My Arctic Air Bike Commute

I did it!  I biked to work 10 miles roundtrip with temperatures as low as -4F and a windchill as low as -20F.  As far as I’m concerned, any of you could do the same – and I know some of you have already.  All it takes is a positive attitude, an adventurous spirit and a few extra accessories.  If you put the time into preparation and hype yourself up enough to pull your bike out, everything else should be a piece of cake.

My ride felt similar to any other cold winter ride I’ve experienced this winter.  The biggest difference was that the air was very cold on my face, which I usually leave uncovered.  I ended up pulling my scarf up to my nose and then pulling it down intermittently to breath comfortably.

Important extra accessories:

  • Warming packs in my mittens and boots.  I never would have made it without these because my fingers and toes get extremely cold.
  • Safety glasses, a cheap pair I swiped from my husband’s work pile.  I need these to cover my eyes, which are very sensitive and water easily.
  • A scarf wrapped around my face.

With those extra accessories in place, my usual winter wardrobe would have worked fine.  However, I got so paranoid by the local news, I ignored my own experience and common sense and layered like crazy.  I wore capeline leggings under flannel-lined khakis, a slim wool shirt under a wool sweater under a long down parka, earmuffs under a wool hat under a helmet.  Too much, Dottie!  No part of me was cold, which is good, but I was so hot and itchy.  When I arrived at the office, sweat was rolling down my back and my hair was damp.  The parka was way overkill.  Lesson learned.

Overall, I consider the experience a success.  I’ll never be afraid of Chicago arctic blasts again.

Thanks so much to everyone for your helpful and encouraging comments! I don’t think I would have done it without your support and priceless advice.

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31 thoughts on “My Arctic Air Bike Commute

  1. Kara says:

    I knew you could do it. You are my hero.

  2. Carolyn I. says:

    Congratulations Dottie! I knew you could do it. Those handwarmers are a lifesaver, eh? I’m so proud of you!

    Even though we had tons and tons of snow like Sarah has in Edmonton, I biked yesterday to work in support of your cold ride. It is very warm here, but it was a tough ride coming home as main road not plowed very good…

    I have the same problem when it’s cold, wanting to overdress. People don’t believe me when I come to work all bundled in the freezing cold, and I’ve been sweating heavily as I was overheating during the ride. I couldn’t throw off the extra layers fast enough to cool off as I entered inside. I think it’s best not to overdress, but to have extra layers of closthing in your bags, just in case.

    • Janet in NorCal says:

      I start peeling off layers before I enter the building, which really helps. Within 30 minutes I’ve usually put half of it back on! My office is pretty chilly.

  3. Mike says:

    Well, done. Your comments about overdressing remind me of the first time this winter that it got that cold in Winnipeg (-20C and windy). I decided I’d better wear my Aran (Irish wool) sweater instead of my usual thin sweatshirt under my jacket, and I was sweating by the time I got the kids to school (3km away). I tried again at -25C, and I was still overheating. At -33C (I think -44C with the wind) I was comfortably warm with the sweater on. I thought I’d get more use out of it than that.

  4. Jennifer says:

    That’s brilliant Dottie. Makes me think I could do it too.

  5. Gin says:

    Awesome! I have never used the warming packets, but might add them to my repertoire, as finger wiggling gets old after awhile. It’s classic that your hair was damp from sweat. I have been having that problem with running in the cold weather. Even though I know from biking experience that I will warm up, it’s like I have to go through the layering learning curve again with running.

    Thanks for all your inspiring rides, words and photos.

  6. Thom says:

    Dottie – Congratulations! Another accomplishment ticked off the Life List!
    What’s next?
    Physiology is such an interesting phenomena.
    Mussels converting last nights pie into today’s motion and heat. And as the mussels get more toned, they get more efficient – more motion, less heat. Unless, of course, you’re cold. I guess then you get motion, heat & shivers. So much to think about while riding, so little time.

  7. Awesome, congratulations!

  8. SM says:

    That’s great Dottie! Congratulations! I went riding this afternoon and wore not so good gloves (i forgot my seirus gloves at work, which are warmer) and my finger tips fell off when I got home :)

  9. Janice in GA says:

    Hooray for you! I felt the same when the first time I rode a whole ride when it was below freezing (32F). (We almost never get sub zero temps here in the south.)

  10. Holly says:

    Yeah, Dottie! I think you are absolutely right–prepare and conquer, and suddenly, winter is an awesome time to ride a bike! You are an inspiration.

    The forecasts were way overblown from my point of view. I rode yesterday and was positively roasting due to over layering.

  11. Steve A says:

    I shall have to see if I can’t get some hand and toe warmers in case it gets cold enough down here to make them worthwhile. On rare occasions, it can get down to zero around Dallas. Last year, our lowest temp was 11F and ski mittens were overkill for that.

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jools, Let's Go Ride a Bike. Let's Go Ride a Bike said: New post: My Arctic Air Bike Commute […]

  13. Doug says:

    Awesome, I knew you could do it. It’s all about having the choices and options in your wardrobe and knowing how to use them for different temperatures…..and more importantly…different wind speeds.

  14. Marc says:

    Glad to hear that it’s doable. I’m bringing my folder with me to town tomorrow and checked your blog for conditions. Thanks

  15. jamesmoore80 says:

    I love winter commuting too! I don’t use warmers yet, but I got some Bar Mitts(pogies) for Christmas and they are amazing. Also I use fleece lined bib tights. I use neck gaiters or a Balaclava, but I also have to pull it down for breathing sometimes. I made a few lists of winter cyclists on twitter so they could learn from one another and maybe to show people that there are plenty others doing it, in order to motivate them. Happy cycling!

  16. Bettina says:

    Good on you! Congrats for seeing it through, you rock!

  17. Maureen says:

    WOW Dottie, you’re amazing! Congratulations, and thanks for sharing all the info. How were the roads?

  18. nicolas says:

    so you went with Oma, I see? What motivated your change of heart?
    Also, don’t forget to give us a detailed review of Coco in a couple of weeks :)

  19. Roberto says:

    Dear Dottie:

    Since a long time ago I follow your blog daily on my city, Buenos Aires, and first of all I want you to congratulate -and thank you- for the quality of your texts and the beauty of your photos (especially your self portraits!).

    Now, I want to ask you about something that obsesses me especially, and occurs in almost all the bike shops (the good ones and the not so good) where I take my vehicle for maintenance: the scratches on the pipes of the frame!

    It’s happens the same at the bike shops in Chicago? How do you manage with that problem, that particularly makes me sick?

    I apologize sincerely for my very basic English, and I send you a cordial greeting.


  20. Nuresma says:

    I’m happy you did it successfully :)

  21. Steve Weber says:

    Nice work Dottie, I am finding winter cycling very enjoyable with the right attire. From years of running and exercising in the cold, a good rule of thumb is if you are warm when you step outside, you are have too much on. Ideally, you should be slightly chilly when you first step outdoors, your body will warm you up as you get going. Congrats on beating the chill!

  22. […] nitrogen from your water bottles, and I’m a big sissy for staying inside. Sweet Jesus, even Dottie’s out in sub zero weather. How […]

  23. I read your post and felt inspired to get back on a bike and attempt the snow. It was a miserable fail, but perhaps I shouldn’t have picked the coldest day of the year to try.
    My feet simply froze. To the point of pain. Help! I want to overcome this, I miss being on a bike so much….

  24. jamesmoore80 says:

    Hey Sara,

    There are a few options for your feet. I wear neoprene Cycling shoe booties for cool to cold temps. Also I wear wool socks which are great for temp regulation. Sometimes I wear two pair, but I tie the laces looser than usual so the blood flow isn’t constricted. When it’s very cold I switch to wearing hiking boots. Also you can purchase some Cycling shoes specifically made for winter. One company that sells them is called Lake, but they are pricey. Hope that is helpful. Good luck!

  25. Scott says:

    I agree re the scarf over the face. I have a really long scarf that I loop up over my ears and then pull my hat down on a really cold day.

  26. Jonathan R says:

    Scarf over face is good, but a neck gaiter, which is just a tube of fabric, is better, because you don’t have to keep readjusting the loose scarf ends.

  27. Michelle says:

    WoooHooo!! How exciting! Congrats!

  28. Aaron says:

    I thought I would share in case you hadn’t seen this nice winter primer from your very own ATA. It echos several of the things that you mentioned.

  29. Karina says:

    Wow wow wow! As a former Minnesotan, I applaud your voracious attitude…in my experience, actually getting yourself to even WANT to get on the bike in that weather was the real challenge! Congrats.
    I just penned a little post on how *not* to beat the winter blue’s, but I included a link to this site as some “smart inspiration” for making your way through the dead of winter. Thanks for sharing your awesomeness!

  30. Rosemary says:

    Have you ever thought of buying fur or fur-lined mittens? I bought them after the first few days of 20 degree weather here in December since my double-layered mittens weren’t really keeping my fingers warm. I got the tip from the blog of the woman in Calgary (I probably ended up on her blog because of this one…). Anyway, I bought some shearling mittens, and they are wonderful! They wick on the slightly warmer days, and are very warm on the cold days. The coldest day I’ve biked this winter it was 9 degrees (w/o the wind chill).

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