Many cyclists hibernate in winter, but with preparation and the right mindset, winter riding can be rewarding. Commuting by bike can help you avoid traffic, exercise, burn calories, and arrive at work energized. In winter, crowded bike paths and trails become blissfully empty. We rounded up for you some essential winter riding tips to make your cycling experience a breeze.
Winter Riding Tips
Start slow with winter cycling to build confidence, improve skills, and test your gear, as overextending too soon can lead to disappointment. Short enjoyable rides can maintain enthusiasm.
Use a bike you are already familiar with.
Winter riding isn't the time to experiment with a new bike.
During winter, drivetrains gather ice and grime quickly and cold can slow suspensions, so some prefer older, basic bikes with fewer gears and front shocks or none at all, while disc brakes are superior for wet conditions compared to rim brakes.
You can prepare any bike for winter by focusing on lighting and tires, adding fenders to protect against tire spray, and using an insulated water bottle with a warm beverage to stay warm.
Light up to be seen.
In winter, be ready to ride in total darkness with bright lights and plenty of reflectivity; ensure fully charged batteries and carry spares for non-rechargeable lights due to faster cold-draining batteries.
Expect limited street lighting and aim for a minimum of 500 lumens for the front handlebar light and 100 lumens for the rear. Secondary lights can be slightly less bright.
Mount your brightest light on the handlebar, and place the other light on your arm or helmet to control it separately from the handlebar light.
Position your brightest flashing safety light on the back of your bike and the other on your helmet, pack, or clothing to create slightly different motion patterns, increasing driver visibility.
Wear reflective clothing.
Wear bike clothing with reflective trim, adding a reflective vest or bands if your rain gear lacks reflectivity. Ensure at least one reflective element is visible to drivers and consider adding reflectors or tape to your bike, clothing, or bags for better visibility.
Check and inflate your tires.
To improve traction and better absorb bumps, inflate your tires to the low end of their acceptable pressure range as listed on the sidewalls.
Check the pressure of your tires before riding.
Regularly checking and adjusting tire pressure is a crucial, often overlooked maintenance task in cycling, especially in cold weather, to keep your tires within the acceptable range.
Consider using wider bike tires.
Deeper, knobbier tread and wider tires improve grip in wet conditions, but ensure your bike can accommodate different tire widths; consider studded bike tires for icy or snowy roads, although they can be expensive.
Wear warm but comfortable cycling wear.
Layer your clothing for flexibility in winter cycling, starting slightly cool and carrying extra layers in your bike bag, with a warm jacket for rest stops to prevent rapid chilling.
In freezing temperatures, please consider doing layering with wicking base layers, such as thermal leggings, a long-sleeve jersey, hooded cycling windbreaker, and water-resistant pocketed cycling pants. While not all layers need to be bike-specific, specialized cyclewear enhances visibility and comfort.
Stay warm by wearing a thermal cycling cap under your helmet. Consider a face mask and helmets with extra head coverage or interchangeable liners, and goggles for eye protection for extra cold temperatures.
To avoid frosted fingertips, wear bike gloves. Choose fully waterproof gloves for dry, warm hands in winter, ensuring they provide optimal control of brakes and shifters and a strong grip in wet conditions.
Winter riders often opt for slightly larger cycling footwear to accommodate thicker socks, and they can enhance warmth with wind- and waterproof shoe covers while ensuring traction with treaded soles.
Hand and Foot Warmers
Air-activated warmers, ideal for winter activities, can be a lifesaver on frigid days. Activate them a few minutes before your ride for best results.
Winterize your riding strategies.
Staying on the far right of the road may not be the safest option in any season because it's where debris accumulates and makes you less visible in the dark.
Take up the lane.
Positioning yourself in the middle of the right-hand lane increases visibility, encourages drivers to pass safely, and keeps your bike clear of roadside debris. When the bike lane is obstructed, use the right-hand car lane.
Relax your elbows and knees when riding.
Maintain flexibility and use your legs for shock absorption, staying alert to navigate through hazards like ice or debris.
Beware of refreezing in melted snow, especially on bridge decks and low spots, and if you encounter ice, try to coast across without braking or steering.
Clean and cover your bike.
Snow and road debris can collect on bike parts, particularly the chain and drivetrain, so reducing buildup is crucial, making regular maintenance, a good practice in any season, even more important in winter.
Clean and lubricate.
Clean your chain and bike parts after grimy rides, conducting a thorough clean and lubrication every few weeks, and remember to use a "wet" lube for winter to prevent a dry chain.
Clean the brakes.
After riding in snow or dirt, be sure to wipe down your brakes and ensure clean contact surfaces with the wheels.
Cover or shelter your bike.
Store your bike indoors if possible, and if not, find shelter under a carport, eave, covered porch, or garage, or use a bike cover made from a tarp or BBQ cover. If your bike is frozen, thaw the moving parts and accelerate the process by bringing it indoors.
Keep electric bike batteries warm.
To preserve e-bike batteries in the cold, minimize outdoor exposure and store the battery indoors overnight. Some batteries have separate covers to help keep them warm during a ride, but expect reduced range in winter, so ride conservatively with more time in eco mode and less in turbo mode.
Maintain an All-Season Mindset
With thoughtful preparation, year-round cycling can be enjoyable, and with a sense of adventure and perseverance, you might eagerly anticipate the next winter's riding season.