Sunday, 23 September 2012

Fall riding made easy

Well, it seems this weekend in Vancouver that Autumn is officially upon us. The weather has turned cooler, the skies are grey, and there is a feeling in the air that the rain will soon return to the forecast more regularly. So what does that mean for a car-free family that ride their bikes everywhere? To be honest, not a whole lot. We will get on our bikes just as we did in the hot sunny weather of July and August, just with a couple more layers. 

Many people often retire their bikes for the season when the weather turns, and it makes me a bit sad when I hear that. Despite the rain, there are still plenty of days to get out on a bike. So I decided to put together a few tips together to help encourage people to get out and ride, even in the cool days of Autumn!

1) Layer up
The kids and I all layered up for a ride along the
seawall in late October
As the weather gets cooler, you're going to want to stay warm when you're out riding your bike. The problem is, once you get going, even on a slow, sit-up bike like mine, you're likely going to heat up. I find the best solution is to wear layers. Throwing on a scarf and a jacket over a light sweater is an easy way to be sure I'm warm enough throughout my ride, while still being able to reduce the layers if my body starts to heat up. This holds true for kids, too. I try to always be sure my kids are wearing their coats over a hoodie, which I've found very handy when we ride closer to the water and have the ocean breeze to contend with.

Remember you can ride in anything, even a blazer and
a skirt
2) Don't break the bank
Many people I know feel that in order to ride in the cooler months, they have to buy all the special gear to do it. From special coats, gloves, pants, shoe covers and more, there is this idea in the cycling community that to be a true all-weather rider you have to have all the right stuff. To put it plainly, you don't. When you go for a walk or take transit, you don't have to buy anything more than an umbrella or wear a warm coat to keep comfortable, and riding a bike is no different. When the family and I get on our bikes in the cooler months, we wear our usual Fall and Winter clothes: a raincoat and rainboots if it's wet, or our woolly winter coats, hats, scarves and mitts if the wind is chilly. So when you prepare to ride your bike as the weather gets cooler, don't empty your savings account trying to buy all the special bicycle clothing. Just look in your coat closet, and you will find all you need to ride when it's cold!
Coralie in her raincoat and rainboots during a late
Spring ride
3) Give your bike some TLC
After a summer of riding in the dry, warm air, your bike is going to need a bit of maintenance to prepare for some cooler, wet months of riding. If you can spare the time and money, taking your bike to a local shop for a quick tune up is a great idea. They'll give your bike a good look over to make sure everything is running smoothly, including being sure your tires are ready for slicker roads, and your brakes won't fail you when the rain starts. Most shops will be able to do a basic tune up for about $30-40, and in my experience, they will always tell you if your bike needs some extra fixes before they do it so you can decide if it's something you can afford right away or want to wait till a later date.

If you have the ambition and aren't afraid to get your hands dirty, you can easily do some of the maintenance yourself. For a minimal expense, you can buy a degreaser and chain lube from any bike shop and give your chain, cassette and derailers a good cleaning. If you're unsure how to do this, there are many videos available online that show you the technique. Here's one I found on a quick search:
Alternatively, if you want to have someone show you in person, check out HUB in Vancouver (formerly the VACC), who offer bike maintenance courses for varying levels. That's actually where Chris and I learned about cleaning our bikes as well as how to fix a flat!

4) Lighten up
The biggest complaint I hear from motorists as the weather changes and it gets dark sooner is that they can't see people on bikes. While I feel that when you're driving a car you need to always be aware of everything around you, even a poorly lit bike, it never hurts to try to be as visible as possible to those you're sharing the road with. Let me be very clear, though, I am not talking about wearing high visibility vest, jackets or the like (see above re: Don't Break The Bank). What I'm talking about is being sure you have lights on your bike, and making sure they work. Some tiny rear light that gets hidden by your coat when you sit on your bike is useless when you're trying to make sure someone sees you on your bike. As a courtesy to everyone you're sharing the road with, be sure your lights can be seen, even from a couple blocks away. 

Another part of being seen on darkened roads is about riding responsibly. Those of us on those bikes need to be sure we're making that easier for motorist to see us. Weaving around parked cars causes you to be hidden from motorists on the road, and a sudden appearance of a cyclist as the pull out next to a parked car may be an unexpected surprise. My advice, always ride in as straight a line as possible so you are a consistent presence on the road. Furthermore, on busier roads, if you feel like cars may pass you too closely, take the lane. Yes, it is likely you will run across a motorist who might be "put out" by the bike in their way, but I'd much rather have someone slightly frustrated but know I'm there, than have them pass too closely and potentially clip or hit me as they pass.

5) Transit is always an option
Finally, if you're like me, you don't enjoy getting soaked on your bike. Nor should you, it's never fun to be wet and cold, whether you're walking or riding a bike. So if you're not likely to experiment with riding with an umbrella, as some have been known to do in Europe and Asia, then don't be too proud to take transit. If your motivation to ride you bike is an environmental one, remember that public transit is a good way to keep your environmental impact low. If you happen to be caught at the end of the day with your bike and a rainy ride home, don't forget that most city buses now have bike racks on the front of them so you can hitch a ride home on a dry bus without leaving your bike at the office. From personal experience, I used to feel guilty when I didn't ride my bike in the rain, like I was somehow not as dedicated as my counterparts who ride in all-weather. I have since realized that for me, riding my bike is something I enjoy. I like to cruise along and take in the city where I live at a leisurely pace. When it's wet, I can't do that as easily, so there's absolutely no shame in staying dry in a bus or Skytrain or whatever the transit options are in your city. Even on the "Wet Coast" where it rains seemingly eight months of the year, there are always dry days when you can get out on two wheels and enjoy riding your bike again.
Even in the winter, the sun will return, as it did this
cool day in February.
Overall, my main advice is don't be afraid or intimidated about riding throughout the cooler months of the year. As I've said many time in the past, riding a bike is easy, and that fact does not change with the weather. If you're one of the many people who retire their bikes once the weather turns cold, challenge yourself this year to keep riding. You may find it surprisingly easy, and who knows, one day your city may become just like some of the great bicycle cities of the world, where the streets are filled with people enjoying their bikes all year round. That's would be pretty darned fantastic to me. Happy Fall riding!
Even in the cold days of winter, this family rides!


  1. Thanks for posting. And I love the family pics. Personally though, I think that good wet weather riding gear is essential for year round, daily bicycle commuting.. And makes even those rainy rides enjoyable too.

    1. I totally understand where you're coming from, Fiona. I just think it's important for people to know they don't HAVE to buy all the gear to ride in the fall and winter months. It's about choice, and speaking from experience, it's easy to feel like you can't ride until you have the jacket, pants, gloves and such, which can be a huge expense. If you have time, check out my husband's article for Hush Magazine -,+simpler,+more+civilized+bicycle+culture/blog/395/14/

      We are just working to make cycling accessible to everyone, and moving away from the idea that it's a sport for just a dedicated few. I think the fact that your family and others that we know ride with your kids is fantastic and the best way to change things!