Is it the Period of Maximum Constraint or the Seattle Squeeze or the Jenny Jam? Doesn’t really matter what you call it (well, Mayor Jenny Durkan would really like you to call it the Seattle Squeeze), you should be figuring out right now how you are going to avoid driving to or through downtown Seattle.
Biking is a great option, but Councilmember Mike O’Brien made a good point earlier this week:
O'Brien: if you're not a bike commuter, being asked to try out bike commuting for the first time in January is "a pretty heavy lift."
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— SCC Insight (@SCC_Insight) December 10, 2018
There’s a reason most bike commute programs start in Spring. It’s just easier to convince people to start biking to work when it’s sunnier. But with the Viaduct closing January 11, we don’t have that luxury.
But with all the doom and gloom talk about the Period of Maximum Car Squeeze, I agree with today’s Seattle Transit Blog Editorial: This is an opportunity. And as the Move All Seattle Sustainably (“MASS”) coalition said in a press release today, “This multi-year traffic crunch should be a catalyst to move rapidly towards the carbon-neutral, multimodal transportation system Seattle needs.“
Under Mayor Durkan’s leadership, SDOT squandered its chance to have a fully-functional Basic Bike Network operational by the time the Viaduct comes down January 11. Sure, I can dream that she will boldly direct SDOT to make the nearly impossible happen and build a pilot bike network in just one month. But as Donald Rumsfeld once maybe said, “You Maximum Squeeze with the bike routes you have, not the bike routes you might want.”
So in that spirit, Seattle Bike Blog asked readers for their advice to someone commuting by bike for the first time in the dead of winter:
One thing I did several years ago was to aim for biking at least once a week to work through winter. Helped make sure my bike was kept in working order, avoided terrible weather and kept my bike clothes some place where I'd actually find them. Now I bike most everyday yr round
— Scott Amick (@ScottA_SEA) December 10, 2018
Protected bike lanes along their routes. I biked all winter in pouring rain, pitch dark, and even snow when I worked adjacent to the Burke Gilman Trail.
— Garland (@garlandmcq) December 10, 2018
Do a low cost “experimental” bike lane on 4th Ave using the current far left travel lane? Do the same on all center city BBN routes? Surely we could site some concrete barriers and planters before Jan 11!
— Rachael (@raludwick) December 10, 2018
Also, bike sharing seems like an obvious way to help new people! Someone giving free credits on those?
— Becky (@beckedm) December 10, 2018
One idea (credit someone else for this) – just bike the days it’s not actively raining – it’ll end up being more often than you think!
— Becky (@beckedm) December 10, 2018
Make a little hype embrace-the-rain how to / survival kit video … “Rain Riders: Live Where You Live”
— Paige (@ravinekid) December 10, 2018
Also, everyone who rides in the winter should have a good set of lights for their bike. Can there be a program to give those away to folks who take some kind of pledge to ride in January?
— Becky (@beckedm) December 10, 2018
I just replaced my bike that was stolen in December of ‘16 last week. I was a daily commuter and turned into a daily driver. I’m currently transitioning back to bike commuting. I’ve found that having your gear out and in sight helps, that and not paying for gas helps too.
— 🌿12 Years Until The 🌎 Dies🌿 (@JimmieBrandan) December 10, 2018
Having appropriate clothing for the weather sure helps. Also, having a place at work where you can dry out your gear certainly helps. No one wants to ride home in soggy clothing. Ask your employer/building management what options exist currently.
— Annie J. (@johnsonea) December 10, 2018
I would also point folks to Seattle Bike Blog’s perennial classic post: How to bike in the Seattle rain.
I am most excited about people’s creative ideas for encouraging people to try biking. A supportive community is vital to helping folks who are nervous or confused give commuting by bike a try and stick with it until it forms into a habit. So if you have more ideas, please share them in the comments below.
Winter biking is in large part about pushing through or around the initial fear of getting wet. It’s about learning to love what’s great about year-round biking in this amazing Seattle and enjoying the empowerment you get from knowing no weather can stop you from getting where you’re going when you want to.
I don’t usually spend a lot of time writing about gear, but it’s a question a lot of people have. In general, I urge folks to try out things for themselves and be ready to just get wet at times in the process. What works for some people does not work for everyone. And rain gear is really just clothing, and everyone has a different style.
But if your family and friends give gifts this time of year, some quality rain gear is a great idea. While there are ways to buy winter-ready clothes on the cheap, don’t cut too many corners. Knowing you will be mostly dry and warm no matter the weather is hugely empowering for people hoping to rely on biking through the winter. And since biking saves you so much money, it makes sense to invest in the gear or clothing you need if that means you will bike more often.
Here’s a quick list of winter biking gear, ranked roughly in order of importance:
- Reliable, rechargeable bike lights. More on that in this post.
- A rain jacket that is actually good at being waterproof. If your old jacket soaks through, try rehabbing it by cleaning and washing with a product like Nikwax (consult your tags or the manufacturer’s website for tips). But if that still doesn’t do it, it’s time for a new one. Don’t let a leaky jacket keep you from biking. An alternative, lower budget idea is to search for wool layers. Check out the sweaters, jackets and coats at Goodwill. Wool typically wicks water pretty well, and a warm wool layer (or two) is enough for misting and light drizzles. But it will soak through in heavy rain, so bring a backup. Your heavy coat is probably already great for the coldest rainy days, but it may be too warm for most days.
- Fenders. If installing them yourself is daunting, your local bike shop is there for you. It’s weird that bikes so often come without fenders because they are vital. Not only will this save your feet, shins and back, but the person biking behind you will be grateful you aren’t spraying them with your rooster tail.
- Gloves with a backup solution. Nothing is worse than putting on wet gloves (except maybe wet socks). So one option is to just bring two pairs of gloves with you at all times. Or you could buy a pair of gloves with a detachable waterproof shell you can use only when you need it (I like Outdoor Research’s Versaliner gloves). Ski gloves work very well to keep you warm and dry on the coldest rainy days, but you might find them too warm for much of the winter.
- A water-resistant bag. There are many options out there, and your existing bag might be up to the task already. It doesn’t need to be submersible like a kayaking bag, just something that won’t easily soak through. But if you’re looking for something special, I gotta shout out longtime SBB supporter Swift Industries.
- Rain-ready pants. This one is lower on the list because I do not personally like most rain pants. And for most of winter, you can get by without anything special on your legs. In the light rain or mist, it just doesn’t really matter. This is especially true if you wear something wool. I find that typical rain pants are annoying to take on and off and get so hot from pedaling that I’d almost rather be wet from rain than sweat. However, what works for you might be different. Many people are happy wearing rain pants. But there are other options, like Rain Legs, which are easy to take on and off and only cover the tops of your thighs. Or you can invest in higher-quality breathable rain paints that let as much heat out as possible while still keeping you dry.
There are also alternatives you can try. Some people love rain capes, for example. Others get those handlebar covers to keep your hands wet and dry without needing waterproof gloves. Some people wear shoe covers. Any of these solutions could work for you, and part of the joy of winter biking is trying things out. Because once you have a solution that is ready for any weather, you feel like a total bad ass. When you can confidently and reliably bike wherever you need to go all year round, that’s powerful.