Riding Your Bike in the Autumn (We Don’t Say “Fall”)

After hundreds of mornings of getting on my bike I don’t get that many surprises, but every year about this time I am shocked to find that it is cold. Riding your bike in the autumn can be a delight, but it does come with some challenges.

A bike in autumn
Autumn is a great time to ride a bike to work. Photo by Ian Sane.

I got to work this morning cool and energized. After a summer in which the heat was unrelenting with temperatures even in the morning in the high 70s, the sudden crispness of September was a very pleasant change. There is an energy in autumn; kids are waiting by the curb for the school bus, the leaves are changing, and the dim light of morning showcases the setting moon. In a few weeks the smell of wood burning in fireplaces will permeate the air. But change requires adaptation, so let’s look at some of the things you need to be prepared for as your summer commute turns to autumn.

Cold. As a guy who can work up a sweat just thinking too hard, I love that the temperature is finally dropping, but I get cold hands; tomorrow I will dig out my gloves. In the shoulder months, I wear cheap knit gloves, just thick enough to take the chill off. You know yourself and what you need to protect; perhaps it is your ears or your toes; think about some earmuffs or thicker socks. In a few weeks, it will be time for me to start carrying two sets of commuting clothes: long sleeves and sweats for the morning and shorts and t-shirt for the afternoon.

Dark. The sun is coming up later now and I am not as visible as I was a few weeks ago. It’s time to make sure that lights work, have fresh batteries, and are not obstructed by dirt. Many jurisdictions require certain lights, such as a red tail light or a constant white headlight. Check with your local bike shop to find out what you need; also consider adding additional reflective tape to surfaces on your bike.

You also need reflective and fluorescent clothing: just wearing white or light colored clothes will not cut it, especially in autumn when the light is flatter. The fluorescence will pick up existing ambient light, and reflective strips will make you visible in car headlights. You can get bike-specific reflective/fluorescent clothing and enjoy wind-breaker and rain shielding properties, or grab a general hi-viz vest such as construction crews use.

Weather. Summer may have been carefree (in my area, it has hardly deviated from sunny/warm), but autumn equals unpredictable. Keep an eye on the forecast for swings in temperature and the possibility of storms. They say there is no bad weather–only bad clothing. I’m not sure I agree that, but a little preparation does go a long way.

Road Conditions. Falling leaves are beautiful and who isn’t drawn to a pile of leaves? But before you pedal through that pile, be aware that there could be a surprise under it–a pothole, a stick, an old tire, a drunk, etc. Leaves also reduce your traction so be careful when cornering on a leaf-strewn road or path.

Traffic. I recently read that as much as 25% of morning traffic consists of people taking their kids to school (mostly on surface streets where we ride), that is a huge increase over what we were experiencing before school started. In the first few weeks of school parents are still working out their routines, and new drivers are using their new licenses to get to high school, so it pays to be extra careful.

Question: What changes do you have to make when summer turns to autumn? Enter your comments below.