Tips for riding your bike during the colder winter months

  • Kevin Keehn rolling up 2,156 miles in pursuit of his goal, the length of the 2020 Tour de France.

    Kevin Keehn rolling up 2,156 miles in pursuit of his goal, the length of the 2020 Tour de France. Courtesy of Kevin Keehn

 
By Ralph Banasiak
Along for the Ride
Posted11/10/2020 6:00 AM

As autumn's beauty fades, inclement weather takes control, with cycling pundits offering tips for not-so-fair weather riding.

Their purpose? To convince you that cold, wind and precipitation don't mean hanging up your wheels until spring. I eschew hibernation myself and offer my own safe riding suggestions below.

 

But handy-dandy "Top 10 Fall Riding Tips" skirt the real reason riders stay off their bikes: inertia. For cold weather riding, enemy No. 1 isn't nasty old Mother Nature. The real nemesis chaining us down is mental inertia. It lurks inside each of us whenever change -- seasonal weather or otherwise -- challenges our personal domain,

How to overcome this mental force? Kevin Keehn, 33-year retired science teacher and the Wernher von Braun of Palatine public schools' rocket program, knows a thing or two about inertia. Cycling since age 10 and road biking for 40-plus years, Keehn has completed multiple century rides and serves as a Bike Palatine Club vice president.

"The best push has to come from within," Keehn notes. "Setting goals is my best suggestion. Goals are the push to get it done and the tool to decide 'ride-no-ride.'"

As Jedi warrior Yoda tells us, "Do. Or do not. There is no try." Keehn agrees.

"Numerical goals work best. Grand or broken into smaller pieces: miles per year, month, week. Break it down into as many little goals to meet your major goal."

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Science teacher Keehn continues, "With inertia, comes momentum -- an object's ability to keep moving once acted upon by a force. Once you are moving in one direction, just keep at it."

Keehn logs his rides -- date, distance, time, speed, etc., and analyzes his data annually, looking for attention areas.

Carrie Provost, "Alphabet" rider, hitting the "S-es" on her way to the "Zs" in her goal of biking on all Wheaton streets.
Carrie Provost, "Alphabet" rider, hitting the "S-es" on her way to the "Zs" in her goal of biking on all Wheaton streets. - Courtesy of Carrie Provost

My added advice: set reasonable goals. Saddle time tapers as sunlight declines and weather worsens. Conditions are wetter, so defer to safety and slow down. Trip speed will drop, so will mileage.

If you planned one recovery day per week in the summer, you are likely to enjoy more in the fall. They will be as random as the weather is capricious. If things slip, don't beat yourself up. But when weather permits, remount your steed, even if only for a short outing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Finally, get social -- plan a buddy outing. It's harder to back out of a ride if others are counting on you. If like-minded souls are unavailable, check tomorrow's forecast and make a date with yourself. Setting out your helmet, jersey and whatever layers you need ahead of time will make it easier to shirk shirking.

But whatever you do, keep safety uppermost in mind. Not just during your ride, but before and after.

So here are my tips. Before cycling in inclement weather:

• Ensure your lights work: front white and rear red. A red reflector is minimum gear for the rear.

• Lower your tire pressure 5-10 pounds psi to increase road traction. Adjust according to the normal pressure printed on the tire sidewall.

• Check that brakes work, replacing any worn pads.

While cycling:

• Ride more slowly than usual.

• Follow familiar routes where you know the terrain.

• Allow for longer braking distances. Brake pads don't grip wet rims as well as dry ones.

• "Feather" your brakes when slowing down to engage their grip on the rims. Start braking sooner.

• Allow more space between you and other riders.

• Avoid smooth metal surfaces -- railroad tracks, steel plates, sewer covers -- if you can. Slow down if you can't and coast across. Accelerating or decelerating on slick metal risks slippage.

• Cross railroad tracks at right angles, rain or shine.

• Flash your red rear light for greater visibility.

• Watch for puddles hiding possible hazards like deep ruts or potholes.

• If weather suddenly threatens, be prudent and seek shelter.

After cycling:

A sponge bath keeps your bike clean when hoses are shut off for the fall and winter.
A sponge bath keeps your bike clean when hoses are shut off for the fall and winter. - Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak

• Wipe down your bike to remove grit/mud on rims and chain.

• Dry your chain, lubing it to avoid rusting.

• Dry your leather saddle and apply a leather dressing to minimize cracking.

Sharing more than the road:

Despite the shutdown, used bike collections in the suburbs netted 418 bikes for Working Bikes in Chicago, celebrating its 21st anniversary selling and servicing refurbished and affordably priced used bikes.

The funds raised support its nonprofit programs, including 1,900-plus used bikes donated to local communities and 8,300-plus to African and Latin American countries in 2019.

• Join the ride. Reach Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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