Even though it is the middle of winter, plenty of people are still using Chicago’s rapidly growing bike infrastructure. In addition to that, the city has been receiving national attention for the new protected lane on Dearborn (complete with a bike traffic signal) which will make it even easier for those of us who choose to use our bikes as year-round transportation. To be fair, we all know it can get pretty cold here and to some being outside for extended periods of time while the “Hawk” (not the hockey team, but the frigid winds many Chicagoans are familiar with) is swooping around is unappealing, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, winter biking can offer a number of benefits, as long you take a few things into mind.
Keeping Warm- Only you know how much cold you can tolerate. That being said, realize that once you start riding, the physical activity will warm you up pretty quickly. Keep in mind you might start sweating as well, so if you know you are a heavy sweater and you plan on doing winter biking, make sure you dress warmly, but not too warm. A number of offices these days have shower facilities as well, so if you have that available to you, you should have little problems as long as you have a change of clothes with you.
Staying Safe- Although you should always use standard bicycle safety measures, (helmet, reflectors, obeying the same traffic rules as cars) winter biking can offer a few other challenges. Ice and precipitation can be unpredictable in cities like Chicago which can lead to slippery and precarious roads. Keeping the pressure on your tires a little lower than usual can give some added grip. They type of tire does not matter that much, but if you would like the extra security, there are special winter bike tires you can buy that provide superior grip (they are a little pricey though).
Fill Up your Tank- This is related to the “Keeping Warm,” but maybe not how you think. You want to make sure to have sufficient energy to keep you going, but make sure you hydrate yourself properly as well. Since you will be wearing clothes that are made to trap in heat, you will likely start sweating as you ride. Even though it is cold, your body still needs to cool itself off. Make sure to eat something before taking a ride as well, even if it is just a small snack.
There are a lot more things to consider, and I would suggest you check out the excellent winter biking guide on the REI website for even more tips. If you keep yourself safe and warm, winter biking can provide a great way to keep fit and save money during the winter. It can also be a cool way to see the city in the wintertime and check out the new bike lanes popping up all over the place. With the mayor’s ambitious plan to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the US, it looks like cyclists will have more and safer ways to traverse the city!
*Remember, if it gets below 0 or becomes too windy, seriously consider taking transit or another way. Bikes are great, but be smart about road safety and temperature.