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  1. #1
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    Did my first below zero bike commute today

    It was very cold.

  2. #2
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    My commute was only in the mid 20's. Still though, my water bottle froze. When I wanted a drink I had to force the stopper open past the ice.

  3. #3
    chica cyclista
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    put on your big boy pants and HTFU

    Quote Originally Posted by batman1425 View Post
    It was very cold.
    (just kidding...maybe)

    I have done this many times, down to -20F and probably colder. I have commuted to work pretty close to 365 days/year for 12 years now on the Front Range; have done the same in varying wet/cold/slushy conditions in DC, Cincinnati and northern Germany too. For about 95% of my adult life, I neither owned a car, nor had access to one. I've taken the drunk bus home from Denver to Boulder at 1AM, then ridden the 5 miles north to my old apt in the 'burbs in the middle of January more times than I care to admit. I know for cold-weather cycling; maybe not as much as some guy in Winnipeg or Alaska, but it does get really freaking cold here in the Rockies.

    Tips, depending on how far you are commuting:

    - ditch the bike shoes in favor of work boots, wool sox and platform pedals. Really makes a huge difference. When it's that cold, I'd rather ride 10 miles on platforms than 5 miles in any kind of cycling shoe + bootie combo, and that includes those expensive "winter purposed" MTB shoes. Bike shoes are simply not intended for cold weather - just the fact that you've got a large unsealed wind inlet (your cleat) on the base of the shoe negates any other insulation you can add. Wear one pair of good wool sox, take an extra pair with so that you can change into dry warm sox for the ride home.

    Depending on the conditions of the snow / ice / bike path / sidewalk maintenance in your town, flats and work boots can also be much much safer than regular bike shoes. This is also the sort of thing I tend to use the Warthog (ancient mongrel hardtail bar-bike) for; it has studs and flats and a rattlecan paintjob for exactly this reason. I'm talking the kind of bike you could drunkenly leave in the middle of someone else's front yard up on campus and it'd still be there when you remembered to go back and find it.

    - get ski gloves. Cycling gloves completely and totally suck in anything below about 30°, I don't care what type you're talking about since most cycling gear purveyors operate under the business model that ~30° is "good enough" and those riding in colder temps are (far) outliers. They aren't waterproof, windproof or seam-sealed. Ski gloves are all 3. You can either go the highend route, which won't be much more expensive than a good "winter" cycling glove (NorthFace, DaKine, Spyder), or you can do what most lifties and patrollers and bike couriers do - buy a cheap pair of Kinco leather work gloves and SnoSeal them every couple of months. Get 2-3 pairs of thin "liner" gloves to wear inside, swap frequently to keep from wearing wet liners. Really, the cheap-and-cheerful option with multiple liners to swap out is much, much warmer since spendy thick gloves (both ski and cycling) tend to both sweat up then stay wet inside, and pack out, and neither is exceptionally warm on the ride home.

    - wear ski goggles instead of regular sunglasses. Yes you will look stupid. No you should not care. Every serious courier I know here on the Front Range uses them for winter work. Put on a good wool balaclava and slip ski goggles over it. Use Cat Crap to keep them from fogging. Any cheap/secondhand pair you can pick up at a used sporting goods outlet will do. A friend of mine working for Boulder Denver Couriers downtown wears his alpine ski helmet to work on the bike on the colder days because it is so much better insulated than a bike helmet + balaclava. Again, alpine ski gear trumps cycling gear every time in colder temps.

    Wear chapstick and slather cocoa butter or shea butter over any/all exposed bits of skin (tip of nose, cheekbones, etc). Really, trust me on this, it beats chill blisters and windburn.

    - wear a real parka; get one with a hood that goes over your helmet.

    - drop a bread bag down the front of your tights and/or wear your rain pants over your fleece tights. Your nuts will thank me for this tip (I don't own a pair of nuts myself, but so I am told by various of my nut-endowed brethren).

    Again, I default to my alpine ski gear in favor of cycling gear on anything below about 20-25°F because ski gear is specifically built to be waterproof, windproof AND breathable down to insanely cold temps - otherwise you would freeze to death on the lift and sweat buckets whilst skiing (you would not believe how much athletic work it takes to carve turns in the trees). Cycling gear is simply not designed for this kind of extremity. The lowest temps you will be comfortable at in any of the mass market cycling gear you can easily find in the USA is maybe 15°F and that's being generous, assuming bright sun / low humidity, and no wind.

    last but not least, if you want to rock the true ghetto / homeless / broke-assed courier look, a couple of large heavy plastic trash bags will do the trick. Cut a small hole in the bottom of one, slip it over your head like a poncho, and cut a couple of arm holes. Cut the entire bottom out of the other, then cut it in half vertically to about 18-20" from the "top". Slip that one up to your waist like a skirt / skort. Use duct tape to secure the 2 bags together at your waist, then use bands of duct tape to secure the flaps around your legs and arms. The resulting trash bag "onsie" will keep you surprisingly warm, though it's not guaranteed not to get sweaty inside if you're really riding hard.

    for the "frozen water bottle" issue, you can either carry one of those newfangled camelbak insulated bottles full of hot tea or go old-skool and stick a skinny thermos in a mangled / customized cheap steel cage.
    Grandpa LFR: "Kid, don't wrestle with pigs; you'll just get covered in crap, and the pig enjoys it."

    /Grandpa LFR

  4. #4
    pmf
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    Well, my hat is off to ya. I got up this morning and it was 30 out -- not too bad, but the wind was howling at 20-30 and 32 was the high with temps falling in the early evening to 20. At some point, it's not fun for me anymore. I rode the train in. Looks tolerable Thursday and Friday.

  5. #5
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    lfr is definitely tougher than me

    I'm reasonably happy down to zero, but after that, it takes incredible motiviation (or something like a broken car) to get me out- despite having appropriate (non-cycling) clothing.

    I think it's probably a reaction to a long-ago flat at -4 that seemed to take forever to fix- and of course, there weren't any available indoor spaces in which to work

    +1 on the goggles (I wear them over my glasses when it's below 20), and rain pants over fleece for really frosty temperatures.
    We'll be back soon, there will be more of us, and next time we won't be dropping leaflets.

    “The problem with quotes on the internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity” – Abraham Lincoln

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by saf-t View Post
    I think it's probably a reaction to a long-ago flat at -4 that seemed to take forever to fix- and of course, there weren't any available indoor spaces in which to work
    .
    This is my biggest winter commuting fear which I've thankfully only had to deal with once.

    Maybe it's a relative lack of humidity or the short (5 miles) distance but I really don't find it necessary to dress in ski gear for my winter commutes. Jeans, sneakers, thin fleece, PI windproof/water proof, shell, balaclava, and work gloves (Kinco) work for me between temps of 35F down to 15F. Rain or wet snow and I add Burley waterproof pants and shoe covers. Colder than 15F I switch to lobster claw type gloves. Colder than 5F I typically drive but if not I would have to switch to ski goggles.

    In any case, if I need to stop moving for any amount of time (changing a flat) I do get a chill and that makes changing tires a reall PITA.

  7. #7
    Good for you!
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    Quote Originally Posted by lonefrontranger View Post
    (just kidding...maybe)

    I have done this many times, down to -20F and probably colder. I have commuted to work pretty close to 365 days/year for 12 years now on the Front Range; have done the same in varying wet/cold/slushy conditions in DC, Cincinnati and northern Germany too. For about 95% of my adult life, I neither owned a car, nor had access to one. I've taken the drunk bus home from Denver to Boulder at 1AM, then ridden the 5 miles north to my old apt in the 'burbs in the middle of January more times than I care to admit. I know for cold-weather cycling; maybe not as much as some guy in Winnipeg or Alaska, but it does get really freaking cold here in the Rockies.

    Tips, depending on how far you are commuting:

    - ditch the bike shoes in favor of work boots, wool sox and platform pedals. Really makes a huge difference. When it's that cold, I'd rather ride 10 miles on platforms than 5 miles in any kind of cycling shoe + bootie combo, and that includes those expensive "winter purposed" MTB shoes. Bike shoes are simply not intended for cold weather - just the fact that you've got a large unsealed wind inlet (your cleat) on the base of the shoe negates any other insulation you can add. Wear one pair of good wool sox, take an extra pair with so that you can change into dry warm sox for the ride home.

    Depending on the conditions of the snow / ice / bike path / sidewalk maintenance in your town, flats and work boots can also be much much safer than regular bike shoes. This is also the sort of thing I tend to use the Warthog (ancient mongrel hardtail bar-bike) for; it has studs and flats and a rattlecan paintjob for exactly this reason. I'm talking the kind of bike you could drunkenly leave in the middle of someone else's front yard up on campus and it'd still be there when you remembered to go back and find it.

    - get ski gloves. Cycling gloves completely and totally suck in anything below about 30°, I don't care what type you're talking about since most cycling gear purveyors operate under the business model that ~30° is "good enough" and those riding in colder temps are (far) outliers. They aren't waterproof, windproof or seam-sealed. Ski gloves are all 3. You can either go the highend route, which won't be much more expensive than a good "winter" cycling glove (NorthFace, DaKine, Spyder), or you can do what most lifties and patrollers and bike couriers do - buy a cheap pair of Kinco leather work gloves and SnoSeal them every couple of months. Get 2-3 pairs of thin "liner" gloves to wear inside, swap frequently to keep from wearing wet liners. Really, the cheap-and-cheerful option with multiple liners to swap out is much, much warmer since spendy thick gloves (both ski and cycling) tend to both sweat up then stay wet inside, and pack out, and neither is exceptionally warm on the ride home.

    - wear ski goggles instead of regular sunglasses. Yes you will look stupid. No you should not care. Every serious courier I know here on the Front Range uses them for winter work. Put on a good wool balaclava and slip ski goggles over it. Use Cat Crap to keep them from fogging. Any cheap/secondhand pair you can pick up at a used sporting goods outlet will do. A friend of mine working for Boulder Denver Couriers downtown wears his alpine ski helmet to work on the bike on the colder days because it is so much better insulated than a bike helmet + balaclava. Again, alpine ski gear trumps cycling gear every time in colder temps.

    Wear chapstick and slather cocoa butter or shea butter over any/all exposed bits of skin (tip of nose, cheekbones, etc). Really, trust me on this, it beats chill blisters and windburn.

    - wear a real parka; get one with a hood that goes over your helmet.

    - drop a bread bag down the front of your tights and/or wear your rain pants over your fleece tights. Your nuts will thank me for this tip (I don't own a pair of nuts myself, but so I am told by various of my nut-endowed brethren).

    Again, I default to my alpine ski gear in favor of cycling gear on anything below about 20-25°F because ski gear is specifically built to be waterproof, windproof AND breathable down to insanely cold temps - otherwise you would freeze to death on the lift and sweat buckets whilst skiing (you would not believe how much athletic work it takes to carve turns in the trees). Cycling gear is simply not designed for this kind of extremity. The lowest temps you will be comfortable at in any of the mass market cycling gear you can easily find in the USA is maybe 15°F and that's being generous, assuming bright sun / low humidity, and no wind.

    last but not least, if you want to rock the true ghetto / homeless / broke-assed courier look, a couple of large heavy plastic trash bags will do the trick. Cut a small hole in the bottom of one, slip it over your head like a poncho, and cut a couple of arm holes. Cut the entire bottom out of the other, then cut it in half vertically to about 18-20" from the "top". Slip that one up to your waist like a skirt / skort. Use duct tape to secure the 2 bags together at your waist, then use bands of duct tape to secure the flaps around your legs and arms. The resulting trash bag "onsie" will keep you surprisingly warm, though it's not guaranteed not to get sweaty inside if you're really riding hard.

    for the "frozen water bottle" issue, you can either carry one of those newfangled camelbak insulated bottles full of hot tea or go old-skool and stick a skinny thermos in a mangled / customized cheap steel cage.

    LFR, that is some SERIOUSLY great advice. You would be doing a great service if you would post this list in Commuting and Touring.

  8. #8
    donuts?
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    Quote Originally Posted by batman1425 View Post
    It was very cold.
    below zero F, C, or K. if it was K, you are hardcore ;)
    -Steve
    Quote Originally Posted by Chain
    Next time, save your energy for tomorrows ride and try not to come in 6th.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by lonefrontranger View Post
    I have done this many times, down to -20F and probably colder. I have commuted to work pretty close to 365 days/year for 12 years now on the Front Range; have done the same in varying wet/cold/slushy conditions in DC, Cincinnati and northern Germany too.


    How do you deal with ice & slush on the roads?
    It's funny until someone gets hurt. Then it's hilarious.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nazium View Post


    How do you deal with ice & slush on the roads?
    Studded tires work wonders.

  11. #11
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    Thumbs up lonefrontranger classic!

    batman1425,

    I love your thread title. It's refreshing. Shines hope. Cold garments sweat is an under statement.

  12. #12
    chica cyclista
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    Quote Originally Posted by dir-t View Post
    Studded tires work wonders.
    this ^^ I run 2 studded bikes from about mid October thru March, my San Jose fixed-with-studs (700x35) for the bad black ice days (fixed gear = traction control + reliable stopping) and the Warthog (26x2.1, lots of low gears) for messy, sloppy conditions and/or deeper snow.

    altho the thread was mainly about clothing (being cold), something many winter commuters rarely think about until after they've had a problem: brakes. for stopping when your rims and/or cables are icing up there are only 2 truly reliable braking systems, a fixed gear or hydraulic discs, altho I've had hydros fail to initiate a couple times in ultra low temps due to ice in the calipers and/or hydro fluid packup/gelling too, so they're not 100%; I'd say 98% which is probably good enough since you are rarely going fast in these conditions anyhow. As far as fixed, always run a backup. I don't fully rely on the gear for braking the SJ, it runs a full set of cantis too - with the studs it gives me essentially endless modulation on the skating rinks which form everywhere during post-snow freeze/thaw cycles here.
    Grandpa LFR: "Kid, don't wrestle with pigs; you'll just get covered in crap, and the pig enjoys it."

    /Grandpa LFR

  13. #13
    chica cyclista
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    Quote Originally Posted by dir-t View Post
    This is my biggest winter commuting fear which I've thankfully only had to deal with once.

    ...

    In any case, if I need to stop moving for any amount of time (changing a flat) I do get a chill and that makes changing tires a reall PITA.
    this is why I have dedicated winter commuter/beater bikes - the el cheapo Nokians I run are baller; I'm pretty sure they're made out of honey badger and Chuck Norris cos I've never had a flat on either set, tho I do run sealant in both sets. Nokian also offers a stud replacement kit which I use to prep the tires every fall. they wear basically forever; you can get up to 10 years out of a set if you don't let them dryrot. As far as weight, well anytime you're commuting in the ultra cold you have to be willing to just throw the idea of efficiency out the window since you're realistically probably not going all that fast anyhow.
    Grandpa LFR: "Kid, don't wrestle with pigs; you'll just get covered in crap, and the pig enjoys it."

    /Grandpa LFR

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by lonefrontranger View Post
    , tho I do run sealant in both sets. .
    Does it flow when it's cold, or leave an off-balanced lump of sludge in the tube? So far my Nokians have also been bulletproof (knock on wood), but......
    We'll be back soon, there will be more of us, and next time we won't be dropping leaflets.

    “The problem with quotes on the internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity” – Abraham Lincoln

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by saf-t View Post
    Does it flow when it's cold, or leave an off-balanced lump of sludge in the tube? So far my Nokians have also been bulletproof (knock on wood), but......
    *shrug* if it does, I've not noticed, but then both my winter bikes are both so portly once the studs are installed I'd probably have a deal of a time even telling the diff. I use Conti tubes (the kind with the removable valve core) pump some Stans in and call it good.

    one of the reasons the Warthog earned its nick was due to its weight. it's like the airplane it was named for; heavy, ugly, and slow but the best tool in the box for the purposes it was designed for.

    //the bit about leaving it on someone's lawn overnight wasn't hyperbole; that feature's been tested.
    Grandpa LFR: "Kid, don't wrestle with pigs; you'll just get covered in crap, and the pig enjoys it."

    /Grandpa LFR

  16. #16
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    zero AND humid? If it was humid then you were wearing your big buy pants. If it's low humidity then brag when you do a -20f commute.

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    This is a world of cold I have NO experience of whatsoever. I live in Sydney Australia and my coldest winter commute might get down to 5celsius. I do need to wear lycra leg and arm warmers for that ride though! No other change from summer kit though, except wearing long finger MTB gloves.

    My hats off to the preparation and dedication to a ride you guys have.

  18. #18
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    Yes, lots of good stuff from LFR. I've also commuted in Minnesota winters for many years. I'm also a X-C skier, and I find that pretty much whatever I'd wear for X-C skiing at different temps coincides with what I'd wear on the bike. Alpine ski stuff is bulky, which I don't like. X-C ski gear is lighter weight and more form fitting.

    Very much agree on shoes/boots. I just use a lightweight hiking boot, which still works with traps. You go with the powergrip straps approach, or just use flat pedals with nothing just fine. If your feet are getting really cold then you can always just get off the bike and run for a bit, as that always works to warm them up too.

    Layering is a good approach. My inner layer and my outer layer is usually the same, and I would just add more thin layers in the middle to deal with different temperature ranges. You just need to experiment and dial in what amount of layers works for you in different temps. I would recommend getting a good outer layer jacket that is waterproof, lightweight, yet breathable. I've used an REI goretex "randonee" jacket as my outer layer for a long time.

    I've got some heavier duty tights with a windblock layer on the front, but I will only use them when it gets down to below 0(F). The majority of the time a single layer of regular tights over shorts/bibs seems to work fine, but that's just my preference. Minnesota conditions are usually cold and dry, but if it's sloppy wet then using a waterproof rain pant is a good idea for the lower half.

    X-C ski gloves work well and come in different varieties. My favorite gloves for colder conditions are Toko lobster gloves. These are very lightweight, not bulky, yet very warm.

    For the noggin I'll just use either a headband to cover ears, or a thin X-C ski hat, or a balaclava depending on the temps. I won't use a balaclava unless it's really cold. Typically, your face/neck will feel cold for the first 5 minutes, but you'll warm up quickly and be just fine. The whole vaseline on the face thing is really only necessary if you've got some nasty windchill conditions (like -30F). Again, your preference though.

    As far as eyewear, I just either use regular cycling sunglasses or nothing at all (if it's cloudy of course). For those who normally wear glasses/contacts (I don't) it's another story, and goggles are more useful. For me it's just easier to avoid dealing with PITA fogging issues. Don't worry, your eyes aren't going to freeze or anything. They might get a bit dry, but it's no big deal. Again, this is the same as I would do if X-C skiing.

    As far as the bike, I just used a beater mountain bike. My philosophy on flats is "don't get them", and I believe I've never had a flat in winter yet. Mostly I used regular 2.1 mountain bike tires. Lower pressure will help a lot for traction, but not too low to tempt flats, as it's just not worth it. Studded tires are helpful, but generally they only help with smooth ice. For rough ice conditions you'll need really aggressive spikes for effectiveness. Snow and slush will be just like riding through deep sand or thick mud, and a wider mountain bike tire will be best for that stuff.

    Oh, and you will trash your bike, especially if there is a lot of freeze/thaw sloppy conditions. This will eat your drivetrain up in a hurry, and ruin rims and hubs. I've had seatposts fuse to my frame also. You can be fastidious and clean your bike a lot, but in the end winter riding will impart a lot of abuse.

    Happy riding!

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