Thursday, December 29, 2011

In the Winter Pannier and Happy New Year

Winter has been tiptoeing in and out in Chicago this year.  The air has been balmy for a midwestern December, hovering around 40 degrees many days since before school vacation started. The long days of hibernating at home have caught us up and helped get our bike legs back under us. On two wheels to the Art Institute and the Nutcracker we were barely in our heavy coats and gloves. Usually in December we wouldn't leave the house without our snow pants and boots.

Waiting in the wings are the real cold days of this winter, and we are readying our winter pannier that was so disorganized this early winter and late fall. Last year's colder winter posts --Keeping Kids Warm Riding in Fall and Snow are good primers on how we dress the kids depending on if they are riding their own bike or passengers, where we get our favorite layers, and how we care for them so they last.
The Riding in Fall post is very detailed and has most of the information about winter, too, including caring for hands, feet and faces. The Snow post has good pictures of what the kids wear.

Our winter pannier is much about keeping hands, feet and faces comfortable. Having a good selection of supplies makes all the difference -- it lets you get out of the house without missing anything. This is what we keep inside ours--(toilet training toddler version- substitute wipes and diapers for your baby winter rider)

Hats and balaclavas or neck gaiters and extra mittens litter our pannier because they get lost, forgotten inside at school or drenched with snowballs. Windproof mittens can be cheap to find second hand (let's just say the ones in the pannier usually don't match) and we prefer ones with grippy palms. We never use wool gloves. Children's fingers get very cold very fast in them since they are neither wind nor waterproof. Mittens are warmer. We always try to have lip balm to avoid chapping.

Our school commute is about four and a half miles each way so we carry extra warm clothes too.  The early ride is in the coldest part of the morning and the afternoon commute can be with the sun down when we do errands on the way home.  Our small guy does two school runs since he gets picked up and later goes back out to get the big guys. On short trips we carry a few fewer extra layers. After two or three weeks of cold riding you figure out what everyone needs.

On the other hand, we bring extra things on longer trips. Hot drinks come along if we are going to see friends far away or will be out for a long time sledding.

Mostly our guys are used to the cold and are toasty but if not - we go in a coffee shop or bakery and make the most of it while we all warm up, then try again. Once we locked the bike up and took the bus.

Hands and feet really grew at our house this year and our eldest got his first pair of lobster style riding gloves for his birthday. He loves them so far. We couldn't find Smartwool long johns and used Icebreaker wool layers for the middle guy who grew out of the thick German ones.  The Icebreaker layers have lasted well, but it's important to try not to put them in the dryer.

We find that babies' bottoms heat up in all the extra layers and they need to be changed a little sooner than you might think sometimes. Our winter baby kit includes Balmex cream, a plastic ziplock bag for yucky clothes, and wipes (which can get very cold so don't just bring wet ones). A friend of ours kept the wipes in an inside pocket of her coat or under her daughter in the trailer to keep them warm. Toilet training toddlers of course need everything in multiples. Ugh. You can bail out and use a warm bathroom at a coffee shop or museum.

Happy new year and einen guten Rutsch!


  1. Thanks for posting this! I just got my toddler a pair of goggles for winter riding and so far he wants nothing to do with them. Any tips on getting kids accustomed to goggles?

  2. Hi Megan-
    I also have a hard time keeping the goggles on our youngest. Seems like the goggle loving time begins closer to four for us.
    Sometimes making a game out of them with the older guys helps. We played around with them in the house last year being spacemen and that helped. We're usually spacemen (space pirates are a a big hit too) which works well with the helmets.
    He also used to like to take his mittens off though he seem more ready to keep them on this year. He seems to like the googles more then his face mask or balaclava which he can't take off if it's on under his helmet. The older kids are nuts for the goggles and wear them any chance they get.
    Does anyone else out there have a good goggle strategy?


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