what you need for winter riding January 8, 2010
I know, I know, everybody has their own personal ways of dealing with the cold weather out there. After all we are Swamp Yankees (dammit), which means we are first and foremost frugal (I mean resourceful), and we are tough (I mean frugal). So with that in mind I will offer my own tried and true methods for making it on your bike through a difficult winter. I may even try to sell you some of this stuff, but I'll go easy.
First of all, its best to use a bike that you don't care so much about as it will get slathered periodically with a slurry of weather, sand, salt, and motor oil. If you care about all of your bike(s) the same, then you might choose the one that has room for fenders and racks or the one that puts you in a more upright position for a casual pace. Perhaps these are the same bike. Perfect.
Fenders are the plastic or metal coverings around your wheels that keep water from splashing up onto you. They are essential to being comfortable on the bike when the roads get wet. The most effective fenders are the ones that wrap around the wheel from 9 o'clock to 3. They should be fastened securely the frame so that they don't rattle and become a nuisance. Nothing beats professionally installed fenders. We have all types of fenders from SKS, Planet Bike, and Tanaka for all types of bikes and budgets.
When the roads are dry, nothing grips the road like a smooth-treaded tire. When the road gets wet, the same is true. When a little snow builds up on the pavement, however, its nice to have some tread on the tire. Beyond that there is no substitute for studded tires on icy pavement. These are typically a heavy tread with metal studs in varying patterns to dig into the crust and ice to keep you upright on the bike. Most of the winter here in Providence, the roads stay clear; but if you rely on your bike in all weather, its worth the expense. You will actually look forward to your ride into work. We recommend the Nokian A10 for our typical conditions.
For clothing, less is more. Cover as much skin as you can with windproof and breathable fabrics and add a few non-cotton layers under that as necessary. When the thermometer drops below 40 deg., gloves are essential, and there are inexpensive hats and balaclvas that fit under a helmet. Avoid sweating as much as possible as this will create a chill that will be hard to shake once you stop. The key is if you start out on the colder side of comfortable you should expect the exercise of riding will warm you up.
We sell Showers Pass weather gear. Of course cycling-specific clothing like this is expensive, but do what you can within your budget. Choose wool or polypropelene next to your skin rather than cotton. Spring/Fall weight rain shells or wind breakers can work with proper layering. It is helpful to be able add or shed layers as you go so play around with different combinations to arrive at what works for you.
Keep an eye on the weather channel or online forecasts. If the snow gets too heavy, you might consider walking or taking the bus. The roads will always be clear within a day or two. Lastly, take it easy out there. The important thing is that you make it to Spring when the sun finally comes out.