Fall is here. For some cycle commuters, it’s time to pack away the bike and pull out the car or the bus pass. For me, it’s time to pull out the cool-weather bike gear. I do chicken out when the winter roads are super-slick, otherwise I ride year-round.
People sometimes ask, “How can you stand to do that every day?” But I ask the same question when I’m forced to take transit. “How can you stand to arrive at work without rosy-cheeks and feeling alert? How can you stand to return home without blowing the day’s cobwebs away with a brisk ride?”
What I Wear
Here’s what works for me, but it’s worth experimenting to find what works for you. After years of experience, I’m still tinkering with new gear and tricks.
One of the challenges of fall riding is that that I ride to work in a frosty pre-dawn world, and head home in the sunlight when it’s ten degrees warmer. The solution? Cycle shorts, layering, and leg warmers. Inbound, I wear an expedition weight top and a vest under my shell jacket. Outbound, I lose the vest and switch to a lighter Zip-T. And the leg warmers? Full-length for the ride in, knees-only for the ride home. Tucking the tops under the cuffs of my bike short’s liner keeps the warmers from slipping.
When winter arrives, I switch to bike tights. On near-zero days, I slip a pair of light long johns under them. Here in Vancouver, I find shell pants too stiff and sweaty. But I might see their virtues if I were pedaling through Edmonton’s slicey winter winds.
Since I don’t deal with seriously sub-zero conditions, I wear the same cycling shoes all year. In fall, I use heavier wool socks, and windproof them with Gore-Tex oversocks. When it rains, I slip on a pair of Cycling Shoe covers and make sure to run my tights over the outside of the covers, shingle style. Do it the other way just once in heavy showers and you’ll know why.
I just added a new helmet cover this fall. It’s matchy matchy with my Pinna jacket, but it’s high vis, high up where it can be seen above traffic. I wear mine right over my helmet’s sun visor to help keep the rain out of my eyes.
I’m super-susceptible to earaches from cold wind, so in addition to wearing a headband, I often pop little tufts torn from cotton balls into my ears. (In a pinch, I’ve used wads from a napkin the same way.) They won’t do anything for your apparent IQ, but they will ward off the chill without seriously compromising your hearing.
What My Bike Wears
I’m a huge fan of daylighting, especially in the gloom of fall and winter. For maximum visibility and redundancy, I run twin Turbos on the back and a brace of Blazes up front. These lights are nominally rainproof, but the maker must have been thinking of regular rain on Planet Earth, not the deluges we get in the Pacific Northwet. After a few non-fatal floodings, I now wrap the seams with electrical tape (translucent yellow so it won’t block the light on the rear lights). The tape is fugly but functional, and can be reused after I change batteries.
My legally required bike bell is an unstartling way to let pedestrians know I’m coming, but for cagers it makes a fatally faint tinkle. When I see a car edging out of the side street ahead or starting a lethal left in the intersection I’m about to cross, I quickly palm the Storm Whistle that always dangles around my neck into my mouth and give’m a long, shrill blast. While they’re stopped and staring around for the cop they thought they heard, I’m safely through and gone.
Wet seats suck. So I carry a plastic grocery bag to tie bonnet-style over my saddle when I lock the bike up in the rain or snow. If you’re feeling fancy, a dollar-store shower cap works well too.
So there are some of my strategies. How do you roll in in the fall? Waterproof-breathable Bare Legs™ accessorized with a Gore-Tex kilt? Bike lit up like Las Vegas? Flip-flops in forty below?