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The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing: more people getting off their bikes and into their cars. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a few adjustments, you can be fairly comfortable riding well into the winter.

Here are your five winter biking essentials:

1. Lights and reflectors. Now that we’ve turned the clocks back an hour, most of us will be biking home in the dark. On well-lit streets, the purpose of your lights will probably be less about seeing and more about being seen. Be sure to have a good front and back light on your bike at all times, preferably ones with blinking modes, which help distinguish you from all the other taillights on the road. It’s also not a bad idea to get some reflective tape for your helmet, fender and bike bag. 

2. Gloves. Gloves are essential in the cooler temperatures. It’s no fun trying to use your brakes when your hands are numb.

3. Ear protection. It’s hard to protect your head from the elements and still be able to fit your helmet on, but keeping your ears warm is essential. My favorite item is a fairly flat headband that wraps from the forehead over the ears. When it’s really cold, I have a thin, microfiber beanie that will fit underneath my helmet.

4. Neck gaiter. Hands down, this is the best $10 I’ve ever spent. This fleece-like round piece of fabric (picture a floppy neck brace) covers my neck (and when it’s really cold I can pull it up to cover my mouth and nose, too).

5. Layers. Keeping your core warm is essential. Try experimenting with different base layers and jackets to see what works best for your particular ride. I love the warmth of a fleece as mid-layer protection. And who needs expensive leg warmers? I find that a pair of tight-fitting, knee-high soccer socks works well to protect my right leg where I roll my pants leg up.

BONUS: A back-up plan: Riding in a mid-summer rain shower is one thing. Riding in a “wintry mix” is quite another. If you don’t have the right rain or sub-freezing gear, riding in the elements can be anywhere from uncomfortable to dangerous. Plan ahead for days like this by getting your local bus schedule or a carpool buddy, and try not to feel guilty about it.

Of course, these are just basic guidelines for those of us in reasonable winter climates. If you are biking in the sleet, snow or temperatures in the teens, you would need a whole other set of advice — one that includes winter tires and shoe covers  — from someone who doesn’t draw the line at biking below 25 degrees.

— Text by Margaret SouthernCool Green Science Blog

MNN homepage photo: mindcaster_ezzolicious/Flickr