Winter Bicycling: Rational and Enjoyable

Happy February!

This morning, my friend Elizabeth posted a response on Bike Commuters to a dumb op-ed stating that winter bicyclists are “insane” and “suicidal.”  I love how her response is so reasonable.  Unfortunately, this particular poorly written op-ed is only a drop in the bucket of ridiculous stuff written and said about winter bicyclists.

My own personal response is: calm down and stop being so lame!  You sound silly.  Winter bicycling is perfectly rational and enjoyable.

So when I returned home from work this evening after bicycling 6 miles in 10 degree temps (-12 C), I made a quick video demonstrating how simple and normal the whole thing is.  Pretty dorky, but I’m embracing my inner Liz Lemon in remembrance of 30 Rock.


My bike ride this evening could not have been better.  As I cycled along the lakefront, the setting sun turned the sky soft shades of blue and pink over the placid, icy blue lake.  Salt covered the trail, rendering the danger of ice moot.  I was not cold; I was happy. And here is what I wore.

What would you say to those anti-winter-bike goofballs?

{See also; video of cycling the lakefronthow to dress for winter cycling, and the LGRAB Winter Guide}

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31 thoughts on “Winter Bicycling: Rational and Enjoyable

  1. LCTexas says:

    And Scotch for when you get home!.. but isn’t cotton a no-no? I also love that you wear so much cashmere!

    • Dottie says:

      Scotch, for sure. A bit of Talisker or Macallan, mmm…

      I don’t mind cotton in the winter, only when I’m sweating. Cashmere is the best!

  2. Wow, Chicago is cold!

    I wimp out and it is only 30 degrees here in Atlanta. But I am from Chicago! Nice touch on the glasses. Those are real important to protect your eyes from flying objects. I ride a Road Bike and train for cycling. Please, keep the glasses on and look at all the options for changeable lenses.

    I mostly train on my indoor trainer in the cold months, would love to ride to work but it is 30 miles on way. Work as a CPA in the big city. I do wear a trench coat. And cashmere scarf. You would enjoy the cycling 360 podcast. Check it out as there is something for anyone who loves bikes.

    Thanks for all you do to promote bikes. You are an inspiration for all of us.

    Brompton Rider
    Trek Madone 6.5


    • Dottie says:

      That could be the city’s tag line – “Chicago: cold” Probably would not attract too many people, though. Not anymore than “Atlanta: humid” :)

      30 miles one way is a super long commute, I don’t blame you!

      Thanks for the podcast recommendation; I’ll check it out.

  3. fjnkindelan says:

    I’ve been riding everyday this winter in Chicago. The only trouble I encounter is cold toes. Otherwise, anyone who thinks riding in the winter is foolish, is foolish. It’s the best time to ride. It’s invigorating, the Lakeshore is empty, you don’t sweat, and it really makes you appreciate arriving at your destination (a good thing to feel when you get to work).

    • Dottie says:

      “anyone who thinks riding in the winter is foolish, is foolish.” – love it.

      I agree that a fine winter day with no precipitation is the best time to ride. Invigorating, for sure!

  4. Fred Smith says:

    I was cycling in short trousers today in London, it is so much warmer here than in Chicago!

    I would hate to spend all winter cooped up, never getting any fresh air or seeing the sun set. Over here most people use the bus or train so they spend most of winter inside breathing other people’s air :-(

    This year in my part of London we should see the number of people cycling to work overtaking the number driving, it’s already the case in the next borough (Hackney). The mayor has promised to spend almost a billion pounds on cycling in London over the next 10 years. Over in Camden (on my way home) they’re building the first continental style (proper) separated cycle lane in London. It’s a bit off topic but I’m really excited that change might finally happen in London!

    • Dottie says:

      That’s great to hear about the rising number of bicyclists in London!

      I agree about spending all winter cooped up. Especially in a city like Chicago where winters are loooong, I would go batty. And breathing other people’s air – ick.

      Must be nice to wear short trousers!

  5. sweetea says:

    i love this blog so much, and this video just reminded me how awesome commuter cyclists are, hurray!

  6. redeyedtreefr0g says:

    Wow, I think I might get hot wearing all that, even at 10 degrees! I’ve discovered that above my waist stays significantly warmer- and my neck is an absolute hot spot.

    Since finishing my cloak, I’ve worn it exclusively- they’ve given me nicknames like Little Green Riding Hood and Kermit (which I don’t mind in the least!). I simply put the hood up if it’s below 32 degrees, which seems to be the line at which my ears get uncomfortable and need to be covered. The hood tucks up nicely under my helmet- I usually end up yanking at the parts directly over my ears to loosen it a bit and give my ears a bit of breathing room after a while.

    I discovered at 6 degrees (the coldest since making the cloak) that a scarf is a no-no for me (before the cloak, I used a strip of fleece over my head, wrapped so that the edges crossed over my chin- sort of like the hood but more adjustable). I simply cannot take anything around my neck- I feel suffocatingly smothered in hot- which makes sweat which is bad. Perhaps a simple cloth that buttons to the hood sides might work? I do need something to cover at least my chin.

    So far I’ve been perfectly fine in short-sleeved shirts beneath the cloak- I altered the pattern to add invisible zippers to the arm slits and they get closed while on the bike. Very cold temperatures might see me in long sleeves under there.

    I’m using the same silly 5-minute-made fleece mittens for my hands. Below maybe 20 degrees I add the simple insert for a double layer of fleece over my fingers and knuckles. No issues there.

    I wish I had better shoes. Ok- more fashionable but functional shoes. I wear either snow boots or my white Nike sneakers exclusively- everything else just simply is not good at winter temperatures. Usually, I’m just wearing my tights- they keep my feet warm. Dottie your boots look very warm!

    And, my wool tights are my most favorite article of clothing EVER. My cloak has to take second-favorite place even though its made by me. My wool tights keep me entirely comfortable in a range from about 10 up to 50 degrees (hasn’t got much warmer than that yet). Below 10, I’ve tried the tights under jeans with failure, and with microfiber tights over the wool tights under jeans (6 degrees) with failure. I think layering two wool tights would work, but I don’t have 2 pair yet. AND, I’m sad because my big toe nail has punched a hole in the pair I do own, so I need to figure out how to patch it. Perhaps they will become leggings? I’ve literally worn them every weekday since they arrived in the mail maybe 3 weeks ago, so I’m not really surprised- my big toenails are the bane of hosiery everywhere since the nail points slightly upwards and will rub against the tops of shoes. Still- it speaks very highly of the tights that they have lasted this long under such abuse. I’m amazed that with these warm cozy things on my legs I’m coming to hate pants- they just don’t work for winter! Skirts are much more free and warm. I’m sad that I only really have one skirt to wear, I need to make more.

    • Dottie says:

      Your comment makes a good point – everyone should experiment and figure out what’s works for them. Always interesting how different people react to different conditions.

  7. ridonrides says:

    what’s insane is not riding just because it’s cold and there’s no snow on the ground! i used to think those chemical warmers were overkill, but after 15 minutes in 10F your fingers lose all feeling even in insulated gloves. i’ve been leaving the bike at home now that chicago finally has some accumulated snowfall. and it looks like i’ll be taking the train all week! my front tire fishtailed last week when the streets were slushy and i’m too timid to try it again. i would do it on the weekend when there’s less car traffic and i can more confidently take the lane.

    • Dottie says:

      Fishtailing is scary, one reason I’m all for studded tires. But like you, I typically just take the L when there’s accumulated snow fall. That still leaves 90% of the days free for bicycling! (especially this winter)

  8. Lex says:

    It’s hard to say much to someone like that who just makes up stuff that is patently untrue :-( I would probably say something like: “Don’t run your mouth about what you don’t know.” Then I would try to spend my time talking to people who are not crazy :-) (Like the readers of this blog for instance!)

  9. I love that your kitty makes a cameo appearance :)

  10. E A says:

    Thanks for the nod, Dottie!

    I was sweltering last Friday on my commute home. My spots to keep warm are my neck and ears….. and then my hands and feet, but I rarely (if ever) use toe warmers for my commutes. Haven’t (quite) needed the hand warmers yet.

    I can’t believe you wear cotton against the skin, but kudos on the cashmere and wool – it’s the best! With a wool top against my skin, I’m toasty in temps with sub-zero windchills. With a silk top, I’m good for temps from the 20s-40s. And I just add the appropriate sweater. :-)

    • Dottie says:

      Cotton against skin bothers me only in the summer when I’m sweating. No prob in the winter. Wool against my skin is usually too itchy.

    • Dottie says:

      Cotton against skin bothers me only in the summer when I’m sweating. No prob in the winter. Wool against my skin is usually too itchy.

  11. LGRAB says:

    Love this vid! Elizabeth is also awesome. :)

  12. David says:

    Thanks again for letting us know that cycling year-round isn’t crazy. Please keep it up. Cute kitty BTW.

  13. Great post! I’ve biked through 2 Chicago winters now and love it! The only thing I don’t like about it is all of the annoying and uniformed things that people say to me about it – daily! I’ve recently decided to respond with something like: It’s an adventure! Get out there and try it yourself!” Because I really think that most people are motivated to comment on it because they are too chicken to do it themselves and have to try to convince you (and themselves) that you are crazy so they don’t feel like goofballs.

  14. Amanda says:

    I decided just now to go ahead and buy a bike to start commuting because of this post. I am starting a new job and my husband thinks it is insane to bike in this weather (or at all), but you make it look so easy :)

    • LGRAB says:

      Oh, that’s so exciting to hear! I say just take it easy, enjoy the ride, and leave the bike at home when the weather’s too awful. Let me know how it goes! :)

  15. Amanda says:

    I decided just now to go ahead and buy a bike to start commuting because of this post. I am starting a new job and my husband thinks it is insane to bike in this weather (or at all), but you make it look so easy :)

  16. […] My Defiant Defense of Winter Cycling […]

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