Get Smart about winter bicycle commuting

by Cyle Talley

Watching your carbon footprint? Trying to save a few bucks on gas? Let our experts, Jon Bailey and Garrett Alexander from Durango Cyclery, tell you how to pedal your ass to work, come sleet or snow.

It’s damned cold outside. What’s so great about being on a bike in the wintertime?

Alexander: I have a car, I’m not going to lie. I use it sometimes. But the ride is pristine and the air is so crisp. It allows you to collect yourself for the day and then gives you a moment to reflect on the way home. Coffee’s great, but getting your legs moving and your blood flowing is a lot more … satisfying.

Bailey: The same thing that’s always good about bicycling. You connect with the environment. You get to see town, or wherever you are, in a new way because you have to pay such close attention and that carries over to other things.

What sort of bike do I need? A fat bike?

Bailey: The biggest thing, if you’re going to change anything, is a studded tire. That’s what’s going to save you if it gets icy. Fat bikes make sense when there’s a ton of snow and town is shut down, but otherwise, lower your tire pressure a bit, pay attention to your surroundings, and you’re golden on a studded tire. At the bare minimum, put one on the front.

Alexander: “You’ve gotta consider conditions. We have Indian winters where the morning could be icy and by the afternoon, everyone’s in a T-shirt, so it’s usually more a consideration of attire than gear in Durango.

So I can throw a studded tire on I’ve got and call it good from October to March?

Bailey: You’ll wear ’em down a good chunk on the pavement, but totally. Maybe having a winter wheel set would be the luxurious way to go, and if you’re savvy with maintenance, you can swap ’em out when the season changes, but it’s not necessary. Fenders are a big piece, though. If the snow isn’t sticking, it’s going to be wet.

Alexander: And the drier you are, the warmer you are.

Speaking of dry and warm, what about clothing?

Alexander: It depends on the length of your commute, but I always say that taking layers off is easier than putting them on.

Bailey: Yeah, I mean, my friend wears moon boots, old school bib snow pants and a puffy jacket, just like what you’d wear to go ski in the snow. We all live here, so you’ve already got everything you need to be warm hanging in your closet. You’ve got gloves, you’ve got a hat. If it’s really nasty and the snow is flying, wear your ski goggles, wear your face mask. Or, if you’re a dude and you can do it, just grow that shit out (your beard).

What’s the piece of gear that’s really saved your bacon?

Alexander: The biggest investment I made was full rain gear, even over fenders, ’cause it’s nice to have something that I can also use hiking instead of just having something that I can only use on my bike. A helmet, obviously.

Bailey: And lights! That’s a huge piece. They’re sweet all year, but it’s darker for more of the day now and you want to make sure you’re seen.

Is riding your bike in the winter like driving your car in the winter?

Bailey: Totally. Pay attention, plan your maneuvers, know where people are around you. Don’t brake or change direction too suddenly.

Alexander: Stay relaxed and loose and don’t try to break any land speed records.

Any words of encouragement for first-timers?

Alexander: A good shoe for winter biking is Bogs … Bogs are really good.

The rubber boot?

Bailey: Yeah. Your feet are what’s going to get wet first, so slipping those things off when you get to work and putting your work shoe on is pretty encouraging.

Alexander: And now would be a good time to mention that I don’t recommend plastic pedals; you’ll just slip right off of them. Get a nice metal pair with some teeth and you’ll be golden.

Is there something you want to Get Smart about? Email [email protected]

Cyle Talley is a 22-year Durango veteran and can remember when the mall had a K-Mart. Now he writes short fiction that you can read at: cyletalley.com or on Instagram @borderlineobscene

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