun challenge.  And then there are days when the wind in my face – especially uphill – means I need to move into my granny gears.

Experimenting means you’ll be able to shift effortlessly without even thinking.  Play around and have fun.  You may even discover a more comfortable gear!