Cycling In The Cities: Winter Breakdowns

It’s going to be 10 degrees tomorrow. I’m still figuring out the magic formula for layering clothes so that I don’t freeze to death. Yesterday 1 pair of socks under my running shoes wasn’t enough. I wore two pairs today and I was toasty. On top I wore two running tech shirts, a long underwear shirt, a wind jacket and a winter coat. On the bottom I wore running tights, long underwear and wind pants. I was so hot! But, tomorrow that may be the perfect match for the cold and flurries. Finding the right fabric combination to defend the cold and wind is a daily challenge. Even the most seasoned riders say they overdo it or under dress from time to time. I guess as long as my toes and feet are warm I’ll have to learn to cope with occasional discomfort.

Although I’m figuring out how to dress for the weather I am not prepared for how to deal with a bike emergency on the road. Real cyclists (I’m not one) carry pumps and patches and glue and lube. And apparently there are several added factors to prepare for in case you break down in the dead of winter. Nate Molenda is the guru of all things that need cleaning, fixing, ordering and more here at WCCO-TV. He’s also our resident expert on all things about bikes. I bend his ear when I’m curious about how to tackle a bike-commuting challenge and I’m never disappointed by his insightful, honest and really entertaining advice. Sometimes his speaking-from-experience stories are more useful to me than others. He’s given me thorough tips on how to protect certain body parts from the cold… body parts I don’t even have (if you know what I’m saying). But he also told me that if I do get a flat I should put my glue in my armpit while I remove the bike tube. That way my body heat will warm it up and it will be pliable. Also, people like Nate carry rubber gloves so that the snow and ice doesn’t get their hands wet and cold while they work on a flat tire. And if a frozen flat isn’t enough to scare me from this winter riding adventure, I’m also told that in extreme conditions my chain and gear head can freeze and lock. I don’t even know what my gear head is! I guess the best thing I’ve heard regarding mechanical failures in the winter is that there’s a universal symbol for, “My bike broke down. Help!” If you ever see someone standing next to a bike flipped on its handle bars with the wheels up it means they need a hand. That’s pretty cool. But still, I really hope I don’t have any need for help this winter. I’m just praying that old man winter will have mercy on me.

Angela Keegan Benson is the Assistant News Director at WCCO-TV and a mother of two. On August 1, 2011 she began her quest to live one full year as a bike commuter. Follow along as she figures out how to mesh the cycling culture with the demands of parenthood and an affinity for 4-inch heels. And yes, she’s committed to sticking it out through February storms. For more Cycling In The Cities, follow @Angela_Keegan on Twitter.

  • All Seasons Cyclist

    Layering your clothing in winter is fine, but a good cycling jacket would help you a lot more! Technical jackets have neat things like pit zips to help you adjust the temperature inside your jacket and keep condensation from building up as well.

    • angelakeegan

      Thanks for the tip! I was shopping recently and noticed the jackets with multiple zippers. Very inventive and I’m sure useful, as well. I may need to invest in one!

  • A Cyclist

    Angela, get some wool layers, especially socks. Wool will be much better than running tights. I agree about the technical jacket. The Goretex ones are a little spendy but you can wear them as a shell on cold days or a rain jacket any other time of the year. Totally worth the investment.

  • Gearhead

    I have a lot of respect for anyone who attempts to bike commute in Minnesota.
    As for clothing I would start with a good baselayer like underarmour, there are also jackets and pants that have more insulation and on the front. They also used to make insulated shoe covers, lf you are using cycling shoes . If you get a flat tire they also make stickers to patch your tube so you won’t need the glue. The gear head you mentioned, I assume is your gear cluster or cassette on the back wheel, I have never heard of one freezing up.

    Take care,,

  • Tim

    While a cassette might not freeze up, its not unheard of for the paul ratchets to freeze preventing it from engaging. Not very likely though in my opinion.

    In regards to staying warm, I find it helps to get fully suited up a few minutes before you walk out the door. Go about gathering your things, turning off lights, and the rest of your pre departure rituals, anything to get your body and clothing up to temp Wait til you’re on the verge of sweating, then walk out the door and start hammering. If you’re dressed right, and kick a fast pace you should stay toasty throughout, even in sub zero temps and gusting wind.

  • angelakeegan

    These are such useful winter gear tips. Thank you all! The bike community really deserves kuddos for being so supportive of fellow riders.

    • Sean

      I wear a pair of insulated hiking boots (under $50 ) with wool socks. buy a pair a size or so large so you can fit an extra pair of socks.

      one doesn’t need to spend major money on a cycling specific jacket. just look for one that isn’t too short in the sleeves or waist. I found mine at the off sale “m” store. I rely on wool and poly blend long underwear under jeans and thrift store Merino wool sweaters.

      it helps to keep a journal of your rides. just write down the temp, what you wore and how it worked. It will help you figure out the details and what did or didn’t work in a hurry.after a short while, you will have it down to a science.

  • Jerry

    Road salt can corrode metal parts like the chain, and gears. They should be cleaned. and oiled.

  • tim

    In the cold months, I usually just carry a spare tube in case of a flat – its a lot easier to swap a tube at 15F then try to patch it. Bring the bad tube home and fix it where its warm, then carry it as the spare. Keeping track of what you wear at what temps is a great suggestion as well.

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