Don't give your bike the cold shoulder this year

With the right clothing, safety measures and maintenance, you can still ride in winter

November 13, 2008|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,anica.butler@baltsun.com

Now that temperatures - and gas prices - are falling, you might be tempted to exile your bike to the basement or garage until warmer days return.

But there's no need. With the right equipment and care, you can continue commuting on two wheels or hitting the trails on weekends.

The key, bike enthusiasts say, is the proper clothing - and layering.

Start with your head. Penny Trouttner, owner of Light Street Cycles in Federal Hill, recommends a skull cap or a balaclava, a head covering that also protects your neck and fits easily under a helmet.

"You really need to keep your extremities from getting too cold," Trouttner says. "Especially because the wind will be hitting you."

She recommends long-finger gloves made for biking. They'll keep your fingers warm, but you'll still be able to maneuver gears and brakes. In addition to wearing warm socks, you can also buy shoe or toe covers that will help protect feet from wind.

But take care not to bundle up too warmly; your body will produce its own heat while you ride.

Jason Wright of Joe's Bike Shop in Mount Washington recommends following this rule: "If you leave the house and you're warm, you're overdressed."

While jerseys and tights are important wardrobe components, try to look for sweat-wicking material rather than cotton, says Greg Doda of Princeton Sports on Falls Road.

"The goal is to stay dry and warm," he says. "In cotton, you'll get sweaty, and then you'll get cold."

Trouttner also recommends wind-protecting clothing.

"A lot of winter jerseys and winter tights will allow for breathing, so you don't get so hot you sweat," she says. "You can get something called windfront; it will block the wind in front of you as you go forward, but is different in the back. It can breathe, so it doesn't encase you.

"It's also nice to wear a vest," Trouttner adds. "It will keep your vital [organs] warm while allowing the arms to breathe."

She says it could cost about $200 to buy all-new winter gear, or more for someone who wants high-end options.

Also important in colder months is safety. Riders must keep an eye out for icy patches, ride more slowly and carefully in the rain, and make sure they're visible on the road. At the very least, a rider needs front and rear lights.

"There is a lot less sunlight," Wright says. "It's very, very important to allow drivers to see you."

Trouttner says the best lights have a solid white beam in front and a blinking red light in back, although there are more expensive lights that provide visibility on the sides as well.

Bicyclists probably don't need any additional bike maintenance in the winter; one tuneup a year is usually sufficient. But if your bike needs repairs, take it in now.

"Bike shops are less busy, so if you need something major done ... winter is a good time," Trouttner says. "Bike shops have more time and will do the work faster, and maybe do a better job."

If you ride into chillier days, get a thicker lube for your chain and wash your bike if you ride through a lot of mud and any time you ride through salt.

Cleaning your bike "is pretty critical any time of year, but in winter, you need to make sure you clean it more often," Wright says.

For many bike shops, this past summer brought increased sales due to spiking gas prices. If you didn't jump on the bandwagon and purchase a bicycle then, now might be a good time for that, too.

Trouttner says Light Street has this year's and next year's models in stock, and many of last year's bikes are on sale.

"On a high-priced bike, you can save hundreds," Trouttner says.

But even in shops that aren't having big sales, you're likely to get more attention, Wright says, since there are fewer customers buying in fall.

Doda recommends thinking about what type of riding you will do - urban commuting, mountain biking, etc. - before you head to the store. A good fit, even for children, and accessories are important. He said Princeton Sports urges customers to test-ride bikes before purchasing.

"It's really important to pick something you like and something you'll be happy with," he says. "If you aren't happy, you won't ride it, and it'll just be a waste."

things to consider

Bike use : Will you be riding to work? Sticking to trails or going off-road? Participating in competitive racing? There are different types of bikes for all kinds of use.

Size of bike : Getting the right-sized bike is important. The wrong size can be uncomfortable and lead to injuries.

Type of bike : Did you take a test ride? If you end up not liking your bike, you won't ride it. Before you buy, make sure it's comfortable, the brakes work well and it's easy to shift. There can be huge differences between bicycles in the same category.

Accessories : Many people swap out the seat on their new bike for a more comfortable one. You'll also need a helmet, and consider a water bottle for hydration.

Maintenance : You'll need at least one tune-up per year.

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