Before Thanksgiving, a bicyclist can still pretend it's fall. Even after that final October weekend when you set the clocks back and start riding home from work in the dark, you can tell yourself that cycling in Cleveland is a three-season activity, and that third season still has a few days left in it. Maybe you even tell yourself that these are the best days for cycling to work: the crisp air, the changing leaves. You just put on a sweatshirt, and you're plenty warm. You can push yourself to go faster without sweating.
But by Thanksgiving, there's no doubt you're rounding that windy turn into the fourth season. If you're still riding a bicycle at this point, maybe it's because you're among the one in four Clevelanders who, by census reckoning, doesn't have a car. It's also possible that you use your bike for transportation because you have strong environmental convictions. You don't want to put any more carbon into the air. You "care."
Or maybe you just don't want to give up your daily dose of balance and speed. A bicycle is a gyroscope that takes you places.
No matter your reason, make no mistake: Cycling through the Cleveland winter is a battle against the elements. You head out in the morning knowing that one day the weather forecasters betting on the blizzard will get it right. You'll be halfway downtown in a head wind, and the snow will start blasting away at your face. Who wants to ride a bike through that?
Maybe you do. There's something deeply satisfying in defying the expectation of what's possible in a Cleveland winter. If you're up for the challenge, the good news is that all you need is willpower, and a few key pieces of clothing and accessories. We thank the folks at Spin Bikes in Lakewood (spinbikeshop.com), Century Cycles in Rocky River (centurycycles.com) and Eddy's Bicycles in North Olmsted (eddys.com) for their help.
Indispensible after the time change. In the city, you need lights to be seen more than to illuminate your way. Knog "Skink" lights have a great rubber clasp for your seatpost or handlebar. Available in red or white, for front or rear, $33.99.
Who needs all that extra weight and clutter? If you ride on wet pavement, you do, to stop that dirty mix of grit, grease and ice-cold water from spraying back up at you from the road. Most importantly, you won't have a filthy stripe up your backside. The Planet Bike Freddy Fenders Clip-On back fender is just $14.99. Cascadia full fenders that mount to your wheel dropouts are $45.
Sure, you can cuff your pant legs, but tights let you move without that binding feeling around the crotch and the knees. Plus, these days you can get them made of miraculous fabrics that can stop the cold, cold. Pearl Izumi's makes "Select," for weather that's just cold ($59.99), and "Amfib," for weather that's very cold ($100-120).
Make sure they're big enough that they don't squeeze your fingers and constrict your circulation. I like the Specialized "Sub-Zero" ($49.99), Gore's "Radiator" three-fingered model ($59.99) and the Pearl Izumi soft-shell gloves ($45).
A little bit of spandex goes a long way, and for my money, the best place to put it is on your head. Spandex beats a ski mask because it fits under your helmet, unlike that wooly thing you take when you go sledding. Gore's has a breathing hold by your mouth ($39.99). Pearl Izumi's "Barrier" goes for $35.
Any windbreaker will sort of do the job, but it's the details that make your made-for-cycling jacket worth the investment. Like being long in the back, to cover your butt so you don't develop a gap when you're leaning forward on the handlebars. Try the Specialized "Element" softshell ($139) or Pearl Izumi "Pro" softshell ($160).