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Riding in rain... and cold and ice

Winter must-haves include fenders, lights

It's that time of year again. There's a chill in the air in the morning, the nights are drawing in, and the days when the sky was a colour other than grey seem like a distant memory. Bike shorts have been traded for long pants, and the days of fingerless gloves are numbered. The swarms of summer commuters on the Burrard Bridge have already started to thin out as cyclists begin their annual migration back to transit and cars, leaving the bike lanes to the December diehards.

Fall and winter weather is no reason to stop commuting, however-especially in Vancouver, where there's no guarantee that you'll stay dry on the bike regardless of the time of year. As long as you have sufficient protection against the elements and your bike is prepared, winter commuting doesn't have to be an uncomfortable or unpleasant experience.

The basics are obvious: good waterproof pants and a jacket. These don't have to be expensive, high-end Gore-tex; if you layer up well, a thin waterproof outer layer will serve you fine. Booties are also a worthwhile purchase: these range from simple waterproof shells to keep your shoes dry to windproof neoprene that will keep your toes warm on the coldest day. I also can't advocate strongly enough for investing in a good pair of gloves. There's nothing worse than frozen fingers on a bike (especially when you're trying to brake or change gears) and once your extremities get cold, it's hard to enjoy any aspect of the ride.

For your bike, the winter must-have is a set of fenders. A cheap set will set you back $30 to $40, and have the advantage of being relatively easy to install (and later, remove when the weather improves). Investing a little more heavily in a sturdier set is worthwhile if you're thinking of keeping them on the bike year-round, which isn't a bad idea in Vancouver.

A mud flap at the end of the rear fender not only protects your feet from a soaking, but saves anyone riding behind you in the bike lane from an unpleasant road-grit-andspray exfoliation. These can be made out of anything from an old water bottle to half a beer can, and fixed to the fender with a screw or zap strap.

Keeping in mind poor winter light and the early evening, it's also a good idea to review your overall visibility on the bike. Strategically placed reflective tape (think about a car approaching from behind) is important, as is thinking about colour choices when you purchase your outer layers-no matter how strong your personal preference for black or grey, yellow or red is going to make you a lot more obvious to an oncoming vehicle. A good set of lights is also a must for winter; I usually double up so that I can have one blinking light to help cars see me, and one solid light to help me see the road.

For the really cold days-of which there may be a few this year, if the predictions are to be believed-I have a secret weapon in the armoury: ski gear. Not just the obvious things like socks, gloves, and toasty warm base layers, but the face mask that I use when it's -10C or below at Whistler. With that and a toque under the helmet to keep the ears warm, I'm ready for anything La Niña can throw at me.

Kay Cahill is a cyclist, librarian and outdoor enthusiast who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Read more at sidecut. ca, or contact her at [email protected].