When the snow hits the ground, it doesn't mean your bike tires have to leave it. Between the potentially slippery roads, the restrictive snowfall and the unpleasant chill, it seems like an easy choice for cycling commuters to store away their bicycles for the season.
Handling winter weather can be difficult, but it's not impossible. With the right gear and mindset—along with a few tips from local bike experts—you can keep cycling right through Bend's winter wonderland.
Get a Grip
Just like cars require chained tires during the winter, your bike tires need an upgrade, too. The goal is to generate more traction. Fat and/or studded tires provide a wider base and stronger grip that is ideal for icy roads. Some bikes can also get additional, practical adjustments.
"For mountain bikers, we recommend running a little bit lower tire pressure. Doing so gives you a bigger contact patch on the ground," says Henry Lanman, a bike mechanic at Pine Mountain Sports. Lanman clarifies that buying winter tires is always the best option. He also recommends switching to flat pedals because they are easier to dismount from.
"Especially when there's ice, you're not going to fall on the ground," Lanman says. "You can jump off quickly if you need to."
Maintain the Chain
Bikes slow down in the cold, just like everything else. This makes it extra important to keep every part of your bike in top shape.
"The same basic maintenance is appropriate if not more appropriate than summer time," says Rich Bassett, a manager at Bend Bicycle Outlet. "You're in an extreme environment and temperature that creates excess wear and tear, especially on the parts that get more use."
Since your bike's drivetrain, chains and brakes put in extra effort during the winter, Bassett says vigilant cyclists should regularly maintain those parts.
In extreme cases, chains can freeze overnight. While this is rare, you can take preventative measures by wiping down your bike at the end of the day, and by using an oil-based lube that won't freeze.
Dress to Impress
Even more important than protecting your bike is protecting yourself. The proper attire can make or break a winter ride. Hub Cyclery co-owner Matt Snow says winter cyclists should focus on two things: "You want warm and waterproof gear that will keep you dry, and something with bright colors to stay safe and visible."
A thick jacket, hat and gloves are a no-brainer, but booties are also a wise investment. These slip-on shoe covers help keep snow out and heat in. Along with a pair of waterproof pants and a good fender, slushy streets are no longer a threat to your clean duds.
Visible clothing also diminishes other threats common in the winter. "The roads are slick for everybody, it can be tough to see sometimes, and things can happen quickly if someone's not paying attention," Snow says. He recommends neon colors since they pop against almost everything, in addition to being stylish—in an '80s throwback kind of way.
Protect—and Use—Your Head
At the end of the day, what it really comes down to is common sense. A tricked-out, serviced bicycle and awesome gear are meant to complement a proactive mentality.
Ride defensively. Unless you're training for a cyclocross race, there's no need to push or challenge yourself. Everything is already more unpredictable in this weather, so don't add to it.
Plan your route ahead of time. If you have a regular route to the office, leave earlier to account for slow-going road conditions. And be mindful of how drastically the weather can change your environment; what might be a challenging uphill during the summer becomes nearly impossible with ice on the road.
Be prepared for any situation. It gets dark earlier and earlier each day, so make sure the batteries in your bike lights are charged. Bring extras. Pack some spare clothes in case whatever you're wearing gets wet and cold. Put on that helmet you always mean to wear but forget to during the warm weather.
Re-learn your hand signals, then use them.
Remembering these simple suggestions, along with the helpful equipment, maintenance and attire tips from the experts, are sure to keep your bike tires turning all season long.