With more than 200 miles of on-street bike lanes and many more miles of off-street paths, Chicago is known as one of the best cities in America for bicycling.
But many commuters who enjoy a bike ride in the summer sun think they must chain up their cycle when temps drop below freezing. That’s simply not the case. You can, in fact, cycle year-round in the city. And no, I’m not crazy, and neither are the people who do it. With proper preparation, cycling in Chicago's winter weather can actually be more enjoyable at times than riding in the blistering heat of summer.
RedEye turned to four biking veterans for advice to get you and your bike prepped for winter riding in the Windy City:
Dave Glowacz: Known as "Mr. Bike," the 59-year-old Logan Square resident wrote the book "Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips." He has been cycling year-round for 25 years.
Kristin Fogarty-Yi: The 37-year-old Edgewater Beach resident has been cycling year-round in Chicago for 10 years.
Curt Preissner: The 43-year-old West Loop resident has been cycling in the winter for 10 years.
Yasmeen Schuller: President of The Chainlink, an online cycling community in Chicago, she has been winter cycling in the city for five years.
WHAT TO WEAR
Fogarty-Yi: "Layers. You don't need a huge heavy coat because you are going to get hot quickly and too sweaty. If you are too sweaty and stop moving, you will freeze quickly, so don't dress too warm."
Schuller: "Merino wool is great for winter biking because it absorbs moisture, keeping your skin dry while you ride and dries quickly, which is important for the ride home. Cotton can get sweaty and doesn’t dry out fast."
Glowacz: "In colder weather, add T-shirts, light sweaters, long underwear and tights. Light layers let you remove outer clothes if you warm up. When it's very cold, many bikers don’t need much insulation on torsos and legs but need more on ears (using headbands, hoods, face masks), hands (using mittens), and feet (using multiple socks, rubber boots) where blood flows less."
Preissner: "I have three pieces of gear that make winter riding possible for me: 1) Pearl Izumi balaclava (though other brands are fine), 2) Lobster claw gloves, and 3) 45NRTH cycling boots (the shizzle, don't [bleep] around with gear that is cold and leaky)."
BICYCLE PREP AND MAINTENANCE
Fogarty-Yi: "I try to wash the salt off my bike, which is sometimes hard because I live in a condo and have to wash it in my bathtub. I keep the chain lubed and replace the brake pads if needed because the sand and salt really wear down the pads and rust out the moving parts of the bike."
Schuller: "If you are concerned about slippery roads, you may want to invest in studded tires. Some cyclists love studded tires to keep upright when riding in icy and slippery conditions."
Preissner: "Use lights at all times, flashing white in front and flashing red in back—brighter is better. Riding with lights is a very good practice [any time] of the year, but it becomes more important in the winter with fewer shorter daylight hours and precipitation."
PATHS/STREETS TO AVOID
Glowacz: "Most winter-adverse bikers fear snow and ice. But for most of winter, Chicago streets are clear. And when it does snow, Chicago has what I call the '5-to-1' rule: For every one snowflake that falls on a major street, the city throws five grains of salt on it. So within a day of major snowfall, crews usually clear most major streets."
Fogarty-Yi: "Avoid Ashland or any busy street that is not meant for bikes. Side streets or clearly marked bike paths are the best. And if it is really bad with the snow, I move to the sidewalk or walk my bike to a safer street."
Schuller: "Be aware that the Chicago Park District changed their policy and isn’t keeping the 606 [trail] as clear as it was last year. The lakefront path is cleared regularly, but be careful on the curve by Oak Street beach because high waves can create a dangerous sheet of ice."
TIPS AND TRICKS
Schuller: "If you have to park it outside, make sure to lock your bike in a place that won’t get hit with dirty water from cars if it’s too close to the street. At home, you can use an old yoga mat to park your bike on and save your wooden floors. Expect your ride to take longer than it normally takes you so that you don’t feel rushed, and also, don’t overdo the layers! The rule of thumb is to be slightly chilly if you are standing outside so that when you get moving, your body will warm you up."
Fogarty-Yi: "I keep a lower air pressure in my tires so they sit a little more flat. I also carry an emergency foil blanket in my bike bag in case I get a flat or fall and need to be out in the cold longer than expected."
Preissner: "Riding a single speed bike in the winter makes good sense—much less to maintain and a lesser chance of problems."
Glowacz: "After a wet ride, take a rag and give your bike's chain a good wipe and then spray or drip on bicycle lube (not WD-40)."
For more on how to pedal year-round, check out Bike Winter, an all-volunteer, grassroots project that began in Chicago in 1999, looking to help you enjoy your bicycle as an all-weather, all-occasion transportation tool.
@RianneCoale | firstname.lastname@example.org
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