Winter Bike Commuting

I am considering the idea of starting to ride my bike to the office. My questions:

  1. Personal Weather Gear - I know there are a lot of riders on the forum here and I would love to get some tips towards gear that is essential for riding in crappy weather. Remember the Vancouver is primarily rain that hovers just above freezing.

  2. Office Stuff Protection - I currently have a shoulder bag that carries my laptop, notepad(s) and few other essentials. Are there paniers or back packs that you would suggest that does the job for carrying these essentials?

  3. Which Bike - Another question I have pertains to my bike. I have two, a road bike and a mountain bike. Which should I ride considering I would need to lug my laptop etc.? I am leaning towards the mountain bike with slicks.

I know yssagul and his housemates do in the cold ass Pittsburgh winter. Maybe he has some tips. I would die.

Fenders first most. A mountain bike for winter riding is smart in case it ever gets slick. I’d leave the knobby tires on. Sure it’s harder, but the winter season is about training anyway, and you’ll like it if it ever gets icy. I prefer backpacks because they stay on your back, if you’ve got fenders you won’t get any nasty stuff flying off your tires onto your back.

Quick search gave me this: Backpacks for Biking | GearJunkie

The Banjo Bros. pack looks nice with those reflectors built in, always a must in winter riding when the daylight is reduced to lunchtime.

Timbuk2 makes good bags too.

Gotta have a rain jacket and rain pants. And oftentimes you might bring changes of clothes to work a day ahead of time if you know there’s gonna be bad weather heading your way. In that dangerous cold/wet climate, wool is bomb for your health (good wools don’t get as stinky).

Step into my office Jon…

How far is your commute each day? Are you actually going to ride to work when its raining? Or just hope to get there before it starts up, and get wet/dirty on the way home (because you’re already on your way)? Is this just a part time experiment? Or do you already commute in good weather?

Without knowing the answers to those questions, here’s my preliminary device.

1.) Set yourself up with a good rain shell and rain pants if you want to stay (mostly) dry. Gore makes some great cycling specific rain wear, but it can get spendy. Craft does a great job with base layer stuff (think long underwear, etc.) and have several “weights” to choose from for your climate. What do you do for shoes? Cycling specific? Or just sneakers and platform pedals? For rain there are some options there…

2.) Yes. There are a multitude of options. If it really does get wet, I’d suggest going the pannier route for your office stuff. Specifically, a dry-bag style. Ortleib is probably the front runner here, but other brands like Topeak and Bontrager have decent options as well. Most of these are just large open containers with little to no organization, so you may want to go the bag within a bag route just so things aren’t banging around. I usually have enough soft items to balance things out with the hard stuff that I don’t have any issues there.

3.) Any bike will do the job. If you have a rack on both bikes, you’ve got both options if you go the pannier option. For bad weather, I tend to dork-out my bikes and put on full coverage fenders, racks, etc. That being said, if your road bike is set up a bit more “race” style, then go with the mountain bike with slicks, maybe something with a very light tread, but smooth, narrow and higher pressure than 55psi. If you can find a nice 1.5"-1.75" tire, thats the best choice.

@yssagul That Banjo Bros pack is amazing. Used it for a few months and loved it. Great people, too.

Chrome makes some nice messenger bags, but their backpacks are top notch.

I also second the wool stuff. Spendy as hell though.

I’d rather be riding in -10° weather than in 34 and raining.

About the rain jacket and rain pants. It’s ideal if they’re just simple waterproof shells. You should be wearing layers underneath that will allow you to regulate your body temperature. Again, wool does this like a champ.

As NURB said, panniers are an awesome option, however I’ve never gotten them or been inclined to because I use my bike like I use my own two feet. I like it to be light so I can carry it up and down steps and if the weight is on my back it means less heft for my arms. Plus backpacks are just great for carrying around gear if you ever go hiking or trips. Backpacks with rolltops are generally more waterproof for a simple reason, no zipper means less leaks. I’ll tell you, seams and zippers never last as long as a waterproof material and the rolling effectively keeps any water out, many times even if it’s submerged if it’s a good pack.

^^^ All good advice.

It simply depends on how you’re going to do it. To and from work only, or do everything.

I’d also rather be in riding below freezing myself, which these days is nearly every day for the next 3 months.

Awesome, guys. Thanks for the tips!

I haven’t clocked the distance, but it is somewhere in the realm of 25KM or so. An hour, give or take, both ways.

I am doing the Vancouver GranFondo in September and hoping to get back into the Triathlon game this Spring/Summer, so this is more for training than for anything else. Realistically, I only have 3 days a week (b/c of kid pick up and drop off) that I can ride, and my job also requires me to travel around town for meetings, etc…so I need to be realistic about this. I don’t see myself riding more then 2 days a week, more likely just once.

I use SPD clips with a pair of Shimano shoes. They’re not particularly waterproof…so I see that as problematic.

Based on what I am hearing, I tend to think I will go the route of backpack. The logic of keeping the weight off my bike appeals to me. Fenders will probably be one of my first purchases…along with a good set of rain gear. I am guessing that I need to ensure that the pants are snug around the ankles so not to get caught in the chains.

My road bike is definitely set up as a racing bike (Specialized Allez). I am not sure I want to fart around with fenders on it…but I also would prefer the speed for the commute. I’ll have to ponder this one.

I have to say that I would prefer below freezing than +2 and raining…but that’s living in Vancouver. Falls under the category of “Suck it up, Buttercup”.

Oh! What about hands/face/neck?

I’ve been biking to work (and wherever else I can bike to) year round, 8 miles each way, for 12 years (in Boston) and here’s what’s worked for me.

In the winter I general ride my mt bike with my standard knobby tires, but when it gets icy I switch to studded (Hakkapeliitta W240). Fenders are key - removable front wheel - ‘permanent’ zip tied in place, rear.

I’m a very ‘warm blooded’ person, so start layer up and take off as I go/warm up. Summer riding I’m a sweaty mess.

For my legs: bike shorts, with front side wind/water proof tights over them. Neoprene boots over my standard shoes when the temp hits 32. Light to mid weight smart wool socks. If it’s raining out I throw on my hiking/snowboarding Patagonia Gore-tex shell pants. They are very durable, have required little up keep and have been bombproof for years. Though when wearing them I need to use those Velcro reflective ankle straps so they don’t get caught in the chain-rings.

Topside, which is what I usually take off as I warm up: (summer) cycling jersey, arm warmers, front side windproof vest and rainproof shell. I generally take off the vest or shell when I warm up, weather dependent. I’m presently using the StormPass shell (made in Seattle) with the E-vent material. Can’t say notice much of a difference between it and the waterproof nylon coated shell I had before. With both I have the pit zips wide open, except on the coldest of days. For gloves I have found that run of the mill REI wind proof fleece gloves work as well as cold weather cycling gloves. On really cold days I switch to my water/wind proof snowboarding gloves.

Overall I don’t really start gearing up until the temp hits the mid 30’s. Until then I’m usually wearing some mix of vest, arm warmers, Mt. bike shorts, full fingered gloves and wool socks.

Until recently I’ve used a med sized courier bag (Bailey bag) to carry work gear. I just switched to a waterproof ‘cycling’ back pack, primarily because after 8 years it was wearing out and because everyone has been going on about better weight distribution. That may be the case but not really liking it. I really like, didn’t realize until now how much I really liked, the way I could swing, back to front, the courier bag, which gave me easier access to keys, badge, bike lock, 6-packs, putting small items in the bag, without having to take the bag off. I’m presently thinking about the various mods to the backpack.

Hope this helped. Safe riding.


A great light. Especially if your commute is in the dark. I don’t commute on a bike when daylight savings time ends. It is pitch black by 5 pm and there is too much traffic not looking for a bike where I ride. Sucks for me but I do get out on the weekends for a ride on a beater bike. They use a lot of sand and salt on the roads here. A good headlamp and some blinkies should be fine.

Stuff to clean your bike if they use a lot of sand and salt on your roads.

A bell. If you are in a lot of other bike and pedestrian traffic. “On your left” tends to startle and confuse people. A bell doesn’t as much.

As others mentioned, fenders. Honjo hammered for the French randonneur look.

Also as others mentioned, layer your clothes. It gives great flexibility. I can see a 30 degree temperature swing between the morning and evening commute.

I would recommend against a messenger bag or backback, especially if you are carrying a computer. A 1 hour commute with that weight and you will have an extremely sweaty back even in sub-freezing temps. Bags don’t breathe. Especially the waterproof ones to protect your computer.

If you stick with it, I would not use either of your bikes and get one specifically for commuting. Mine is twitchy and is good for city rides but generally I would recommend something with a relaxed geometry. Again, more in terms of the randonneur type of bike.

For commuting components, accessories, I would recommmend Velo Orange,

For wool I like Swobo and Ibex,

For commuting tires, I like Grand Bois (their accessories are nice too),

I knew this was the place to ask :slight_smile:

What about the miserable days? I am guessing you don’t have dryers at work. Do you start your ride home wet? Or do you just drive ?

I pack a full change of clothes every day. That way, I’m not sweating through my clothes. My commute is about 40 minutes and when it’s snowy you really work up some effort pushing studded tires (+1 for the 700x40 Hakkapellittas…)

My typical cold weather below freezing setup consists of:
Sugoi wind/waterproof (barely) tights w/ Bib shorts of my choice underneath
-If it’s above 30, I usually just do leg warmers…
Chrome Shins Knickers (this is year round equipment for me. If there were one pair of pants I could wear everyday, it’d be these.)
Socks - Long wool DeFeet or similar, or Craft cross country ski socks-synthetic.
Shoes - on dry warmer days Sidi Dominators on cooler wet days Shimano Winter Boots (they totally suck, don’t buy them)
-Occasionally I’ll throw some Pearl Izumi Mountain Booties over, for extra wet/warm protection
Craft Base layer dependent on temperature (I’ve got all of them… perks of the job baby)
Wool Jersey
Craft Soft Shell - Or Mountain Hardware Hard shell if its raining/sleeting
Skull cap or Balaclava
-If it’s really cold I’ve got a Patagonia neck gator that’s wonderful
Giro Helmet

  • If it’s below 15 I’ve got a snowboard helmet I wear and goggles to go with it. Since I wear glasses, the goggles keep me from tearing up and going blind in the wind. I’ve used it down to -10 and my head stays very warm.
    Gloves - I’ve got many and they are also based on temp.

If you’re looking for footwear, get a pair of Lake Winter Boots. They’re the gold standard for cold weather cycling here in Minneapolis.
As for layers, tights, etc. It depends mostly on you. I’m very warm naturally, so my main concern is blocking wind and keeping my extremities warm. The rest of me stays warm by riding, so I’d dress a little cooler than you think at first and add layers as you need to. Once you’ve been at it for a while, you’ll be able to look at the temp and know right away what you need to wear.

Winter riding, in my opinion is wonderful. I’d rather be dressed in layers with cold wind than sweating my ass off on a 85 degree humid morning.

I have separate commuting clothes and work clothes. I carry the work clothes (and lunch) with me everyday.

For rain, I have a cheap $10 waterproof shell. Giordana I think, could be PI. I don’t care if my legs get wet. My feet get soaked and I don’t like that much. Feels like I am pedaling in quicksand. But I’m too cheap to buy different shoes.

For cold (temps in fahrenheit, sorry, dumb 'merkin here)

60+ - Shorts and short-sleeve tee
50-60 - Shorts, short-sleeve tee and light breathable jacket
40-50 - Pants, long-sleeve base layer, short-sleeve tee, light breathable jacket and fleece gloves
30-40 - Pants, long-sleeve base layer, short-sleeve tee, winter jacket, fleece gloves and skull cap
20-30 - Pants, long-sleeve base layer, long-sleeve tee, winter jacket, ski gloves and skull cap
under 20 - I turn into a swissy and ride on the trainer in my basement

Please note, I use terms like shorts, pants, tee, etc. For me, these tend to be cycling specific but “normal” clothing can certainly be used as a substitute. Also note my direct commute is 15km but I normally take a 30km route. An hour on a bike will make you plenty warm. At 20-30 I am usually warm in 15 minutes. The first 5 minutes are friggin cold.

Bought myself some over boots, and was in looking at the options for messenger bags vs backpacks vs paniers at the MEC yesterday. Gonna hit the bike shop today. Need some better gloves than my big fuzzy fleece ones. Combination of too slippery, too cold at the beginning, and too hot at the end.

Also…is this stuff for real? It feels like a parody, but too well done for it:

Its for real.

If you want a good laugh, look at Dave’s commercials for the stuff on youtube. He takes it even further.

OMG…tooooo funny!

I don’t have much to add - this is great advice and I’ll have to look at this again, before my next REI shopping trip!

I’ve commuted in Syracuse, Boston, and Seattle. A good light, fenders, and solid brakes (red compound pads) are essentials for crappy PNW weather.

One system that I’ve found to work very well for hands, are layered gloves. I use a neoprene-ish winter ice climbing glove from Outdoor Research, with a distinctive glow in the dark patterned palm, and a nylon ‘lobster’ or ‘rabbit’ shell over that. Nothing else has worked as well, for all temperatures and conditions. The nylon keeps your fingers together and warm, and somewhat dry. The inner layer then keeps you warm. Mobility is OK for riding, you still have thumb and two big fingers!

Everything else expensive, windproof, waterproof, etc. has failed me. I used to commute 30 miles from Somerville to Norwood in Boston, via Newton, year round. Sucked, especially with frozen hands.

Get good booties too.