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Gear Prudence: Other than it getting dark earlier, being colder, and the possibility of ice and snow, are there any other obvious perils that I need to worry about if I bike commute through the winter? —Briskly Riding, Reckoned Ready?
Dear BRRR: You’ve named the big three obvious troubles of winter bike commuting, but it sounds like you might be aware of some potential solutions. Darkness? Use lights! Cold? Wear more clothes! Snow and ice? Don’t ride on the snow and ice, and/or move to Miami! Though ice and snow are hardly the only things that might cause you to slip. (Mind stray tauntaun guts.) Winter means caution.
While these (cold, dark, snow) are the most obvious concerns of winter riding, there are some secondary issues that you should be aware of.
Winter seems to dirty bikes more than the other seasons. You’ll notice an increased amount of grime and precipitation, especially of the slushy variation, mucks your bike unrepentantly. Salt and salt-esque chemicals used to de-ice roads can leave your ride brined, which can be especially harmful to its proper operation and can exacerbate wear. You’ll need to spend time cleaning your bike in an effort to keep it in good working order.
Obviously, road conditions in winter deteriorate. Beyond keeping yourself off the ice, it’s important to be mindful of other dangerous road users, such as fretful drivers and novice biathletes. Leave the polka-dot jerseys at home.
One peril gentlemen need especially fear is succumbing to ill-advised facial hair choices. The temptation of growing a patchy, scraggly beard to provide marginal benefit against the cold and wind is strong. However, be aware you’ll still have a patchy, scraggly beard even when you’re not bike commuting. If this look isn’t your best, consider a buff or scarf instead.
But worst of all, the greatest peril of riding in suboptimal conditions is succumbing to monotony. Winter weather tends to force bike commuters into taking the shortest, most direct route, thereby robbing them of the exploration and easy diversions that can make bike commuting so compelling. Stave off the boredom of repetition by taking the bus to work every so often. You can recharge your metaphorical batteries as you drain your literal ones by staring at your phone, looking at how much longer it’s taking, questioning how cold it really was anyway, and reminding yourself that the warmth derived from huddling with your fellow passengers isn’t nearly as comforting as the joy derived from cycling past them.