It’s been a week since I’ve ridden my bike. Why? Fall weather has “dampened and chilled” my desire. On the days it was sunnier and warmer, I was either working or embroiled in fall chores.
When the big maple in the front yard finally let go of all its leaves, something had to be done. Mulching with the lawnmower proved to be too hard a task for it. Dismayed, I reached for the dreaded rake. Bicycling would have to wait as I grabbed the only dry day to attack the leaves.
Am I done cycling? Not yet-my bikes are still in the garage, ready for a ride should the timing and weather cooperate. Over the years, I’ve secured all the cool, wet weather gear and clothing I need for riding in November. All I need now is the intestinal fortitude to get out and ride.
Fall cycling has some upsides and some downsides. With cooler temperatures and autumn colors, it can be a beautiful time to ride. It can also be miserable if it’s cold, rainy and dark.
Preparation and planning for all the weather conditions is important for cyclist’s comfort. In a recent People for Bikes blog, “Six tips to carry your summer biking habit into fall” (October 12, 2020), Tip #1 is: “Quell your fears with cold-weather gear. The right gear makes all the difference.”
I agree. If you’re outfitted with the right clothes to keep you warm and dry, fall riding can be enjoyable. Without it, you’ll be miserable. So, plan ahead!
Consider where you’re riding, for how long, and what the day’s weather forecast is. Make sure you have what you need to stay comfortable and keep your core warm. Dress in layers so you can add or take away coverings as the weather and your comfort dictate.
This time of year, I take full-fingered gloves, hat, ear band, warm socks, wind vest, lined wind jacket, long sleeve jersey, and cycling tights. If I expect rain, I substitute a rain jacket for the wind jacket and tuck in some waterproof pants and a waterproof cap with a brim to keep the rain off my face.
Eye protection is important, too. Wrap around glasses helps keep the eyes from tearing. Vented lenses help with fogging problems in colder weather or when you’re wearing a balaclava or neck-up. This time of year, I use either changeable or light-colored lenses to deal with changing light conditions, especially in the woods. Clear or yellow lenses help you see in poor light and protect your eyes from the rain and grit.
A good-sized pack on your bike or back is handy for storing clothes you might need when you get colder or wetter. At the bottom of my pack is always one more layer-just in case! Cycling uphill warms you up, but going downhill makes you cold fast. In extremely cold conditions, I’d add booties and a face mask. If the weather gets warmer or you get sweaty, packs are good places to stash shed layers.
People for Bikes Tip No. 2: “Weatherproof your bike.” You don’t want to be riding in wet weather without fenders. Nothing’s worse than getting a wet back as you ride through puddles! On some bikes, a clip-on fender will work. Others might require attached fenders. Ask at your local bike shop what will work for your bicycle.
Consider your tires, too. When riding on wet, slippery and, sometimes, icy road or trail surfaces, the wider the tire and the more aggressive the tread, the more grip you’ll get.
Early spring and late fall, my go-to road bike is my touring bike. It has fenders, front and back, with a rack and pack for my stuff. It has wider tires with deeper treads. It may be a little heavier, but it’s steady on the road.
People for Bikes’ Tip No. 3 is “Bring your street skills.” Expand that to bring your trail skills, too! Riding on any surface this time of year is tricky. Wet roads and trails are slick! If it’s cold enough, they’re also icy.
Leaves and pine needles litter the road and hide the trails. Acorns act like ball bearings under your tires. Hole-hiding puddles can trip you up. Pay attention to what’s under your wheels.
When you’re riding in wet conditions, check your brakes frequently. Wet brakes may not stop you soon enough. Squeeze them on and off to make sure they’re gripping as they should.
People for Bikes’ Tip No. 4: “Light up.” There’s less daylight in the fall and poorer visibility. That sun sets fast! Avoid being out there after dark, but just in case, have a bright front or helmet lights to light your way on the road or trail.
Use a combination of front and rear lights to make you more visible to other road users at all times of the day and in changing light conditions. Wear bright, reflective clothing so drivers can “see” you.
People for Bikes’ Tip No. 5: “Phone a friend”. You’re more likely to go out and ride in colder weather if you have a friend to share the experience with and to motivate you. As they say, “Misery loves company!” Riding with a friend helps make cycling more enjoyable as you deal with the elements together.
People for Bikes’ Tip No. 6: “Treat yourself.” Some days, with the right gear and friend, fall riding can be enjoyable. Other days, weather conditions are just not worth it. It’s time to stay home and use the trainer. Set reasonable goals for yourself and give yourself the flexibility to “punt” when it makes sense.
If you meet your goals or make it through a tough ride, reward yourself. Have some warm soup, hot chocolate, a good meal, or a hot shower. Treat yourself to some new bike gear to make the riding more pleasurable. Give yourself the next day off!
Here’s my final tip to add: “Make the Call.” At some point, riding in cold or rain doesn’t make sense for the recreational cyclist. There’s too much danger of hypothermia. It’s simply not worth it. Put the bike up on rollers and ride inside.
You can keep riding as long as you’re prepared with warm clothing, the right equipment, and lights. Add to those, the motivation to ride. However, it won’t be long before snow and colder temperatures make skiing more fun. With the exception of winter fat bikers and studded tire cruisers, most of us will soon swap wheels for skis.
Hope for warm, dry weather, be prepared for cold and wet. Visit your local bike shops and stores — the Bike Shop, Sports Outlet, Stan and Dan’s, EMS, REI, Ski the Whites and Sun and Ski — to see what they have for wet weather riding, or check online sources. Stay dry and warm this fall.
Check these sites for more information on fall weather riding: “Six tips to carry your summer biking habit into fall” at tinyurl.com/y5m5zndz; “10 expert-backed tips for winter cycling” at tinyurl.com/uzsuz9h; “Cold weather riding: Tips to stay warm on the bike” at tinyurl.com/y49w7lp6; and “Tips for cycling in cold weather” at tinyurl.com/y6hqk3q6.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Glen.