Winter riding – suicidal? Just bring on the mittens and snow goggles!

We’ve hardly had much “winter riding” lately in Chicago. Just this Monday and Tuesday, temps hovered in the 50s and 60s! But the rollercoaster, topsy turvy weather ride has plunged us back down to real winter temps and now our Chicago temps only hover at or below 0-degrees with windchill… bringing back the need to properly layer for the daily bike commute.

For me – the cold, sub-zero windchills mean it’s a snow goggles and mittens kind of “BRRRR!” (BRRR as in BRRRRING IT ON!)

No skin exposed on the “BRRR”-est of days

My body is cozy – covered in layers of a wool base layer and a thick cashmere or wool turtleneck sweater. My legs also get a nice wool base layer and then just khakis (sometimes I add a wind pants layer – especially in wet/messy condition) and thick wool hiking socks under my BOGS boots. My head = no skin exposed; I use a double-layer balaclava system (one thinner one pulled up over my nose), plus goggles, plus helmet on top! Over all that is my hi-vis yellow commuter jacket to block the wind. Wool gloves covered by big primaloft mitts and I’m ready to roll.

I’m more bundled than the average pedestrian, plus I’m generating body heat – more than the mere walker.. and I’m definitely warmer than the person just standing there waiting for the bus or train.

So – when I saw a post by “He Who Knows” on local Chicago suburban social site entitled “Bicyclists are insane riding in winter’s deep freeze!” and claiming that winter riding is suicidal, I had to chuckle. Seriously? He Who Knows certainly doesn’t know much about cold weather activity outdoors. On the other hand, we who know layer appropriately and reap the benefits of year-round cycling in any weather.

Should we be surprised by such a general posting by someone who is clearly not a cyclist? Isn’t this what happens when anyone and everyone can post their opinion online? “He Who Knows” likely has no authority on the topic. Though I do find his take humorous… since it is just so ridiculous! But just to clarify and set the record straight for would-be winter bike commuters, do not take his statements seriously… Based on this guy’s opinion, I would have killed myself cycling through winter years ago.

Take it from this guy in New York who bikes (even in winter) 40 miles to work in Manhattan!

I’m alive and well to let you know that – even on the harshest of days – cycling brings me sanity.

Ride on…


  1. Ghost Rider

    It’s pretty clear that the author of that article really has no idea what he/she is talking about. Look — I’m no expert on winter cycling; I’ve only been doing it for 2 winters after a hiatus of over 20 years in the Florida sun. But I do know that it’s entirely “doable” with the right layering strategy and the will to get out there.

    I will admit that on the coldest days, I find bike commuting to be less than fun, but still better than being stuck in traffic!

  2. Matt

    Nice post E! I agree – it doesn’t get as cold here (Virginia) as it does in Chicago – but layering does the trick, and with a few key layer choices plus what I have already I can be quite cozy down to some pretty low temperatures. Heck, I’ve got one (relatively lightweight) winter jacket that I don’t break out until it’s below 30F because it’s too warm otherwise!

    Hands and feet are always trickiest for me – I don’t have fantastic circulation and I’m still working on getting stuff that stays comfortable for a while in the teens and single digits.

  3. Dottie

    Great response! If winter bicycling were suicidal: 1) I would have died four years ago; and 2) I would not bike in the winter because I love life. 🙂

  4. Ken Sanders - Trek Navigator

    Been Winter cycling for 7 years now thoroughly enjoy

  5. BluesCat

    Not only is “He Who Knows” totally clueless, if you look at the drawing he attached to his post you’ll see he ain’t much of an ARTIST, either!

    Now, living in Phoenix, I can’t comment too much on true, winter bike commuting. But I have backpacked and camped in the snow, one time at 9,000 feet above sea level where the cold, still air was -20°F. You generate MUCH more sweat walking around with 50+ pounds on your back than when you’re pedaling around on the most efficient machine man has ever created. How does “He Who Don’t Know Squat” think that mountain climbers survive in much more severe environments like Everest and K2?

    The guy probably owns a used car lot.

  6. Max Power

    I saw that 30-car pileup in Michigan on the news. Perhaps “He Who Knows” should point out how suicidal winter driving is.

  7. tearsicles

    And you are rocking those goggles! That is the one piece of equipment that I lack and covet.

    Its all a matter of preparation. If you are prepared you can do whatever you want. If you are ill-prepared you will be miserable regardless of whether you are on your bike. How many geniuses have you seen on the streets without a hat, without gloves or with those silly wool coats that are more like sport jackets bearing open lapels?

  8. Elizabeth (Post author)

    Too bad the goggles fogged on me this morning. 🙁 (equipment failure?) My only issue with goggles is that they tend to pinch my nasal passages shut so I end up breathing more through my mouth –> more fog. Oh well..

    I was almost overdressed today. Had to cool down when I got to work.


    Add another winter commuter to your list who is not suicidal. Like cycling in summer, though, there’s a right (safe) way to do it and a wrong (unsafe) way to do it. I’m too old too enjoy the unsafe ways, since my sense of immortality is long gone.

    Oh, yeah, one more thing. 5 years ago I felt like the only cyclist on the road in mid winter. Now I see several other “suicidal maniacs” like me even on the coldest days. We can’t all have a death wish, can we?

  10. Serge Lubomudrov

    Actually, my main concern on days like yesterday and today is not to over-dress. When I’m riding, I’ll be fine and warm. If I have too much layers, I feel sluggish, sweaty and feel cold even on short red light stops.

  11. Tim Heckman

    I really learned how to accomplish my five mile winter commute by just continuing as the winter progressed. Even on these coldest days, it has been a bigger concern to fight my morning headwind than to actually stay warm.

  12. JaimeRoberto

    The cold is not really an issue. You can dress for it. The bigger concern is that on snow and ice you have less control, and more importantly cars have less control and often less visibility.

  13. Hermes


    Excellent writing! This post from another may seem like a shill post but I don’t care. That was some good writing.

  14. Ted Johnson

    He Who Knows is probably an ignoramus who can’t be reached, but it’s worth the try. I’ll be posting this to our social networks.

    Owning and using a car is a pain in the ass — it’s just the pain in the ass that we are used to.

  15. Mir.I.Am

    @Elizabeth – knowledge from the deep blue sea of Hawaii: try out some snorkel defogger on the inside of your goggles before you ride! Just one drop or two smeared on the inside may help. Maybe try it in your front yard doing jumping jacks before you commit to a winter ride with Hawaii snorkel tips.

  16. Ghost Rider

    A tiny drop of toothpaste rubbed around and wiped off will keep fogging at bay, too.

  17. Adam J

    Haha, absolutely! Back in the UK I biked through the winter and always arrived at work warm and smiling.

    Watch the daft motorists dressed like it’s still early autumn: shivering while they de-ice their windscreens, shivering while the A/C lazily heats up, shivering through the few steps of icy air between the carpark and the office.

    They aren’t dressed for it and aren’t creating heat by moving their bodies, so they’re cold and miserable. Simple physics.

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