Snow, ice, wind, puddles, slush, dark commutes and distracted drivers. . . winter biking in a city can be tough. I moved to Minneapolis this year and jumped full into the cult, gearing up for riding to work and around town even on the dankest of days. Here’s a quick look at some of the equipment that performed at varying degrees of disappointment and respect as I did battle on the icy winter road. —Amy Oberbroeckling
Vittoria Arctica MTB shoes — Despite a snowflake motif on the ankle, these bike shoes were not warm enough for most winter days in Minnesota. To be fair, the brand cites “extreme weather conditions” as the scenario for these shoes, not full-on winter. They have a water-resistant upper and a neoprene cuff. The Arctica shoes, $200, worked fine in temps to about 30 degrees F. But next year I will upgrade to a dedicated winter riding shoe that has insulation for the “extreme weather” here in Minnesota.
Pearl Izumi base layer top — Next to my skin, the Transfer Long Sleeve Baselayer, $60, has been an essential piece. It is a form-fitting, mid-weight top with a fuzzy interior. The fabric is designed with Cocona’s Minerale technology, which wicks sweat better than almost anything I’ve used. It’s warm, wicking, and a perfect foundation for days under 20 degrees F.
Women’s P.R.O. Softshell jacket — Another Pearl Izumi piece, this jacket is windproof, waterproof and breathable. The model, the P.R.O. Softshell 180, also employs Cocona’s Minerale and pairs nicely with the base layer above. It’s rated to 35 degrees F, but I find it keeps me warm on rides between 10 and 20 degrees. The front-facing fabric is wind blocking; on back, the fabric is more breathable. There are reflective touches that ignite when hit with car headlights, a nice bonus for the dark winter road. Price is fair, too, at $190.
Eigerjoch Mittens — My hands are usually the first thing to get cold while out riding. This winter, I took extreme proactive measures and tried the Eigerjoch Mitten from Mammut. The down-filled, waterproof mitts cost $200. They kept my hands warm when temps were 20 degrees and above, but any colder and I could feel my digits starting to chill, especially the segmented index finger. For ice climbing, more what these were designed for, I could see the Eigerjoch mitts excelling. They are low profile and the free finger adds dexterity for wielding an axe and putting in ice screws. On the bike, next year I’ll go with something a bit beefier on the hands.
Bike Lights — Any winter rider knows illumination is a top concern. I’ve been using the Planet Bike SuperFlash Tail light, $29. It’s about as standard as rear lights come, but the “SuperFlash” mode is eye catching for drivers. The light is highly visible when in blinking mode (up to 1 mile of visibility, says the brand). Also notable, the battery has lasted me all winter through the cold and snow.
For a front light, I’ve been riding with the Serfas USL-5 Raider USB, $40. It’s super easy to mount and switch between bikes. Produces 70 lumens of light, so it’s bright enough as a to-be-seen light though it does not light up the road too well ahead. Recharges via a USB port on my laptop.
Bern Brentwood Helmet — A head-cradling “bowling ball” of a helmet, the Bern Brentwood, $100, has a goggle strap holder on back and feels more like something you’d wear on the ski slopes. But once on the head and you’re rolling the 15-ounce hard hat is comfy and warm.
The helmet’s integrated, insulated pads cover your ears like muffs — but they also block some traffic noise, so be careful out there. Caveat: The vents on top do not close, and on the coldest days (below 15 degrees F) the chill air streaming in required a warm winter hat to be worn under the Bern lid to keep cold headaches away.
—Amy Oberbroeckling is an assistant editor.