This article was written in 1991 by Pete Hickey who lives (or lived) in Ottawa, Canada. I found it a couple of years ago at http://danenet.wicip.org/bcp/
It so accurately reflects the thinking, fortitude, tenacity, and love of bicycling that many of us full-time bicycle commuters have that it makes you laugh out loud when you read it.
Here it is for your enjoyment:
Winter Cycling According to Pete
From: email@example.com (Pete Hickey)
Date: Wed Oct 9 1991 12:05:07 GMT
Subject: Pete’s Winter Cycling Tips
I am a commuter who cycles year round. I have been doing it
for about twelve years. Winters here in Ottawa are
relatively cold and snowy. Ottawa is the second coldest
capital in the world. The following comments are the
results my experiences. I am not recommending them, only
telling you what works for me. You may find it useful, or
you may find the stupid things that I do are humorous.
I am not a real cyclist. I just ride a bicycle. I have
done a century, but that was still commuting. There was a
networking conference 110 miles away, so I took my bicycle.
There and back. (does that make two centuries?) I usually
do not ride a bicycle just for a ride. Lots of things I say
may make real cyclists pull out their hair. I have three
kids, and cannot *afford* to be a bike weenie.
People often ask me why I do it…. I don’t know. I might
say that it saves me money, but no. Gasoline produces more
energy per dollar than food. (OK, I suppose if I would eat
only beans, rice and pasta with nothing on them…. I like
more variety) Do I do it for the environment? Nah! I never
take issues with anything. I don’t ride for health,
although as I get older, I appreciate the benefits. I guess
I must do it because I like it.
Since words like “very”, “not too”, etc. are very
subjective, I will use the following definitions:
Cold : greater than 15 degrees F
Very cold : 0 through 15 Degrees F
Extreme cold : -15 through 0 degrees F
Insane cold: below -15 degrees F
I have two:
1) If its good, don’t ruin it, if its junk you
2) I use a brute force algorithm of cycling: Peddle
long enough, and you’ll get there.
Bicycle riding in snow and ice is a problem of friction:
Too much of the rolling type, and not enough of the sideways
More will be covered below, but now let it suffice to say
that a lot of salt is used on the roads here. Water
splashed up tastes as salty as a cup of Lipton Chicken soup
to which an additional spool of salt has been added. Salt
eats metal. Bicycles dissolve.
Although I have a better bicycle which I ride in nice
weather, I buy my commuting bikes at garage sales for about
$25.00. They’re disposable. Once they start dissolving, I
remove any salvageable parts, then throw the rest away.
Right now, I’m riding a ’10-speed’ bike. I used to ride
mountain bikes, but I’m back to the ’10-speed’. Here’s why.
Mountain bikes cost $50.00 at the garage sales. They’re
more in demand around here. Since I’ve ridden both, I’ll
comment on each one.
The Mountain bikes do have better handling, but they’re a
tougher to ride through deep snow. The 10-speed cuts
through the deep snow better. I can ride in deeper snow
with it, and when the snow gets too deep to ride, its easier
Fenders on the bike? Sounds like it might be a good idea,
and someday I’ll try it out. I think, however, that
snow/ice will build up between the fender and the tire
causing it to be real tough to pedal. I have a rack on the
back with a piece of plywood to prevent too much junk being
thrown on my back.
I would *like* to be able to maintain the bike, but its
tough to work outside in the winter. My wife (maybe I
should write to Dear Abbey about this) will not let me bring
my slop covered bicycle through the house to get it in the
basement. About once a month We have a warm enough day that
I am able to go out with a bucket of water, wash all of the
gunk off of the bike, let it dry and then bring it in.
I tear the thing down, clean it and put it together with
lots of grease. I use some kind of grease made for farm
equipment that is supposed to be more resistant to the
elements. When I put it together, I grease the threads,
then cover the nuts, screws, whatever with a layer of
grease. This prevents them from rusting solidly in place
making it impossible to remove. Protection against
corrosion is the primary purpose of the grease. Lubrication
is secondary. remember to put a drop of oil on the threads
of each spoke, otherwise, the spokes rust solidly, and its
impossible to do any truing
Outside, I keep a plastic ketchup squirter, which I fill with
automotive oil (lately its been 90 weight standard
transmission oil). Every two or three days, I use it to re-
oil my chain and derailleur, and brakes. It drips all over
the snow beneath me when I do it, and gets onto my
‘cuffs'(or whatever you call the bottom of those pants.
See, I told you I don’t cycle for the environment. I
probably end up dumping an ounce of heavy oil into the snow
run-off each year.
Starting at the bottom, on my feet I wear Sorell Caribou
boots. These are huge ugly things, but they keep my feet
warm. I have found that in extreme to insane cold, my toes
get cold otherwise. These boots do not make it easy to ride,
but they do keep me warm (see rule 2, brute force). They do
not fit into any toe-clips that I have seen. I used to wear
lighter things for less cold weather, but I found judging
the weather to be a pain. If its not too cold, I ride with
them half unlaced. The colder it gets, the more I lace
them, and finally, I’ll tie them.
Fortunately, wet days are not too cold, and cold days are
not wet. When its dry, I wear a pair of cycling shorts, and
one or two (depending on temp and wind) cotton sweat pants
covering that. I know about lycra and polypro (and use them
for skiing), but these things are destroyed by road-dirt,
slush and mud.(see rule 1 above). I save my good clothes
for x-country skiing.
An important clothing item in extreme to insane cold, is a
third sock. You put it in your pants. No, not to increase
the bulge to impress the girls, but for insulation.
Although several months after it happens it may be funny,
when it does happens, frostbite on the penis is not funny.
I speak from experience! Twice, no less! I have no idea
of what to recommend to women in this section.
Next in line, I wear a polypro shirt, covered by a wool
sweater, covered by a ‘ski-jacket’ (a real ugly one with a
stripe up the back. The ski jacket protects the rest of my
clothes, and I can regulate my temperature with the zipper
I usually take a scarf with me. For years I have had a fear
that the scarf would get caught in the spokes, and I’d be
strangled in the middle of the street, but it has not yet
happened. When the temp is extreme or colder, I like
keeping my neck warm. I have one small problem. Sometimes
the moisture in my breath will cause the scarf to freeze to
On my hands, I wear wool mittens when its not too cold, and
when it gets really cold, I wear my cross-country skiing
gloves (swix) with wool mittens covering them. Hands sweat
in certain areas (at least mine do), and I like watching the
frost form on the outside of the mittens. By looking at the
frost, I can tell which muscles are working. I am amused by
things like this.
On my head, I wear a toque (Ski-hat?) covered by a bicycle
helmet. I don’t wear one of those full face masks because I
haven’t yet been able to find one that fits well with eye
glasses. In extreme to insane cold, my forehead will often
get quite cold, and I have to keep pulling my hat down. The
bottoms of my ears sometimes stick out from my hat, and
they’re always getting frostbitten. This year, I’m thinking
of trying my son’s Lifa/polypro balaclava. Its thin enough
so that it won’t bother me, and I only need a bit more
protection from frostbite.
I carry my clothes for the day in a knapsack. Everything that
goes in the knapsack goes into a plastic bag. Check the plastic
bag often for leaks. A small hole near the top may let in water
which won’t be able to get out. The net result is that things
get more wet than would otherwise be expected. The zippers will
eventually corrode. Even the plastic ones become useless after
a few years.
In the winter, the road is narrower. There are snow banks
on either side. Cars do not expect to see bicycles. There
are less hours of daylight, and the its harder to maintain
control of the bicycle. Be careful.
I don’t worry about what legal rights I have on the road, I
simply worry about my life. I’d rather crash into a snow
bank for sure rather than take a chance of crashing into a
car. I haven’t yet had a winter accident in 12 years. I’ve
intentionally driven into many snow banks.
Sometimes, during a storm, I get into places where I just
can’t ride. It is sometimes necessary to carry the bicycle
across open fields. When this happens, I appreciate my
It takes a lot more energy to pedal. Grease gets thick, and
parts (the bicycle’s and mine) don’t seem to move as easily.
My traveling time increases about 30% in nice weather, and
can even double during a raging storm.
The wind seems to be always worse in winter. It’s not
uncommon to have to pedal to go down hills.
Be careful on slushy days. Imagine an 8 inch snowfall
followed by rain. This produces heavy slush. If a car
rides quickly through deep slush, it may send a wave of the
slush at you. This stuff is heavy. When it hits you, it
really throws you off balance. Its roughly like getting a
10 lbs sack of rotten potatoes thrown at your back. This
stuff could even knock over a pedestrian.
Freezing rain is the worst. Oddly enough, I find it easier
to ride across a parking lot covered with wet smooth ice
than it is to walk across it. The only problem is that
sometimes the bicycle simply slides sideways out from under
you. I practice unicycle riding, and that may help my
balance. (Maybe not, but its fun anyway)
Beware of bridges that have metal grating. This stuff gets
real slippery when snow covered. One time, I slid, hit an
expansion joint, went over the handle bars, over the railing
of the bridge. I don’t know how, but one arm reached out
and grabbed the railing. Kind of like being MacGyver.
There are several ways of stopping. The first one is to use
the brakes. This does not always work. Breaks can ice up,
a bit of water gets between the cable and its sheathing when
the warm afternoon sun shines on the bike. It freezes solid
after. Or the salt causes brake cables to break, etc. I
have had brakes work on one corner, but stop working by the
time I get to the next. I have several other means of
The casual method. For a stop when you have plenty of time.
Rest the ball of your foot on top of the front derailleur,
and *gradually* work your heel between the tire and the
frame. By varying the pressure, you can control your speed.
Be sure that you don’t let your foot get wedged in there!
Faster method. Get your pedals in the 6-12 O’clock
position. Stand up. The 6 O’clock foot remains on the
pedal, while you place the other foot on the ground in front
of the pedal. By varying your balance, you can apply more
or less pressure to your foot. The pedal, wedged against
the back of your calf, forces your foot down more, providing
Really fast! Start with the fast method, but then dismount
while sliding the bicycle in front of you. You will end up
sliding on your two feet, holding onto the bike in front for
balance. If it gets *really* critical, throw the bike ahead
of you, and sit down and roll. Do not do this on dry
pavement, your feet need to be able to slide.
In some conditions, running into a snow bank on the side
will stop you quickly, easily, and safely. If you’re going
too fast, you might want to dive off of the bicycle over the
side. Only do this when the snow bank is soft. Make sure
that there isn’t a car hidden under that soft snow. Don’t
jump into fire hydrants either.
Freezing locks. I recommend carrying a BIC lighter. Very
often the lock will get wet, and freeze solid. Usually the
heat from my hands applied for a minute or so (a real minute
or so, not what seems like a minute) will melt it, but
sometimes it just needs more than that.
Something I like doing in the winter is to buy a Popsicle
before I leave, and put it in my pocket. It won’t melt! I
take it out and start eating it just as I arrive at the
University. Its fun to watch peoples’ expressions when they
see me, riding in the snow, eating a Popsicle.
You have to be careful with Popsicles in the winter. I once
had a horrible experience. You know how when you are a kid,
your parents told you never to put your tongue onto a metal
pole? In very cold weather, a Popsicle acts the same way.
If you are not careful, your upper lip, lower lip, and
tongue become cemented to the Popsicle. Although this
sounds funny when I write about it, it was definitely not
funny when it happened.