It used to be that once October came around, I would hang up the bike in the garage for its winter hibernation. However, once I really got into bike commuting, I began to wonder how I was going to stay in shape during the long winter months. So, I decided to try and stick it out as long as possible. To my surprise, I found it was not really too tough. However, there are a couple of extra issues that will confront you come wintertime:

Cold: My biggest surprise was that cold weather is NOT really that big a deal. I found that I could easily handle any temperature the Washington winter can throw at me. Admittedly, Washington winters are not terribly harsh. The morning low is typically in the upper 20sºF and the afternoon high is in the mid 40sºF. The coldest temps I've endured so far (without problem) was in the low teens. The trick is to not over-dress. The main problem I run into is actually wearing too much clothing, which in turn causes you to sweat and then become cold.

There are many space age materials out there to help you ward off the cold. However, these can get pretty pricey. Since my commute is relatively short (about 5 miles each way), I've found that I can get away with wearing common cold weather items. The trick is to layer your clothes, and remove layers as needed. On cold days, I will typically wear a long sleeve tee shirt, hooded-sweatshirt, and some type of windbreaker. On my bottom, I wear mountain bike shorts, knee high socks, and sweat pants (if it's really cold, I'll also put on long johns). On warmer days and afternoons, I will leave off one or more of these layers. For my hands, I swear by my "Vulcan" gloves, which have two, extra-wide fingers instead of the normal four finger gloves most people wear. This keeps my fingers fairly warm, and still lets me work the brake and shifter controls.

Ice: When the roads become icy, I simply do not bike commute. Of course, a little ice does not stop the Ice Bikers, but then again these guys don't look like they need to worry about getting run over by a line of cars should they slip on some ice <grin>. Although Washington does get hit will wintry weather, it rarely sticks around on the roads for more that a few days. Unfortunately, none of the area bike trails are treated during the winter, so these are typically ice covered for much longer periods.

Darkness: Once the time change occurs in late October, you suddenly find that it begins getting dark by 5pm. By late December, it is pitch dark by 5pm. One way around this problem is to adjust your hours so that you get home by 4:30 or so. The other option is to get some serious light equipment. Headlights not only help you see where you are going, but are also very important to help warn motorist not to pull out in front of you. I personally use a 30 watt dual beam system that comes with a rechargeable battery shaped like a water bottle (which fits nicely in my bottle holder). For tail lights, I use these great red LED flashers which can be seen over a mile away. Additionally, I make sure reflectors are also in place and I wear a bright colored windbreaker. However, even with all this equipment, do not assume you can be seen! Headlights from oncoming traffic will still make you practically invisible to overtaking traffic. Extreme vigilance is required when riding at night.