Tips for biking it in ice and snow
In some circles, the idea of riding a bike through winter in Reno seems crazy. But I’ve found commuting by bicycle is much easier—and occasionally quicker—than driving or taking the bus, even in snow. It syncs mind, body and machine together into an ideally meditative, and fun, experience.
Gear up your mind
The best way to mentally prepare for riding in winter is simply to continue riding through autumn. Whether commuting daily or weekend riding, making a habit of riding allows you to make adjustments as the weather changes. When temperatures drop and snow falls, you’ll find yourself more ready than expected.
Gear up your body
Keeping your head and hands warm is vital. Helmets are always a good idea; winter is no exception. Fitting a hat underneath can be tricky, so either look for thin synthetic or wool beanies and balaclavas, or remove the liner pads of a helmet to allow a hat to fit. Lobster-style mittens designed for cycling are great, but cheap gloves work fine, too. For the rest of your body, there are two keys: 1) an under-layer of long wool or high-tech polyester, and 2) an outer wind-resistant layer with a front-zippered top. Once your body is moving, you’ll get warm. You want to be able to release this heat and comfortably regulate your temperature by zipping up or down along the way. A good rule is that if you start off warm, you’ll be too hot for any ride longer than a few minutes. You’ll also sweat, and you don’t want soggy cotton next to your skin.
Gear up your machine
Bikes work well even in inclement weather, but some accessories make winter riding easier.
Fenders. When it snows, the roads get wet and icky. To avoid that sludge coating your bike, striping your back, soaking your feet, and splattering your face, fenders are a must.
Lights, lights, and more lights. It gets dark early, and drivers get lazy about clearing their windows. The best way to be seen is to light you and your bike up like a Vegas casino. A white front light and red rear reflector are the legal minimum, but adding a blinking red LED to the rear is a necessity for safety. I wouldn’t stop there; I’ve got reflective tape on my fenders and frame, redundant lights fore and aft, and room for improvement with a reflective vest and helmet-mounted lights.
Studded tires. It may be that roads covered in sheets of black ice is a good enough reason to not ride for most people, and that’s OK. But for those who like to—or have to—keep riding, the days of lingering frozen patches after each snowfall make riding without studs prohibitively tricky. Expensive European-made carbide-studded tires work best and are available at local shops. Decent studded tires can be homemade on the cheap with a little time and a trip to the hardware store and the Reno Bike Project for a set of used tires.