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Skip the T and brave Boston's cold winter on your bike instead

Posted by Alex Pearlman  December 21, 2011 08:40 AM

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bike riding in snow.jpgBy Anthony Howard

Cycling in the winter can be rewarding, but challenging at first. Yes, you’ll probably need some extra equipment, and, yes, the extreme, bitter cold won’t be so fun initially. But with the right gear, you’ll actually enjoy your bike commute just like you do when the temperatures aren’t below freezing.

Suzanne Hunt of Cambridge’s Broadway Bicycle School, a seasoned winter rider herself, recommends adding a few basic items to your bike for the season: "Fenders to keep the rider and the bike dry and clean, good front and rear lights for visibility, a balaclava, and warm gloves make all the difference,” she said.

Fenders and lights speak for themselves. When the roads are saturated with slushy snow, fenders will prevent cold water from shooting up your front and back. Get a pair, and outfit both your tires; you’ll be much happier. As for the lights -- well, those should be on your bicycle already; they're paramount when it comes to safety at night -- right up there with a helmet -- as they alert pedestrians and motorists to your presence on the dark streets. After you ride with lights for a while, you’ll feel very uncomfortable without them.

Any exposed skin will freeze when cycling this time of year, so gloves are essential to keep your hands free from frostbite while gripping those cold handlebars. Any local bike shop will sell high-performance cycling gloves, but those can be a bit pricey if you’re on a budget. Instead, check out gloves at an Army/Navy store or a department store; you should be able to score a set at a decent price. Balaclavas, meanwhile, cover your face. If you purchase one specifically made for cycling, it should be made out of a material that wicks away sweat, which is a feature you’ll appreciate on your longer rides. And don't forget your toes, too -- a good pair of wool socks will have your feet feeling toasty.

When dressing for winter riding, it’s important not to feel warm as you walk out the door. If you are, you’ve put on too many layers and will get sweaty. "Avoid wearing cotton as a base layer because it doesn't keep you warm when you get wet," said Hunt, who recommends a wool or synthetic base layer instead. After that, add a couple more layers under your jacket for extra warmth; you can always remove them if you get too hot. (Hunt even showed me a cycling jacket with zippers under the armpits, which you can open to allow a draft when you get too warm. They think of everything!)

Investing in a pair of studded tires will also make winter riding safer and easier. They're much better on the snow and ice than regular tires, and you’ll be more likely to maintain your balance with them. Much like a nice pair of cycling gloves, they can get costly -- Google tells me they're available for around $50 each at national retailers -- but think of all the money you’ll save not taking the T or riding cabs this season!

But the most important precaution you can take while riding this winter is to give yourself more time to get places. Don’t weave in and out of traffic in a rush. Notice the road conditions right in front of you, as well as 50 feet in front of you. Look out for black ice. Take longer to slow down and stop. If you feel uncomfortable riding in the shoulder, take up the whole lane; you're legally allowed to do so. As long as you're courteous and respectful to the motorists sharing the streets with you, I've found that at least 90 percent of them will meet you with the same level of courtesy and respect.

What are your winter biking tips?

Photo by uonottingham (Flickr)

About Anthony -- I'm a 22-year-old Massachusetts native -- grew up in the 'burbs and now spend my young adult life in the city. I am passionate about cooking and currently assistant manage a restaurant kitchen in Kendall Square. Let's just say that when I invite friends over for dinner parties, no one ever turns me down.

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