Rain, mud, and cold present a whole new set of challenges to the bicycle commuter. Numb hands and toes, a runny nose, and wet shoes can make for an uncomfortable riding experience. Also, your bicycle needs some extra TLC during the harsher riding conditions of the Portland rainy season. So we've put together a short guide on how to keep you and your bike happy and safe all year around.
Starting and Stopping
Basic Bike Check
How To Dress
Clothing: It gets dark out sooner during the winter months so a bright and/or reflective jacket is a good idea. There are many cycling specific jackets that offer good ventilation while being waterproof. Investment in a quality waterproof winter jacket will keep you warm, dry inside and out, and visible to traffic.
NOTE: Waterproof is NOT the same as water-resistant. Waterproof keeps you dry in a downpour and water resistant does not. Make sure you know what you are buying.
Gloves: Full finger windproof and waterproof gloves may feel really bulky, but they will also keep your hands from going numb on your commute.
Booties: A good pair of booties to go over your shoes will keep your feet dry. This is great when you arrive at school or work and can just slip out of your wet cycling shoes and into some dry ones without changing your socks.
Helmet Cover or Wool Hat: Keeping your head insulated will make you feel much warmer and can prevent brainfreeze (you don't need to chug a Slurpee to get one). A helmet cover does double duty by blocking the wind from blowing through your helmet vents. A wool cycling cap under the helmet works great also and doesn't pick up any undesirable odors.
Waterproof Pants: Buy pants that are indeed waterproof and as light as possible. Extra thick and bulky pants, like ski bibs, are uncomfortable to ride in and can cause you to overheat.
Preparing Your Bike
Bike: Be good to your bike and try to limit the amount of exposure to the elements it receives. Don't leave your bike outside all winter in the harsh cold and rain. If you take the time to wipe down your bike and store it safely indoors it will serve your needs for many seasons.
Lights: Stay visible! Rain and dark clouds make it harder for drivers to see bikers. Make sure that you have front and rear, bright well-functioning lights and change the batteries often.
Chain: Your chain will pick up lots of grime and debris from the road. Wiping your chain off with a clean rag when you get home from your commute will preserve the integrity of your chain and keep your bike shifting smoothly all winter. After wiping the mud off your chain, you need to apply a layer of chain oil to it. There are wet/muddy specific lubes that work best.
Tires: Are your tires beginning to go bald or looking rundown? Chances are months of spring/summer riding have worn them down. It's a good idea to have your tires checked by a bike mechanic and changed if necessary. Good tires will keep your stopping distance and cornering abilities safe.
Fenders: A good set of fenders can be the difference between a winter commute full of misery and one of ease. A FULL set of fenders with mudflaps, not clip-on fenders, will keep you happiest by keeping you and your bike drivetrain cleaner; making wiping your bike down and oiling the chain simpler.
Brake Pads: Stopping distances increase in wet conditions. Changing your brake pads when the rains come will keep you stopping confidently all winter.