Summers are hot and humid. Winters are cold and dry. Springs have cherry blossoms and pollution. Fall brings clear skies and colorful leaves.
However, two weather phenomena spice up the hot and cold seasons.
In the summer, the East Asian Monsoonal flow swipes air from warm Pacific waters and tosses a preheated, moisture blanket on the peninsula.
In winter, winds from Siberia blow across the Yellow sea and plop extra a few extra ice cubes in Korea’s frosted glass.
Glance at the monthly averages. Three things are apparent. Summer’s hot. Winter’s cold. And, most of Korea’s precipitation comes in between the months of June and August.
However, you’ll find plenty of precipitation outside of summer.
Korea’s rainfall habits echo to England or France. A blanket of gray clouds invade the skies. Expect on and off drizzle for twenty-four hour chunks. Not a one hour downpour.
It isn’t the end of days if you find a rainy day in your forecast. If need be, you can squeeze a good ride out with a little preparation.
How do you check the weather? The Korean government’s website provides a simple, English language (metric) breakdown of the current and future weather. (They provide a more feature heavy Korean language site for bilinguals.)
A Google search for “how’s the weather” returns accurate info. Of course, you need to give Google spy privileges.
Western weather sites pull from the same resources as Korean sites. So, don’t be afraid to check whichever site you’re most comfortable with.
Remember this. Trust the weather on short rides like you trust your family dog. Trust the weather on long-rides like your trust the people you vote for. (Prepare for the worst.)
South Korea is a small country. (Seven of them can fit in Texas). Climate doesn’t change much from region to region. However, there are some key differences.
In the winter, you’ll find snow and ice in the northeast. And, because of the cold, Siberian winds, the western regions feel a bit more nippy
In the summertime, the Pacific Monsoonal flow warmers up the east part of the peninsula. Expect lots of people flocking to the beaches of Busan and Jeju Island.
Check out our season-by-season breakdown of the climate in South Korea.
Wintertime brings a special gift from the frozen tundras of Siberia. Cold, Russian winds cross the Yellow Sea and suck the moisture and warmth from air.
There’re two upsides to the lower temps: blue skies and little precipitation.
With the right preparation, winter can bring good riding conditions.
If you’re looking for powder, head to the northeast corner of the country. They have two elements that made the 2018 Winter Olympics. Mountains and snow.
The Han river, running through Seoul, often freezes over in January. But, the dry air doesn’t bring plentiful snowfall.
As it should be, bike paths take lower priority than highways. You might see snow and ice sticking to paths a week after snowfall.
This can be dangerous if you’re rolling on thin tires. To ensure a safer ride, let some PSI out of your tires. This will give you a little more traction on slick paths.
Avoiding snow isn’t too difficult. Head south.
In cities like Busan and Ulsan, it rarely sticks. In fact, Hyundai and Samsung located factories and shipyards there to avoid weather delays.
For Koreans, Jeju Island is Hawaii. Located a few hundred kilometers south of the peninsula, it’s not exactly south pacific. It gets nippy in winter. But, to see snow, you’ll need to hike to the top of Hallasan Mountain (한라산).
What’s the most important piece of clothing? Jacket? Hat? Thirty seconds of riding in sub-freezing temps and you’ll soon realize … you can’t feel your fingers.
Bring a pair of windproof gloves. The more they block the wind, the better.
In fact, make sure all your outer layers that ward off the invisible wind demons
Winter wind always seems to slip through. A simple rain jacket over a few insulating layers could be enough toast your top part.
Remember, physical exertion creates heat on its own. So, you can keep layers light.
Synthetic workout shirts work. They keep heat in and dry out fast.
You’re looking for trouble if you ride around wearing a loose khakis. Chains feed on loose pant legs.
You don’t need compression pants to avoid the chain monster. A pair of wind-resistant pants that hug your ankles will do.
And, bring a hat. Make it warm. Winter cycling cap do the trick. Because they’re brimless, you can shove them under you helmet easily. But, skull caps (toboggans) do the same trick. So do ushankas (ear flap caps). Let your taste take the wheel.
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!
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.
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.
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.