Welcome to Seattle! If you just moved here in September, and are looking to start biking, well, apologies. November is our rainiest time of year. And this year, we even had some snow in the first week! Below, I’ve compiled some information to help cyclists new to riding in cold weather generally, and Seattle particularly, including information on how (and where) to maintain your bike, tips on gear, tips on what to wear, and tips on routes.
Tips for your Bike
Obviously, the most important piece of gear is your bike, and one of the most important things when it comes to your bike is where and how to maintain it. Seattle is full of bike shops, but there are still a few gems, particularly when it comes to getting by on a student’s budget!
- Recycled Cycles — 1007 NE Boat St, Seattle, WA 98105
- In the U-district, with some of the more generous open hours of local bike shops
- Has a good selection of used bike parts, clothing, and other gear for the budget-conscious
- BikeWorks — 3709 S Ferdinand St, Seattle, WA 98118
- Located in Columbia City, serving Seattle’s South Side
- BikeWorks is a community-oriented nonprofit that operates a number of bike advocacy programs for youth and adults, and their bike shop helps fund their mission.
- They tend to carry one of the larger selections of used and refurbished bikes in the city.
- Like Recycled Cycles, they also carry a stock of used bike parts.
- 20/20 Cycle — 2020 E Union St, Seattle, WA 98122
- Located in the Central District, 20/20 is a local bike shop serving Seattle’s, well, central area.
- If you’re looking for a cheap, hipster-chic classic road bike with downtube shifters, this is your place.
- 20/20 sells a large number of used bikes, particularly those on the vintage side. Don’t expect any integrated shifters, but you can get a beautiful old steel frame for a song.
- ASUW Bike Shop — HUB, UW Campus
- Not a place you can buy a bike, but needs mentioning for anyone who’s a student, due to its location right in the heart of campus.
- They offer repairs and sell tubes and other spare parts.
- !!! — Don’t abuse this, but, having commuted 10 miles to campus from my home on south Beacon Hill, I had forgotten my lock, and only realized upon arriving on campus. Figuring it couldn’t hurt to ask, I asked the ASUW Bike Shop if they had a spare U-Lock… and indeed they did, just requiring me to leave my ID in exchange.
Compared to most of the country, the West Coast tends to stay comparatively warm in the winter, so Seattle winters aren’t too rough on that front — it’s the lack of daylight that’s what’s tough.
If you’re going to be riding on any city streets, get something at least 300 lumens for visibility. If you’re going to be riding down any paths where you expect there to be intermittent or no street lighting, get something at least 500 lumens. I personally ride with:
- NiteRider Lumina 1100 OLED (Primary Front Light)
- Cygolite Streak 450 (Backup Front Light)
- Cygolite Hotshot Pro 150 (Rear Light)
That’s going to be overkill for most casual riders, but that’ll be more than sufficient for any kind of road riding you might encounter, from city rush hour to fully-dark country roads.
These aren’t strictly necessary, but in keeping your wheels from flinging spray up into the air, they’ll keep you from getting a muddy skunk stripe down your back, as well as keeping your teammates far more likely to want to ride with you again.
For my commuter bike, I tend to go with fenders that are bolted on by the hub, and leave them on year-round. For my carbon road bike, I have a pair of SKS Raceblade Pros that attach/detach easily, and don’t require the built-in hub bolts that my road bike lacks.
If you’re going to only be riding for fun and exercise, you can probably get away with a trunk bag and maybe a top-tube bag, in addition to bottle cages and the pockets of a jersey. If you’re going to be commuting, however, you’ll want some form of weatherproof bike bag or pannier and rack setup.
For the times I choose to commute on my road bike, I use a Chrome citizen bag for my laptop and change of clothes. Chrome has a brick-and-mortar store in downtown Seattle (map), in case you’re interested in getting a hands-on in-store before any purchase.
On my commuter, I have a rack bolted to the provided eyelets by the dropout. On this rack, my bag of choice is the Ortlieb Office Bag. It has a laptop sleeve, a shoulder strap, is completely waterproof, and, most importantly, is freestanding when set down on the ground next to my chair or workstation. It’s pricey, but does exactly what I need it to.
Tips for your Clothes
You’re going to get wet.
There’s no way around it, you’re going to get wet.
Having tried many different combinations of rain gear here in the PNW, there’s just no way around getting some degree of wet through a heavy rain on a bike. The important thing is bringing a change of clothes and staying warm — and keeping your feet as dry as possible. If you ride without clip-in pedals, you’re probably better off; you can wrap your shoes entirely in something like these, or just ride in galoshes.`If you use clip-in pedals, you’ll want to get some bike-specific overshoes that keep your clips unobstructed. I personally ride with gore-tex bike shoes designed for winter for most days, with booties on top for days when it’s really coming down.
Mostly, though, I accept that I’m going to get wet on my ride, layer up, and make sure I have a way to hang up/dry out my bike clothes when I arrive at my destination, and changing into something nice and dry.
Second on the list:
Breathable waterproof is waterproof. …mostly. It took me a long time to figure out that breathable waterproof clothing actually requires quite a bit of upkeep to keep it performing as advertised. If you find the fabric of your breathable waterproof gear becoming saturated, it could need a refresh. REI has a great guide on how to do this that I won’t bother trying to replicate here. (REI DWR Rainwear Care)
If you’re new to Seattle, get ready to hear it again and again: layers.
When it comes to biking, not only are layers going to be your friend for the flexibility with Seattle’s fickle weather, but they’ll also maximize breathability during a ride, when one heavy layer may end up getting you drenched with sweat, and freezing once you stop moving.
My preferred combination is:
- Base Layer
- Long cycling bib
- Long-sleeve thermal shirt (that I also use for running)
- Wool socks
- Secondary Layer
- Cycling jersey
- Fingered Gloves
- Winterized Bike Shoes
- Outer Layer
- Minimalist Waterproof shell
- Waterproof overmitts
- Waterproof overshoes
In particular, I find that, even when it’s dry out, my overmitts and shell are invaluable for minimizing the wind chill when temperatures start dropping to near-freezing, as they start doing in November. With this combination, I am comfortable from about 0°-8°C. From about 8-15°C, I will drop the Outer layer, and above 16°C, I feel comfortable reverting to my warm weather gear, knowing that once I get moving, I’ll get too warm for too much else.