Bike commuting in winter definitely takes commitment. Sure, spring, summer, and fall can all have their wet and cold days, but most of the time it's dry, the days are longer, and the temperature is above freezing (usually). When winter hits, not only does the temperature drop, but rain, snow, and ice make things interesting. Here's how to keep riding to work this winter and actually have a good time doing it.
For a long time, I didn't modify my bike for winter riding. But as I grew tired of soggy pants at the beginning of the slush/snow season, I realized I needed fenders. Some people think fenders are dorky, but once you ride home on a slushy wet night not worrying about the giant puddles, you'll realize how great they truly are. Nowadays there are fenders for any type of bike, from fully rigid to fully suspended.
Get Studded Tires
This next revelation came after hitting the pavement fast and unexpectedly so many times that it's a miracle I was never run over. Although studded tires require a small investment, anywhere from $50-$100 per tire, the peace of mind you get knowing you can ride across black ice you didn't see until you were on it is priceless. Studded tires come in all sizes these days, and some models even have a stud on every knob of the tire, making it almost unfair to the ice. These are a must-have for the true winter commuter.
Don't Wear a Bathing Suit
The only thing you need to worry about for clothing is having something warm and waterproof. Most commutes are short enough that the cold will have just started to settle in by the time you get where you're going. Windproof items are definitely a plus, but not absolutely necessary.
Get a Light
You'll be riding in the dark a lot more in winter, thanks to the shorter days. So always put a light on your bike, front and rear, and even consider a helmet-mounted light (it goes without saying that you should always wear your helmet, especially in winter). Add some reflectors, too. We all know how stupid people drive in winter.
Talk to the Folks at the Bike Shop
Last but not least, use the people at your local shop for questions. That's what they're there for. I guarantee there is at least one person in every shop in town that commutes almost every day.
I challenge everyone to try bike commuting for one winter. The satisfaction of not driving for days on end is worth it enough, and the leftover gas money will add up. What's the worst that could happen—you get in shape?
Matt Jennings works at Grizzly Outfitters in Big Sky and was a member of the Grizzly Outfitters / Continental Construction mountain-bike team.