How to prepare for the wind, rain, and sun in Korea's four seasons.
Do you enjoy soaking in rainwater? Peeling fried skin off your back? Amputating frost-bitten digits? No? Well, then check the weather!
Before your hundred kilometer-plus cycling trip across Korea, check out our climate guide. From the frozen Han River to the blistering Daegu sun, we’ll take you through Korea’s four distinct seasons.
Check the Forecast
When preparing for weather, monthly averages are a great starting point. A glance at the chart will show most of Korea’s rain comes down in June and July.
But, Korea isn’t a desert. It’ll rain any season of the year. A quick glance at the government’s website (Korean language) or Google search for “how’s the weather where I am” will give you a good read.
Keep in mind, if you’re setting out for a short ride, you need not prepare as much. You can trust the forecast like you trust your family dog.
If you set off for a week-long adventure, trust the forecast as much as a politician. Prepare for betrayal and bring the kitchen sink.
Korea is a small country. The climate doesn’t differ as widely as America. However, there are key differences.
In the wintertime, ice will top the river in Seoul. Snow will coat the most of the peninsula. However, white flickers from the heavens rarely visit the southeast.
Check out our season-by-season breakdown of the climate in South Korea.
The South Korean winter is dry and cold. December through February, the air is dry and the temperatures are low.
Besides cities in the southeast, ice and snow fall and collect on bike paths. Because bike paths aren’t as important as major highways, they don’t get as much love.
Cyclists grip their handlebars 99% of time. If you don’t wear protection, wind will ravage your fingers 100% of the time. A pair of windproof gloves will ward off the invisible demon.
In fact, make every outer layer windproof. Wind will slip through even a thick cotton sweater. A simple rain jacket with two insulating layers underneath might be enough to keep your top part toasty.
Keep your insulating layers light. Synthetic, long sleeve workout shirts work well. They keep heat and dry fast.
If you ride around wearing a pair of loose kakis, your chain will gobble up your pant legs. Tight, black bike pants won’t catch in your chain. However, you don’t need compression pants. Look for some wind-resistant pants that hug your ankles.
Hat choice varies by the rider. You can an insulating cycling cap. They are usually brimless or brim-minimized to fit a helmet overtop. Or, one or two skull caps (toboggans) keep your head toasty.
Spring transforms South Korea. Gone are the snowy days and finger nipping cold. The air softens. The temps warm. A hint of rain also returns to breath life into the starved foliage.
However, you’ll feel the lingering bite of winter at night. In early March, you might spot frost on the edges of car windows.
Though the invaders are long gone, Korea adopted the blossoms wondrous blanching. Natives and tourists alike flock to famous for their cherry blossom festivals.
The cherry blossoms begin on Jeju Island towards the end of March. They make their north and reach Seoul by mid-April.
Springtime also brings higher than normal air pollution. A national problem, the air thickens with a combination into a haze.
What is the culprit? Three-fold.
Because wind blows from west to east, China had the bright idea to move their factories from the center of the country to the coast. This saves their population from breathing their smoggy belches. However, the wind carries fine dust winds over the Yellow Sea and blankets the Korea peninsula.
The second smog bandit? Korea. The country is still reliant on coal for over half of its energy. It’s also deep into meat and potatoes manufacturing, chemical processing, and oil and gas extraction and refinement.
The third culprit? Geography. Seasonal winds originating in Mongolia and northern China kick up anything that floats and carries it across the divide. Known as Asian Dust or Yellow Dust, Korea sits directly in the path of this lung boogeyman.
With or without pollution from man-made industry, Korea’s roll of the air-quality dice never turns out too well.
It’s no fun cycling in fine dust. There could be impacts on your health with excessive exposure.
A good face mask can filter out particulate matter (PM2). Most drug stores (약국) will sell one for ₩ 3,000.
Face masks come in a variety of ratings. They most common are N95, which filter 95% of particulate matter. You can also find Korean Filter (KF) masks rated as KF80, KF94, KF99, which filter 80%, 94%, 99% respectively.
Reusable masks are great if you’re facing a few days of persistent smog. The sports focused masks help you suck in more air when cycling.
Spring time brings warmth back to South Korea. You’ll find some days warm enough to cruise with just t-shirts and shorts.
If you setoff in early spring, bring a pair of ankle-hugging pants and a light jacket. Passed sundown, frost monsters of winter’s past arise. You’ll thank yourself for bringing a pair of gloves and hat, too.
Remember, cool weather isn’t the same as less sun. A full day of riding exposes you to hours of rays. Bring sunscreen for your skin. Bring sunglasses for your eyes.
Summer bathes Korea with warmth and water. You’ll find long, hot days ballooned with moist air.
Summer is a great time for a leisurely bike ride. However, beware! Elemental forces are out to get you!
Watch Out! Water!
Summer is also monsoon season. You can expect three times as much rains as any other month of the year. Soggy days soak half of July and August.
In August and September, a typhoon or two might cross over from Japan. When this happens, skies open. Rivers overflow. Wind tears at infrastructure. It’s safe to say, this isn’t the best cycling weather.
Watch Out! The Sun!
Don’t let all that wet weather fool you, though. When the sun comes out, it’s hot. Hot hot.
Stay hydrated. Take breaks. Heat stroke can sneak up on you. Calling emergency services is a terrible way to end your cycling trip.
If you have fair skin, watch out for exposed skin. Cool winds blowing over your skin give you radiation amnesia. You may feel cool. But, the sun sneaks passed the breaze and bombards your arms, legs, and face.
Apply sunscreen before and during your ride.
Use a waterproof sunscreen like Neiva Swim & Play. The lotion will stay on sweaty skin and won’t drip into your eyes. SPF-50 plus protects fair skin the best.
In fact, bring sunscreen with you all-year long. Seasons come and go. The sun sticks around all year.
When packing for summer, remember: it’s a hot, wet mess. Bring a rain jacket. Bring shorts and t-shirts that breathe and dry quickly.
You’ll also want to waterproof. Fit backpack rain cover over your pack to keep the water out of your luggage.
However, with enough rain and time, everything will get wet. So, take some resealable plastic bags (Zipblock bags). Drop your phone and wallet in for extra protection.
The thick summer air also brings out many critters and crawlers. Along with sunscreen, bring some insect repellent.
When the heat mellows and rain abates, autumn arrives. Weather and temps are similar springtime. However, vivid orange and red replace springtime cherry blossoms. Clear skies overtake polluting dust storms.
Break out your bicycle. This is the best time of the year to go for a ride.
In September, expect tamed summer. The rain gives way to clear skies, but holds summer’s warmth. By October, the air grows crisp. Winter’s fingertips take hold in late November.
Foliage color reverses the cherry blossoms’ path. In Seoul, watch the trees flush with color in mid-October. Oranges and reds flush meander down to Jeju Island in the south by early November.
Like cherry blossom festivals, the changing leaves bring out festivals in the cities and glorious hikes through national parks.
Holidays Arrive Early
You thought Christmas travel was a pain? Try Chuseok!
Along with Lunar New Year (Seollal), Chuseok brings everyone out of their apartment buildings and onto the roads. For three to five days in mid-September, transportation infrastructure swells to capacity.
Train tickets go faster than Coachella. If you can get a bus ticket, you might as well harness snails to a dog sled. You ain’t going nowhere on those highways.
Autumn is the most forgiving of seasons in Korea. It’s not too hot, nor too cold. You can get away with t-shirts in September and early October. However, nighttime brings the cold. Don’t forget to pack a light jacket.
Shorts are good during the day. But, ankle-hugging pants (that stay out of the teeth of your hungry chain) can keep your legs warm if your dates approach late November.
In fact, you might have to break out a pair dusty gloves and skull cap. 3 °C on a November night is enough to sear the edges of your knuckles.
And, don’t forget the sunscreen. The year-round sun doesn’t care about temperature. Exposed skin will suffer.