The next day, removing my helmet opened a floodgate of sweat that poured down my forehead, taking my meticulously applied mascara with it. But day three of my winter bike commute …
On day three, I nailed it.
And you can, too, with the right amount of commitment, some flawless layering and a dash of impeccable gear selection.
Coffee1 of 13
Let's start with the most important thing: getting your piping hot pour over to the office intact. I swear by the 16 oz. Zojirushi Stainless Mug because the vacuum insulation not only keeps beverages warm for six hours but will not leak under any circumstances, even if you hit a pothole and it crashes unceremoniously to the pavement beneath you (speaking from personal experience).
Bike2 of 13
Your rig is an entirely personal thing (and largely dependent on the length of your commute). For example, my vintage '80s Bianchi with the mustache handlebars was perfect when I lived and worked in downtown. But now that I haul myself 5 miles each morning, I prefer to use my gravel bike, Kona's Jake the Snake, as my daily. The stock version comes conservatively equipped with Clement 700x33's and Shimano 105s, and you'll be grateful for the few grams saved with a carbon fork.
For an affordable (not to mention lighter) version of that vintage steel steed, check out Tribe or Brooklyn Bicycle Co. for some stylish, solid options.
Backpack/Pannier3 of 13
Mankind has debated backpack or pannier since the beginning of time (or at least since the invention of the bicycle). I've used both, but currently prefer the sportier option of the Thule Pack 'n Pedal Commuter Backpack. The waterproof roll top closure seals your valuables up tight (I've ruined a laptop in a thunderstorm before, so don't underestimate the importance of this feature), and the crush-proof SafeZone compartment protects your sunglasses and other fragile gear. Thule is known for packing tons of thoughtful features into their products, so look for helpful touches like a blinking light attachment, a U-lock stash pocket and a laptop compartment that sits on top of your bag rather than against your back.
If you do go with panniers, take caution to distribute weight as evenly as possible between both sides to ensure you maintain control over the bike.
Jeans4 of 13
Oh, how easy it is for you dudes out there—just one-click on your favorite Levi's Commuter wash, and you're stylish, functional and probably didn't even pay shipping. Well it's not as easy for us ladies (and if you say the Levi's women's version fits you just fine, you're lying). I have only recently resolved to just roll with Gap's cheap, high-waisted jean leggings line. They look good but they don't last long—which is fine, considering they're super cheap (hey, last week was buy one-get one!).
Moral of the story is, if you can't find commuter-specific jeans that work for you, look for something stretchy, high-waisted and priced in a way that won't tick you off when the crotch inevitably rips.
Jacket5 of 13
Versatility is key when selecting your commuter jacket because you require it to do so many things: insulate you from the elements, allow for layering, ensure you're highly visible, ventilate well—I could go on. Specialized's Deflect Reflect Hybrid Jacket is well worth the price point because it truly does all of those things (although Castelli makes a more affordable version that is also pretty solid). Constructed with Schoeller's waterproof fabric, the jacket uses 3M reflective technology that takes millions of microscopic glass beads and permanently seals them to the fabric structure. In layman's terms, that basically means you light up like a Christmas tree when headlights hit you. Somehow the jacket is still washable; I've washed it three times thus far and the reflectivity seems to be holding up just fine. Plus, you can zip off the sleeves and turn it into a vest if you overestimate how much warmth you really need.
Socks6 of 13
If you haven't jumped on the wool bandwagon yet, what in the world are you waiting for? The one day I went with no-show socks slid under my Vans, I couldn't feel my feet until lunchtime. So if you're going to relent, might as well make them humorous with one of The Sock Guy's witty designs while you're at it.
Winter Cap7 of 13
A word of caution about wearing a winter cap: If you misjudge the temperature to be a few degrees colder than it actually is, you risk turning your head into a sweaty inferno, the likes of which your co-workers have only seen in their nightmares.
Rapha's Belgian-style winter cap couples Merino wool for insulation with a soft mesh lining to wick away perspiration.
Sunglasses8 of 13
On day one of my winter bike commute, I decided to forego sunglasses for the obvious reason that THERE WAS NO SUN. And oh, how Mother Nature did laugh at me. The frigid, blustery wind tore at my eye sockets and caused a constant stream of moisture to leak—and then freeze—on my cheeks. By day three, I was firmly committed to a pair of Oakley Holbrooks, which look just low-key enough to wear out to lunch with coworkers. And because Jawbreakers look ridiculous at 7:30 a.m. on a Tuesday...
Gloves9 of 13
Once you've found a pair of gloves that work, designate them as commuter-only and keep them stowed in your work bag. This will avoid having to search frantically for them after riding all weekend, plus they will likely be cleaner than the snot-covered ones you wore on that 60-mile road ride. I like Specialized's Deflect line for a few key reasons: The shell is soft but wind-resistant, the fingers allow you to operate your touchscreen and the slip-on cuffs slide really easily under your jacket or sweater.
Shoes10 of 13
The first thing you need to answer when selecting your commuter footwear is whether you're going to clip in. If you're not, just look for something with a thick, stiff sole that will give you stability on the pedals and over rough terrain (Vans are a perfect example). My commute is long enough—and hilly enough—to make clipping in an attractive option. DZR makes a line of shoes intended specifically for urban cycling; I ride in the Mechanic, which looks just enough like a sneaker to work at the office or on the bike.
Helmet11 of 13
Honestly, it doesn't matter which helmet you prefer—just make damn sure you're wearing one. I switch between the Bern Berkeley and the Kask Mojito based on one highly scientific factor: how I'm wearing my hair that day. The Bern is great for wearing your hair down and the liner adds a little extra warmth; the Kask Mojito is exceptionally well-ventilated, but you'll want a cap for the really cold days.
Lyft12 of 13
Because there's no shame in the occasional rideshare on those nasty, blustery days. Unless, of course, it's Bagel Friday—then you better suck it up and earn it.