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The Gear Junkie offers tips for winter bicycling

Sun., Dec. 18, 2011, midnight

Be it for fun or utility on a daily commute to work or school, bicycling does not need to end when the snow flies.

I have ridden year ’round in Minnesota, my home state, for several seasons, including in snowstorms and on days when the mercury has plunged to zero degrees and below.

No doubt, biking in the winter is difficult and cold.

But if you slow down and gear up right, riding through the white months can be manageable and, some days, even a joy.

Here are a few tips I have learned along the way:

Hands and Feet – Focus on the extremities. They are often the first to feel the chill on a winter ride.

I wear thick gloves down to about 25 degrees, and then mittens below that.

My feet are kept warm in insulated clip-in bike shoes made for winter.

Another alternative are shoe covers, which fit over normal bike shoes to block wind and add warmth.

Illumination – A double-whammy of shorter days and snow-battling drivers not looking as hard for cyclists make bright bike lights paramount.

I often clip two red blinking lights on my rear – one on a backpack, one on an under-seat bag – and then rely on a bright white L.E.D. up front. “See and be seen” in the dark winter months, that’s my mantra.

Single-Speed Bike – For me, multiple gears are unnecessary for winter riding. I pedal slower and do not tackle long rides with big hills like I would in warmer months.

As such, I ride a bike with just one speed. My single-speed mountain bike is fast enough for any snowy terrain or plowed road and its pared-down nature (no derailleurs, a single cog on back) means there are fewer moving parts to attract gunk and freeze up.

Special Tires – Extreme climates (my home state included!) can require bike tires made for snow and ice. Models like the Schwalbe Marathon Winter and Continental’s Spike Claw tires have embedded carbide studs to give grip on ice.

Another option is getting a bike with oversized tires, including the Surly Pugsley model or Salsa’s Mukluk, both which have fat wheels made for snow that are nearly 4 inches wide.

Shell Jacket – A good shell jacket that’s waterproof and breathable is essential for blocking wind and protecting from the elements.

I often wear a Gore-Tex based jacket or one made of a fabric called eVent. These jackets are available from multiple manufactures and are mandatory for winter riding.

Pack the Extras – For longer rides I bring a small backpack with a spare hat, extra gloves and an insulating fleece shirt.

These backup pieces can save the day if you get cold on a ride. Conversely, if I am too warm I can take off a layer and store it in my pack with no fuss.

Clean Your Ride – An occasional wash-down with a rag and bike cleaner will help rejuvenate components gunked with dirt, sand, and road salt.

I wipe and wash my chain and drivetrain a couple of times a month and then lube the bike before suiting up to hit the winter road again.

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