How a bike messenger gears up for cycling in winter
Caro Ruiz shares her tips for staying warm and dry in harsh winter weather while cruising through NYC on two wheels.
Head & neck
HELMET: "Protect your head!"
CONTINENTAL CYCLING CAP: “I usually wear this hat under my helmet so it looks professional. If you look professional, building security will let you take the normal elevators instead of the freights."
SUNGLASSES (to keep wind and dust out of your eyes): "When it starts snowing I'll switch to goggles."
OCTOPUS REFLECTIVE FACEMASK: “It’s super thin so I can breathe but my ears and face stay warm."
Backpack: Road Runner Rolltop waterproof backpack can adjust in size depending on what you have to carry. "I carry 12 bouquets at a time in my bag." The reflective sticker helps keep you visible.
PLASTIC BAGS: Wrap these over your socks if it starts raining or snowing to keep your feet dry. "I'll put a plastic bag over a sock, and then layer with another sock over the bag to keep it in place."
UNDER ARMOUR LONG SLEEVE: Base layer wicks away sweat and keeps the body dry.
BODA BODA JERSEY: Layering allows you to regulate the body temperature as it fluctuates from cold when still to super hot when riding. "Boda Boda is a famous messenger named Hiromi, it’s his thing. He’s super cool.”
FLEECE-LINED JACKET: "It’s fucking hot. I’ll think it’s cold outside, and I’ll put it on and I’ll do one drop and I’m sweating.” Multiple thin layers (rather than a bulky coat) are key to staying nimble and comfortable.
WATERPROOF JACKET: Keep one in your bag to toss on if precipitation is in the forecast.
LOCK KEY ON STRETCHY KEYCHAIN AROUND ARM so you don't have to dig around for it everytime you make a stop.
EXTRA TUBES, TIRE AND TIRE LEVER (in bag): "I have a friend who ran over a razor blade. It shredded his tire and he didn't have a spare." Snow can hide sharp objects that are otherwise usually visible.
HIP POUCH with phone, charger, keys and wallet, for easy access. Also holds a CO2 flat fix tool kit, wrench and allen keys. "If you don’t have a wrench, you’re fucked, and you can use allen keys to adjust pretty much anything on your bike."
WATERPROOF GLOVES WITH CONDUCTIVE FINGERTIPS so you don't have to take them off to use your phone.
27MM ROAD TIRES will give more traction while cutting through slush or snow. If you're dealing with super harsh conditions, consider studded tires. LOWERING AIR PRESSURE will help you maintain traction and prevent slipping.
FRONT AND BACK LIGHTS to stay visible during early sunsets and bad weather
ROLL UP FENDER to protect your back from puddle splashing and hide when not needed. “People steal fenders all the time, so the fact that it attaches to the seat post is great, it makes it harder to steal.”
REAR BRAKES: "You’ll skid rather than flip if you hit your brakes. I don’t need to die at work. I’d rather skid into something than fly over my handle bars."
MOISTURE-WICKING BASE LAYER to wick away sweat and keep the body dry.
FLEECE-LINED WATER-RESITANT PANTS:
"These are from Uniqlo, they were $40 and keep me warm and dry. Plus they're slim so they won't get caught in my gears."
CLIMATE X OR GORE-TEX INSULATED BOOTS "They’re really expensive but they’re really good. They do pay off because you’re not suffering." Size up to have room for multiple sock layers.
Caro Ruiz had just skitched a ride across the Williamsburg Bridge on her way to her interview with Hopes&Fears. Skitching—hitching a ride on a bike or skateboard by holding onto a car—is all in a day’s work for Ruiz, a bike courier. She moved to New York City from San Antonio this May, knowing no one but knowing that she wanted to work as a bike messenger here. Now, she says, “I’m zipping through traffic, I’m going the wrong way, I’m holding onto cars.” With winter approaching, Caro tells Hopes&Fears how she is gearing up to stay warm and dry for the season.
Disclaimer: Hopes&Fears does not condone breaking traffic laws. We encourage riders to ride safe.
Her bike is customized with small bars and short crank arms so she can slip through traffic. “I couldn’t even work a full week when I started, I could only do like four days a week, averaging 67 miles a day.” Her specialties include rush jobs and release jobs—when one pick-up includes multiple deliveries. One release job took her from Madison and 34th St to Park and 60th St, during which she made eight deliveries within an hour. This, Ruiz says, was only possible because she's focused on learning the fastest routes throughout the city. "Routing is the hardest thing about messengering, but now they have this new app that tells you how to route,” Ruiz explains, “but traditional messengers do their own routing.”
Her routing practice gave her a 3rd place finish—and first female finisher—at the Parks and Wreck alleycat race. Alleycats are bike races that emulate messenger work, where bikers race through a manifest—a list of checkpoints that must be hit, sometimes in a specific order. Often she’s one of only two or three women who race. “These girls have been out here way longer than me. I have mad respect for them. I’m a rookie.”
Her rookie status didn’t stop her from creating an all-female courier collective, Mala Bruja, with her friend Kenya. “Kenya and I are usually the only girls that race. She always wins by the skin of her teeth, and I’m really competitive so I hate it. If it’s not me t-boning a car and catching a flag, it’s me going the wrong way or something.” Mala Bruja sponsored New York's first-ever female-only Alleycat, Hellcat 2015. “We organized it in a month and got 30 plus sponsors. We planned for 30-50 women to show up, and everyone said it was too much. So we only printed 30 manifests, and more than 70 ladies showed up.”
Winter means harsher, less predictable conditions. Take these precautions when hitting the road:
Don't clip in: Clip in shoes may make for a faster ride, but in winter you'll need the option of putting your foot down fast if you slip or skid.
Stay visible: Earlier sunsets and snow make it harder for everyone to see, so use brighter lights and extra reflective gear to stay visible. Music speakers are an added bonus, so that pedestrians can hear you before they see you.
Be aware: Don't use headphones so you can hear traffic around you. Stay vigilant of your surroundings even when not on your bike; pedestrians should check the road before jumping out between cars, and definitely should not be looking down at their phones.
AUTHOR: Markee Speyer
PHOTOGRAPHER: Lia Bekyan
Editor: Gabriella Garcia