Five Reasons You Should Bike To Work in Winter

I saw my breath this morning — winter is coming. This post is the first of four in a series on riding your bike to work in the winter. This post looks at why; subsequent articles will describe taking care of yourself, taking care of your bike, and winter riding techniques.

Girl pushes her bike in the winter

Winter can be a wonderful time to bike to work. Photo by Jiaren Lau.

I began my bike to work experiment in the middle of summer — June 30 to be exact. As winter approached, I figured I would be taking at least December, January, and February off…after all you can’t bike in the winter, right? What I learned that first winter (and every winter since) is that there are at least five reasons you should consider riding your bike to work in winter. 

1. Traffic Jams

You may have experienced the pleasure of blowing past cars backed up for blocks because a lane is closed for summertime road work. Winter traffic can be even worse.

Last winter I rode to work on a day that saw hundreds of fender-benders, and while I don’t remember having any trouble myself, traffic was backed up like crazy all over the city. Some co-workers’ commute time was tripled; they got to work late and angry (and some with damaged cars), so I didn’t rub it in that my commute had been only a few minutes longer than usual.

2. You Need the Exercise More Than Ever

You know the drill: gain weight in the winter because there is so much holiday food and zero motivation to exercise. You feel bloated and lethargic and grumpy because you aren’t working off the stress that comes from both everyday sources and the holidays.

By preserving your commuting routine, you can alleviate stress, stay in touch with your body’s needs, eat and play better, and even enjoy those holiday treats guilt-free, knowing that you can burn them off on your commute. As a bonus, you won’t be stuck in a car listening to that awful song about some kid buying shoes for momma to meet Jesus in.

3. Be Remarkable and Prove to Yourself Your Strength

Some of your co-workers will try to be remarkable by wearing a different Christmas sweater every day of December. Do something that will get people’s attention and admiration: ride to work in winter, actually lose weight during the holidays — that’ll get people talking.

Even more important than impressing others is impressing yourself. You may think riding a bike to work when it’s dark and cold is hard (and in many ways it is). Imagine how empowered you will feel when you actually do it (then imagine how you will feel on the first day that you also enjoy it).

4. Save Money

I estimate that taking the bus from November through February would cost me a little over $400.  That amount can buy you a plane ticket to a place with a warm beach. If you are riding during the other three seasons, but holding on to a car for winter, this one season of driving is costing you big bucks.

5. Enjoy the Season

If you are lucky enough to live in a place that has winter, you should get out and enjoy it (it will be hot again soon). Did you know that the moon sets in a different spot on the horizon in winter? One of my favorite memories of biking to work was coming to the top of a hill in the morning light and seeing through the fog of my own breath a full pink moon setting over Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.

There is a special camaraderie in seeing the tracks of someone else’s tires in a fresh skiff of snow. Many riders also find the cold weather gives them a great excuse to stop on the way home at that interesting cafe they passed everyday during the rest of the year “just to warm up.”

Biking to work in the winter is not for everyone, and there are some days you just won’t be able to do it. Don’t let the occasional impossible day or fear of the unknown make you write off the season entirely — you may find that winter is your favorite commuting season.

Question: Why do you or don’t you bike to work in the winter?

  • Sam V

    I could use a challenge. Looking forward to the other articles in the series.

  • http://twitter.com/stinogle Rob Stinogle

    Any recommendations on gear for biking in the winter? I live in PA, and it gets pretty darn cold.

    • http://twitter.com/Biketoworkblog Biketoworkblog

      I hear you — cold AND humid. I think the keys are experimentation and layering (I’ll talk more about these in my next post). Experimentation tells you where you get cold (for me it’s fingers and ears) and what to do about it. Layer is about creating personal microclimates (e.g. different layers for top half and bottom half). Check back here Monday for more info.

      And welcome to the site!

  • http://www.facebook.com/DoctorKennyG Ken Grubb

    Face and hands are the main things that will get cold. If I keep them warm and protected, I’m fine. A good pair of bike glasses otherwise they will fog up and be useless. That can be one of the priciest bits of gear for winter riding. It doesn’t get as cold as it’s get wet here in the Pacific North Wet. Rain gear is essential. If ever buy another bike, it will likely have disc brakes, because of the wet.

    • http://twitter.com/Biketoworkblog Biketoworkblog

      Great point about disk brakes, Ken.

  • http://www.bikestylespokane.com/ BarbChamberlain

    I’ve been biking through the winter for several years now in Spokane, with an occasional switch to the bus on days when I didn’t think the drivers could stop due to snow and ice. And that was with a road bike and skinny tires. A surprising number of days that looked wintery actually had bare, dry road conditions; motorized vehicle tires wore off the slippery stuff before I headed out to work and it was just a matter of managing my pace so I didn’t get too hot or too cold en route.
    I moved to Seattle 2-1/2 months ago so now my winters will have more wet days and fewer snow days. I’m already prepared for wet weather: shoe covers, helmet cover, water-resistant pants, long fenders. I worship at the Shrine of Merino Wool for base layers and make sure I keep my neck covered–can’t stand a cold neck.
    As for why: Several years ago I organized my life and where I live so that riding a bike is the simple and obvious way to get around and I maintained that when I moved. Drivers wait longer than I do through most urban traffic conditions. I can either switch to the sidewalk to bypass a backlog behind someone waiting to turn left, or in downtown Seattle I can use the “pretend” bike lane created by riding (cautiously) in the door zone next to the cars parked in the curb lane. Dealing with a car represents far more hassle and expense than riding.
    That’s a psychological shift and an arrangement of my life that didn’t happen overnight, but I’m so glad it did. I’m happier, healthier, and less stressed–getting back in a car to me represents going backward on each of those essential measures of my quality of life. Why would I want to add unhappiness to my life during the time of year when we’re deprived of sunshine and already more prone to seasonal depression? No way.

    • http://twitter.com/Biketoworkblog Biketoworkblog

      Thanks for the advice, Barb. I think we all heat and cool differently, and experience teaches best.

      Once you’ve gotten into the habit and mindset of using a bike for your transportation needs, there is real resistance to going back.

  • Pingback: Hardy Northern Winter Cycling: An Introduction | EcoSuperior

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