November 04, 2021 14 min read

Fall & Winter Biking - How to Stay Safe, Dry, and Warm

Temperatures are dropping, leaves are falling, and before too long, there will be snow on the ground. Does that mean it’s time to put your bicycle in storage? No. With a little planning, you can stay warm, dry, and visible as the days get shorter and colder. Here’s how you can set up your bike, your equipment, and your expectations to enjoy the next few months of fall biking and the occasional winter ride.

 

 

Using Lighting and Reflectors to See and Be Seen

Thanks to shorter days, fall and winter biking for fun and commuting means making part of the journey in the dark. You need to set up your bike to meet local safety requirements, provide the visibility you need to ride and make you visible to motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

If you’re looking at lighting options, you may notice almost everything is built for Germany. That’s because of 67 StVZO, a regulation requiring lighting on all bikes used on the road in this country. This regulation doesn’t just require users to add their own lights, it also requires manufacturers to sell their bikes with lights installed. The headlight cannot flash, and it must have low and high beam modes. There are also detailed specifications for power output and beam patterns.

What about other countries? The EU has regulations similar to Germany, except light regulations are less restrictive. There’s no requirement for intensity or modes for the headlight. Japan requires lights for night riding, but they don’t need to be installed on every bike. In many other countries, including the U.S, the only requirement is a few reflectors on new bikes, with no requirements for usage.

How do you use lights and reflective materials effectively? Studies on cycling safety related to visibility can be boiled down to four main points: - Lighting is important for visibility at all times, even in bright daylight. Bikes are small, which makes them harder to see at a distance. - Lighting and reflectors aren’t just important for being seen, they’re important for being identified as a cyclist. This helps motorists, pedestrians and fellow cyclists judge your position and your speed, which helps prevent accidents. - Lights and reflectors that move and blink are more effective at getting attention than stationary lights and reflectors.

That doesn’t mean you should throw out your high-vis vest or only use your headlight in blinking mode. Instead, you should consider ways to add movement and flashing into your visibility strategy. - Multiple lights improve depth perception for surrounding motorists and cyclists. This is why there is a big trend toward commuter helmets with built-in lights. With a light on your head and your seat stem, the people around you can better judge your location. This also adds redundancy, so you can still see if one light fails.

 

 

Clip-On Lights for Fall and Winter Biking

Another great way of increasing your visibility is to add one or two small clip-on lights, to your collar, hat, sleeves or backpack. Even in the summer, and yes, even during the daytime! The Eclipse by Bookman is a rechargeable and powerful wearable clip-on light for visibility and safety in traffic during urban outdoor activities such as running, cycling, walking, or others... It's beautiful, smart, and really intuitive to use.

That's why we feel it has its rightful place in the Curated by Hexlox Collection. Every light is equipped with both white and red LEDs so you can switch between white light for frontal visibility and red light for rear visibility. Eclipse charges via USB. Compact and lightweight size.

 

 

Which Power Source is Best: A Generator Hub or a Battery Pack?

Hub generators have long been the favorite of touring cyclists and randonneurs. These devices use the wheel to spin a dynamo, generating electricity. If your bike moves, it’s making power for your lights. In the past, this power delivery was uneven, and light was limited. Thanks to LED lights and improved circuitry, you can use these hubs to power bright lights, and even charge your smartphone or GPS device using a USB adapter.

How much power does it take to drive one of these hubs? On average, it takes one to five watts to spin a hub when it powering anything. Most hubs are designed to be most efficient at 15-25 KPH, which is a typical riding speed for a commute. A high-power lighting setup can consume as much as 10-15 watts, depending on the efficiency of the hub, but a smaller light and a USB hub may only consume 5-8 watts. In real-world terms, you would notice this in a long race, losing a few seconds per hour. However, on a regular ride, the added drag is virtually undetectable. The biggest disadvantage to dynamo-based lighting is cost. You need to buy the dynamo, have it laced to your front wheel, and buy specialty lighting that works with the dynamo system. However, aside from the wiring, these systems are robust and reliable.

Thanks to LEDs and major improvements in battery chemistry, the performance of battery-powered lights has improved tremendously over the past few years. Most quality lights can run at their brightest setting for an hour or more per charge. However, this amount of light is often overkill, and you can get several times as much run time by using a dimmer mode or a flashing mode. While this may not be the best option for a long overnight ride, it’s more than sufficient for daytime rides and commuting. Mounting rarely requires more than a screwdriver. Just attach the mount to your seat post or handlebars, and clip the light into place. If you have flat bars or an angled seat post, you can use silicone mounts in place of the stock round clamps.

Worried about security? Once the mount is installed, you can easily unclip your headlight and taillight from their mounts and bring them with you, so they won’t be stolen. This also means you can charge them wherever it’s convenient, instead of running a charging cord to your bike.

What about bottle dynamos? While these were popular decades ago, they’ve largely disappeared due to their low output and tire-shredding rollers. There are a few startups offering dynamos that roll on the rim to generate electricity. However, output tends to be on the low side, with most models producing just enough to keep a few low-power LEDs running.

 

 

What Should I Look For In a Headlight?

Light output is measured in lumens and lux. A lumen measures the amount of light produced, while a lux measures the amount of area lit. One lux is equal to one lumen per square meter. Lux is the best unit for comparing lights, but most lights are only rated by lumens. Beam patterns can vary widely between models with the same lumen rating. Germany has strict standards on how wide the beam can be, so it doesn’t blind other people on the road. While you may not need to meet these standards in your country, certification is a good indication of beam quality.

A car headlight’s high beam is around 1,200 lumens, while bike lights are typically between 50 and 2,000 lumens. This range in output can be divided into three categories. Lights that help you be seen are between 50 and 200 lumens. Road headlights usually have a maximum output of 800 to 1,000 lumens, Bike lights that have a brightness of over 1,000 lumens are made for off-road cycling. These lights can blind oncoming drivers and cyclists. If you need to use off-road lights on the road, point the light downwards, and use a low power mode.

Why not use a flashlight instead of a bicycle light? They have a terrible light pattern. Flashlights send light out as a round beam, illuminating evenly in a circle. They don’t throw light on the road where you need it, and they direct light towards the eyes of those around you, blinding them.

 

 

The ultimate guide to fall and winter biking

How Should I Dress for Fall and Winter Riding to Stay Comfortable?

Let’s start with the most effective and easiest-to-overlook item to make winter riding more comfortable: Waterproof overshoes. Fall and winter weather isn’t just cold, it’s also wet. Even with fenders, it’s easy to soak your feet during your ride. When you get cold, your body reduces blood flow to your extremities first, making your feet one of the first problem areas on cold rides. While you may be tempted to wear thicker socks, this can restrict blood flow in tight-fitting cycling shoes, which just makes the problem worse. Overshoes don’t interfere with the fit of your shoes, and they help keep your shoes clean.

There’s another item you should carry that’s easy to overlook: exam gloves. These aren’t for riding, but they’re a must-have for your tool kit. Your bike will be covered in mud, snow, leaves, and other debris, which makes it messy to work on. A set of disposable nitrile or latex gloves weighs almost nothing and takes negligible space in your seat bag. You’ll really appreciate having a pair on hand when you need to fix a flat or fit a dropped chain.

Ultimate Guide to Fall Winter Biking

Let's also address the elephant in the room - how to arrive at work and still be presentable to clients and co-workers. Unless you bike at very slow speeds (which is totally OK) you will sweat a bit and chances are that you need to freshen up a bit at work. Some of you might be lucky enough to have a workplace with showers, but what if that is not an option? Enter the modest wash cloth, soap and a small bucket. Bring a new set of washcloths on Monday morning and on Friday afternoon you take the old ones home. This old school method is simple, fast and remarkably effective. 

 

How can I get from A to B faster - and with less effort - and still not sweat (too much)?

Aerodynamic drag, not weight, is the main force you need to overcome when cycling. At just 16 KPH (10 MPH,) over half of your pedaling effort goes towards overcoming drag. As you approach 50 KPH (30 MPH,) 90% of your power goes to overcome drag. The largest source of drag is your body. Put on a puffy jacket, and you will substantially increase your frontal area, making it harder to ride your bike.

Instead, stay warm by wearing close-fitting, compact layers of clothing. Clothing made from thin materials is a great choice for long rides because these items can be packed in a bag or even a jersey pocket when they aren’t needed. The layer closest to your skin should be sweat-wicking. This keeps you from overheating when you’re exerting yourself and keeps you from freezing as your body cools down. For fall days, you can pair short sleeve jerseys and shorts with arm and leg warmers. This way, you can cover your body when it’s cold at the start or end of a ride, and remove these layers once temperatures rise.

Buffs are great for covering your neck and face because they can be lowered once you warm up. If the vents in your helmet are cooling you too much, you should block them. Wearing a cover over your helmet or a cycling cap under it keeps the vents from blowing air over your head. For colder weather, consider a skull cap that can cover your ears. Don’t forget your eyes. While many of us wear glasses year-round, this is especially important in these seasons, because cold air will make your eyes water. Have a pair of clear glasses on hand for low-light riding.

When you buy new clothes, remember to check the fit in your normal riding position. Gaps between clothes can lead to skin exposure, which makes cold exposure uncomfortable. The most common spots for gaps are between sleeves and gloves, and between pants and jackets. For the best coverage, look for gloves with long wrist sections and go for bibs instead of standard bike pants.

 

 

Ultimate fall and winter biking gear - Fender

Fenders: The Secret to Staying Clean

Wearing waterproof outer layers will help you shed mud while keeping the clothing underneath clean. However, if you want to avoid getting yourself and your bike dirty, the best thing you can do is install fenders. Ideally, these should be mounted using fork and dropout eyelets. However, if you don’t have these mounting holes, or you’re already using them for racks, there are models that mount to forks and chainstays. Clip-on mudguards and fenders aren’t as effective, but they’re light, cheap, and easy to install.

At Hexlox we are particularly fond of AssSavers Fender Bendor. Some of us even go as far to say that the Fendor Bendor is definitely on their Top-3 items list for Fall and Winter biking (the other two are waterproof over-shoes and a few good bike lights) The Fendor Bendor is a true workhorse - performing excellently - protecting not just your bumbut also your back and inner thighs. It's lightweight, easy to attach and easily packs away into a rear pocket for when you don't need it. In the fall we never leave home without Fendor Bendor packet in our hip bags.

 

 

Fall and Winter Bike riding

What Type of Bike is the Best for Winter Riding?

The best bike is one you already own. However, if you’re looking for a winter beater, or you’re trying to choose the best bike from your fleet, there are a few things you should consider. Internal gear hubs and gearboxes put the shifting mechanism and gears inside a sealed container, protecting them from water, salt, and mud. Belt drives shed water, and they can be cleaned by being rinsed off. If you use a chain, a full chaincase is the best solution for a clean drivetrain. However, a chain cover will still help you keep dry. When it comes to frame and component materials, anything is better than steel. Carbon fiber and plastic are impervious to salt, while oxidized aluminum is still strong. While you may be afraid of wheel lock-up on slick surfaces, usually, the biggest brake issue in cold weather is the lack of stopping power from wet rims. Disc and hub brakes are mostly unaffected, so they’re the best choices for fall and winter riding. Rim material makes a big difference in stopping power. Alloy rims perform the best when wet, followed by carbon and steel. Grit picked up on the wheels can quickly wear down braking surfaces on rim brake bikes. If you normally ride on carbon wheels, you may want to swap them out for some alloy rims during the winter.

What about fat bikes? The tires are confidence-inspiring, and they have no problem rolling over and through snowbanks. There are also plenty of winter tire options available. However, their tires don’t fit in bike racks, and it can be hard to mount bags and panniers. They’re a fun choice if you already own one, but they aren’t the best choice for a winter beater.

 

 

Winter Riding Bicycle - which tires to use?

Which Tires are the Best for Winter Riding?

When you want better performance in winter, you have three choices: winter tires, studded tires or tire chains. Winter tires have several features that make them ideal for ice, snow and cold. Standard tires harden in cold weather, resulting in poor traction and a rough ride. Winter tires use rubber compounds that stay pliable well below freezing, Snow and ice hide road debris, and road salt and grit can be hard on tires, making punctures more common. To prevent flats, most winter tires use puncture protection layers like those found in touring tires. Snow and ice melt makes surfaces wet, even after they’re cleared. Winter tires have rubber compounds and treads that push away this moisture, especially while cornering. Most tires use a mix of compounds, using hard, puncture-resistant rubber on the center of the tread and soft, grippy compound on the sides for cornering performance. The result is a tire that rides like a touring or commuting tire, even in severe cold.

Should you ride tubeless? Maybe. Tubeless systems work best with large, low pressure tires, but they often can’t seal fast enough to stop major punctures on road bike tires. While they’re usually effective in winter, your experience may vary depending on the size of your tires. If a standard winter tire doesn’t provide enough traction on snow and ice, you can switch to studded tires. These tires use a soft rubber compound embedded with small metal studs. When they roll over pavement, the studs push into the rubber, so the tire behaves like a standard tire. On ice and hard pack snow, the studs bite into the surface, increasing traction. This makes the bike more stable and easier to ride on these surfaces. However, these studs do nothing on soft snow. Studded tires are built for low tire pressures, increasing deformation for better grip. Put these features together, and you get something that rides like a mountain bike tire. They’re great for terrible surface conditions, but rolling resistance is high on pavement. Bare pavement riding is also hard on the studs, rapidly wearing them down. In some cases, they may pop out of the tread when they catch on cracks. Homemade bicycle tire chains have been around forever, but only recently have there been off-the-shelf versions you can install on your bike. Any notion of ride comfort or rolling is out the window on pavement, but they deliver excellent performance on hardpack snow. Chains require significant tire clearance, so they won’t work with most road bikes. Even if they do, they can interfere with your bike lock, keeping you from securing your frame and front wheel to the rack.

 

 

How Do I Keep My Bike Clean?

Before the fall/winter season starts, pack your bearings with fresh grease. This is especially important the lower headset bearing, since it’s constantly being splashed with water from the front wheel. Fresh grease pushes out dirt and creates a creates a waterproof barrier. Ideally, you should clean your bike every time it gets wet, or at least after every week of commuting or every long ride. Now is a good time to invest in a chain cleaner and a set of brushes. Once your chain is clean, apply a wet lube if you expect wet conditions. It will resist water better than dry lube. If there’s no precipitation in the forecast for the next few days, use a dry lube. It won’t attract grit as readily as wet lube. Clean the frame to remove salt buildup, especially around the fenders, bottom bracket and chainstays. Applying a thin layer of wax shields these components from water and road salt, making the bike easier to clean.

If you have to park your bike outside - exposed to the elements - we definitely recommend you to cover your bike. The Bike Parka is an excellent weather cover which is portable enough that you could bring it with you packed in a pannier, or in your backpack. You can tell that the designers are cyclists themselves. Features like the Elasticised Wheel Fit and the Lock-Thru-Slot can only have been thought up by a bike commuter. Think of Bike Parka as a bespoke piece of clothing for your hard-working family member - this is not just a waterproof sack!

If you're interested in a deep-dive into bike mechanics don't miss our Hexlox Top-13 Bike Mechanic Tips blog post.

 

 

When is it OK to call it a day and not ride to work, or elsewhere?

It’s OK to check the temperature or look outside and decide it’s better to drive or take public transportation instead of riding to work. Likewise, your day may be better spent on a trainer instead of on the road. Precipitation and mood aside, your main considerations should be time and wind chill. Even with the best equipment, riding in the fall and winter takes longer. If you’re in a rush, don’t take your bike to work. If you’re training, using an indoor trainer makes it easier to hit your goals. Either way, you won’t be tempted to do something dangerous to make up time. When you ride in winter, you need to consider wind chill. If there’s no wind, your body heats up the surrounding air, creating a buffer around your skin. Wind blows this buffer away, reducing your skin temperature. Your local forecast includes wind chill based on wind speed, but when you ride a bike, you’re creating your own wind. This can rapidly lead to frostbite in weather that would normally be comfortable for other outdoor activities.

Here's how wind chill relates to exposure times that can cause frostbite:

-28 to -39°C (-18 to -38°F) : 10 to 30 minutes

-40 to -47°C (-40 to -52°F) : 5 to 10 minutes

-55°C (-67°F) and below: 2 minutes or less

At normal riding speeds, there’s a chance of getting frostbite in temperatures as high as -20°C (-4°F.) If you aren’t absolutely sure about your winter clothing, it’s safer to use a different form of transportation.