February 11th, 2015

Jen and her PUBLIC C1 during an Ottawa winter / © Dwayne Brown the loveOttawa project

When scrolling through our Instagram feed a few weeks ago, we came across a series of pictures from a PUBLIC rider named Jen Dykxhoorn and took pause. There she was, with her PUBLIC C1 and Porteur Rack in the snowy cold of a typical Canadian winter, riding to work. Inspiring. We wanted to know more. Like, why the heck she rides in the snow and what tips did she have for others on biking in winter weather?

We picked Jen’s brain about all things winter riding-related and she was game enough to answer in wonderful detail. For all you need to know about riding in the snow and safe winter bike riding, read on.

PUBLIC: Biking in the winter seems challenging. Why do you do it?

JEN: For so many reasons. I know this sounds contradictory, but for me, winter is both a wonderful adventure and a calming meditation.

The Adventure

I think adventure can be found everywhere, if you are willing to look for it. One of the reasons I bike through the winter is it gives me a little adventure “fix” every day. On my bike, I can challenge myself mentally and physically, explore parts of the city, and spend my day feeling more alive, alert, and happy. By the time I roll into work in the morning, I feel like a champ who has taken on winter and won. My coworkers/friends shake their heads at my “crazy” winter biking, but underneath their incredulity, I think they think it is rather cool.

The Meditation

At the same time, I also find biking in the winter to be calming and nearly meditative. Particularly in the winter, you need to be aware of what is going on around you, and to concentrate on cycling. It is the only part of my day where I am not expected to multitask – flipping between emails, phone calls, and tasks with 10 tabs open on my browser. It is refreshing to only focus on a single task – the simple, rhythmic experience of pumping your legs up and down. You don’t need to worry about what is to come, you only need to tackle the current challenge that is in front of you – from finding the best track through snow or tackling the big hill.

Jen bike commuting during the winter / © Dwayne Brown the loveOttawa project

And also, there is magic. There is something magical about riding home in the evening as the perfect “movie” snow falls around you in big, white, fluffy flakes. Moments like that make winter biking an absolute joy.

PUBLIC: What simple tips and suggestions can you offer for getting one started on biking in winter weather?

JEN: The great news is that you don’t need to be a “hard core” cyclist to ride in the winter, and that all of the reasons you love to ride the rest of the year are true even when the snow flies.

I think most people don’t realize that winter biking is not that hard or foreign, and it is totally within reach. You just need to give it a try! The hardest part is deciding to bike, all the rest is just a matter of logistics.

There are some simple things you can do to make the transition to winter riding a pleasant one:

Clothing:

  • Cover your skin. While there are tons of special clothes and products you can buy, you don’t really need most of them for short rides. I think the most important thing is to cover your skin as the wind will find ways into any gaps.
  • Work clothes are fine to ride in. I actually ride most days in my work clothes. If I am wearing a dress, I will throw on a pair of wind-resistant pants underneath for the ride. If I am wearing dress pants, I will layer with a pair of merino wool long johns.
  • Special outerwear is not a requirement. The outerwear is no different from what I would wear out-and-about in town. I have a vintage fur coat that is excellent for riding, I wear leather mittens that block the wind and are cozy, and wrap a scarf around my head and neck, which is thin enough to fit under my helmet, but adds enough protection to keeps my ears warm.
  • Equipment:

  • The other thing to remember when biking in the winter is that the days are shorter, so make sure you have a good set of lights to be visible. I make sure I bring all my lights inside, because the cold can suck the life out of batteries really quickly.
  • The only other piece of equipment that I would put in the “nearly mandatory” category is a good set of fenders.
  • My “luxury” items include a pair of ski goggles for the really cold days and a studded tire on my front wheel, which adds additional traction when the conditions are slick.
  • PUBLIC: How to you keep your wheels from slipping all over the place?

    JEN: The best advice I have for that is to slow down a little and ride in a straight line. Trying to brake quickly, ride quickly around corners, or make sudden changes in direction would be when you might get into trouble.

    The golden rule of mountain biking applies to snowy conditions – look where you want to go! Look for the best route through the snow, and your wheels will follow.

    I also put a studded tire on my front wheel, which adds quite a bit of additional traction, particularly for cornering.

    PUBLIC: When riding in the snow, where in the road should you be riding?

    JEN: When I am on the road I like to ride approximately where the right wheel track for cars would be (approximately 1 meter or 2 ½ feet from the curb). If you get too close to the curb, there tends to be lots of slush and debris there, which can be very hazardous.

    I find that it is much safer to take the space you need on the road, which means you can ride in a predictable manner and that you are visible to other road users.

    I am lucky to live in Ottawa, where the city has made a commitment to clearing some of the bike lanes as part of the “winter biking network.” For a portion of my commute, I get to ride a lovely separated bike lane, which is kept relatively clear as part of the city’s regular snow clearing.

    Jen, sporting her "mascara saving" ski goggles / © Dwayne Brown the loveOttawa project

    PUBLIC: I notice you bust out some serious goggles. Talk to us about those.

    JEN: While most days, I am fine with a scarf coving 80% of my face, Ottawa can get REALLY cold. For the extra frigid days, picking up a pair of downhill ski goggles was one of my best winter biking decisions. When the mercury dips below -10*C, the goggles keep my eyes positively cozy.

    The additional perk of wearing ski goggles is that your mascara won’t freeze on your lashes, only to melt all over your face as soon as you get inside a building. This happened to me on my 2nd day at a new job, and let me tell you, it was not a pretty sight!

    PUBLIC: Your bike probably gets really dirty with all the wet and snow. How do you maintain your bike?

    JEN: If you are going to ride through the winter, you need to show your bike some love, as the sand and salt can be really bad for your bike! I like to give my bike a good sponge bath every week to get off the worst of the salt and gunk.

    I also use a wet chain lube on my chain and also in the freewheel to keep things from seizing up.

    The salt is a particularly destructive force, so be come spring, I will bring my ride into my local bike shop for the “full spa treatment.” I am sure some parts will have to be replaced, but that is fine. I am a much happier person for being able to cycle in the snow, so springing for a new chain or some upgrades when the spring comes is completely reasonable.

    If you are looking for an all-season ride, I love my single speed PUBLIC C1. I don’t need to worry about gears in the winter, and the upright positioning gives me great positioning to be aware of what is going on around me.

    PUBLIC: Are fenders helpful?

    JEN: Oh my gosh, I think fenders are absolutely essential. I would be drenched and miserable without fenders. They are two bits of metal that separate misery from comfort and protecting me from the misery having a “skunk tail stripe” down my back of dirt and a face full of slush. I think fenders are absolutely essential for a winter bike. I have seen very creative DIY fender solutions, but I am so grateful for my full fender set.

    PUBLIC: Anything you’d like to add?

    JEN: It is OK to take a day (or two) off winter riding. Some days there are brutally cold arctic winds that just existing is hard, or the occasional massive snowfall dumps. Knowing what days to hop on the bus and what days to battle through the conditions is an art.

    Stay safe and enjoy the ride!


    Additional information:

    All photos courtesy of Dwayne Brown for the Love Ottawa Project

    Read more about Jen’s love for winter biking on her blog.