I moved near Inman Square this past June, which is a great location about 1.3 miles from my lab. I promised myself that in exchange for moving closer to campus, I would start biking everywhere. I started bike commuting over the summer, and found that I love it because it’s pretty much the fastest way for me to get around without a car.
Winter in Boston has put somewhat of a damper on my biking, but I’ve managed to keep up with it when the roads are plowed. Below are some things I’ve learned about biking in the winter (and in general) and not dying.
- Think about where you have to be the whole day - Are you meeting friends after work that don’t bike? Are you going out drinking? Be sure you and/or your bike don’t wind up stranded. Don’t ride your bike drunk or tired, even if it’s legal in your state.
- Always check the weather before you leave the house - I have four weather apps on my phone. My favorites are forecast.io and Dark Sky. Forecast.io is great because it gives you a quick view of preciptation over the course of the day, and both apps let you know what the precipitation distribution will be like for at least the next hour. I pay most attention to precipitation, temperature, and wind speeds around my expected times of departure and arrival. My general rules of thumb: I won’t bike in heavy rain to somewhere, but I will bike in heavy rain home from somewhere. You can always change your clothes when you get home. I’m wary of biking when it’s below 10 degrees F, and/or when the wind speeds exceed 20 mph. I’ve done it before, but it’s pretty brutal. I would recommend avoiding it unless you are not going up any major hills or across any bridges.
- Check the roads - I live on a side street, so if it isn’t plowed or is still very slushy or icy, it might be more dangerous to bike than it’s worth.
- Bundle up - Biking in the cold is manageable if you wear the right gear. I learned that for me, the coldest parts of my body when biking are my hands and my face. Whenever I bike and I know it’s below 30 degrees F, I will wear: wool long underwear under pants, a shirt, sweater, and coat, plus a wool hat with fleece lining and a scarf under my helmet, along with gloves rated -15F to 15F to keep my hands warm. My two favorite purchases this winter were my new gloves and scarf / neck warmer.
- Bike safely - It’s easy to start biking aggressively down main roads that are relatively clear, but side streets are often still pretty slushy and/or icy. Patches of snow in the road often seem easy to ride right over but can actually be very slippery so be extra careful. Be sure to always have and use both a front and rear bike light for visibility.
- Lock up - My least favorite part of biking in the winter is locking up my bike. I usually have to pull my gloves off to have the dexterity to remove my keys from my coat pocket and lock up my bike. If you have gloves with an additional thin liner (which I don’t right now), this may save you from some freezing cold bike locking experiences.
Enjoy your (safe) bike commute this winter!