Review of Extreme Bar Mitts versus original Bar Mitts

New for this winter bike commuting season are Extreme Bar Mitts. Like the original Bar Mitts the Extreme Bar Mitts are like mittens for your handlebars that stay on the bike. You operate the controls inside of them, possibly with additional gloves or mittens on.

dropping child off at day care by bakfiets, 35F and raining

I have long, thin fingers and tried many pairs of gloves and mittens looking for something that would keep my fingers warm for cycling. When I finally found Bar Mitts they made a huge difference for me, allowing me to ride at colder temperatures or with greater comfort than anything before. In typical winter conditions I could use lighter gloves– and sometimes no gloves– inside the Bar Mitts, allowing me to more easily and safely operate the shifters and brakes. I’ve been using the original Bar Mitts about four years.

Recently Bar Mitts sent me their new Extreme Bar Mitts model to try and it has finally been cold enough to put them to the test. I was concerned that Extreme Bar Mitts would be too warm, since I already found the regular Bar Mitts sufficient for me down to about 0F when paired with fleece-lined wool mittens.

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Winter Tips for Utility Bikers

If you are like many utility bikers, especially if you replaced your car with an electric cargo bike, not biking in the winter is not an option. No matter what the weather conditions, you still need to bike to take your kids to school, commute to work, and pick up groceries. Is that even possible in the winter? The answer is emphatically yes. You’ll find a bike can get you where you need to go in any weather, in some ways more comfortably, more quickly and more safely than other forms of transportation. Sometimes it takes a bit of a sense of adventure to get going, but once you do you’ll find dread of winter biking is misplaced. Here’s some tips to help you along.

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Choosing to ride a bike in the winter

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The morning my four year old daughter had a choice to ride on a bike for 3 miles in the cold and snow, or ride in the car. She chose the bike, and we had a comfortable ride over to church. When we arrived I asked if anything was cold. She said her ankles were a little cold– she was wearing anklets instead of full-height socks, and some cold air got on them. That would be easily solved with proper socks in the future.

I have some hope that if children can get beyond the excuse that “it’s too cold to ride”, then perhaps some adults can get over it as well. Biking for transportation in the winter can be great way to fit in some exercise, when it’s otherwise not as enticing to be outside.

For another great post on the topic of kids and choosing to ride in the winter, see this post entitled “There’s No Such Thing….as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” by Sara at Full Hands.

Christmas tree recycling, 2010

Christmas tree recycling 2010

It was about a 16 mile round trip to the recycling point. In the scene above, I’d just found a second tree abandoned by the side of the road and strapped it on the trailer.

The temperature was perhaps 15F with a stiff headwind going out.
I was comfortable riding out using Bar Mitts with wool mittens inside, along with my usual assortment of gear. I have started wearing a waterproof shell over my softshell jacket for additional wind protection on very cold days.

Once I stopped and hucked the tree, I decided to take the long way home through the country to see the scenery. That plan worked pretty wheel until about mile 12, when I found myself at the bottom of a valley at the Abington/Salisbury intersection with a dying battery and about 120 lbs of bike to get home. Ah well, I succeeded at getting a good workout on a day I might have otherwise stayed inside.

Mission: Deliver toddler to daycare at 15F

Mission: Deliver toddler to daycare at 15F

“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Ranulph Fiennes

We had a comfy ride to daycare and she reported that nothing was cold upon arrival, despite the sometimes 20 mph windchill generated from the moving bike at a temperature that was 15F to start with.

The ~3 year old is wearing a winter helmet with built-in ear covers, a “thick and thin” balaclava, ski googles, as well as some snow pants and snow boots. I’ve got a merino wool hat, face mask, OTG ski googles and a scarf. Neos overshoes help keep my feet warm on especially cold days, and bar mitts keep my hands warm while allowing me to wear modest gloves.

Sure it looks ridiculous to many. But I’d rather stay warm with a bit of extra clothing than to wear a 4,000 lb car for a short crosstown trip. I mean, when the primary reason you take a car on trip is a feature associated with clothing– like keeping you warm– then you are primarily wearing the car, right?

3 wardrobe updates that worked for winter bike commuting

Whitewater Gorge, Richmond Indiana

The seasons are changing and it’s time to prepare for another winter of transportation with minimal car use. 

Over the past couple of winters, I successfully experimented with some wardrobe updates that allowed me to be comfortable outside without a car.
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Video: How to Dress for Winter Bike Commuting

Dottie commutes by bike with style through winter in Chicago, and she’s put together this great video on how to dress for winter bike commuting:

My own philosophy and recommendations would be rather similar. She also provides her own blog post with more details and photos.

You’ll find several more tips on this site in the clothing category.

Pranayama for car-free winter commuting

Pranayama, or yogic breath control, taught me that breathing differently can make a big difference in how I feel. I applied an awareness of breathing to my car-free commuting and developed these two mindful breathing practices to increase my comfort walking and biking in the winter.

The basic breath I use is a heat conservation breath. It recognizes my primary heat source is myself. Maximizing warmth is accomplished by simply breathing in and out slowly through the nose. The nasal passage is a longer route than mouth breathing. A slower breath through the longer passage maximally warms the air before it reaches my core. A slow exhale means I’m holding on to the air I’ve just warmed up for a maximal amount of time.

A second technique, the breath mask, is an alternative to wearing a scarf or face mask. I breath in quickly through the nose then exhale slowly through my mouth aiming the warm air upwards. This creates a small cloud that warms my face. By breathing in quickly and exhaling slowly, I feel some heat on my face most of the time. The breath mask is ideal while walking into a headwind– the oncoming wind will blow the warm air you’ve exhaled air back towards you.

Mindful breathing has made my winter walks more enjoyable. If you are looking to increase your own car-free commuting comfort, I recommend giving it a try.

Cayenne for Winter Warmth

Biking to church at 0 degrees Farenheit.
I’ve tried many things to warm my skinny fingers on winter bike commutes. Wool mittens with overmitts are best for the coldest days, but the most interesting heat source I’ve found is my diet. I’ve rediscovered what the Chinese learned ages ago when they classified food as warming and cooling. Science now understands that “warming foods” work in part through better circulation, stoking the internal furnace.

One winter I experimented focusing my diet on warming foods and spices. On my morning oatmeal, I add small amounts of cayenne, cinnamon and powdered ginger– each has its own warming properties. Cayenne in particular is great for improving circulation. At work I keep a shaker of cayenne to add lightly to my lunch and at dinner I may add red pepper flakes or hot sauce. Even small amounts will help. There’s no need to create painful levels of heat. I combined this with centering my winter diet on warming foods like potatoes, onion and garlic. I cut out cooling foods like cucumbers, lettuce and ice water. Now my hands now stay warmer, longer throughout the winter.

You may also rub a little cayenne directly on your fingers and toes before you go out for immediate additional warmth. Add more slowly– it’s possible actually use too much in a result in painful burning sensation.
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