Getting Your Bike Through An Arlington Winter
Just a few changes will prepare most any bike to meet winter's challenges.
Arlington has – so far – avoided a repeat of last year's epic snowstorms. Until winter is well and truly over, however, local cyclists should be ready to face weather-related challenges. While dressing correctly is an essential part of this preparation, making a few seasonal changes to your bike can greatly improve the experience (and safety) of riding through the winter.
The season brings three big challenges – extended darkness, the potential for slick surfaces, and extra debris on the streets. Here’s how to beat all of them:
- Lights. While we’re on the way to more light in the day, it will be a while before evening commutes start taking place entirely in daylight. Every cyclist that stands a chance of being out during or after dusk needs a set of lights. In Arlington – where streets are generally well lit – most will opt for “lights to be seen.” These are small and inexpensive light sets that can be left on the bike year-round. Lights like these ($35) are the practical bare minimum. There’s no harm at all in increasing your visibility with more and brighter lights (in fact, one longtime Arlington cyclist rides with a yellow construction site light strapped to the back of his bike). Those looking to take responsibility for their own ability to see at night – that is, “lights to see by” – should expect to spend more than $100 for a rechargeable LED light of sufficient power for the darker spots on the Custis Trail.
- Tires. Many riders use the same tires year round, and it’s not a necessarily a bad idea. Wide tires with a bit of tread – like Continental’s Town and Country model – can carry you on summer trails and over snow-covered winter streets. With snow, the key is having “fat” tires – those 1.9" or wider – as "skinny" slick tires will make for hard going as they fail to gain traction. However, fat or skinny, most tires will leave you in a precarious position the moment ice appears. Riders looking for confidence on the ice will want to get themselves a set of studded tires. These tires feature many small metal studs that dig into ice. Studded tires aren’t cheap (starting at $50 each), and they can be quite heavy. They are the only way, however, that cyclists can really ride with confidence over ice. Those who prefer not to live with the weight (and additional road noise) of riding on studded tires all winter may find it worth picking up an extra set of cheap alloy wheels. That’ll make it easier to swap the studded set in and out as weather conditions dictate.
- Fenders. Finally, riders should beware of the buildup of sand, salt, and other grime that accumulates on roads during winter. Rather inconveniently, this mix of debris often ends up concentrated along the edge of the road or in the bike lanes (blown there by passing cars). The grit gets kicked up when a bike rolls over it, inevitably landing on the drivetrain (contributing to accelerated wear), the frame (threatening corrosion on steel frames), and on the rider (watch those skunk-stripes up the back). Most bikes can be retrofitted with a set of fenders, which will keep the grime away from all of these places. The best protection is offered by “full fenders” – those that wrap around most of the rear wheel. A set of functional plastic fenders can be had for $30, while a set of stylish hammered metal fenders will set you back about $125.
There are, of course, many tricks cyclists can use to improve their winter riding experience – from spraying a frame with silicone (reducing the ability of salt and grime to stick to it) to building windblockers into the handlebars (Moose Mitts, anyone?). Installing the proper lights, tires, and fenders, however, is sufficient to turn most any bike into safe and reliable winter transportation.
Most of the above items can be picked up locally at Revolution Cycles in Clarendon (source of most of the pricing and examples).
Arlington’s Phoenix Bikes can be a good source for an inexpensive used wheelset.