Photo: Daniel Wildey/TandemStock

How To Bike Through the Winter

Just because the temperature drops and the snow starts falling, the changing season doesn't mean you have to stop biking.

For many committed cyclists across the country, perfect riding weather doesn't come 12 months a year anyway. So for those wanting to bike through whatever cold-weather conditions are thrown their way, even when others burrow into a comfortable couch, a few skills and pieces of key gear will make all the difference to improve your winter biking experience.

The Right Gear

Your first need is keeping your winter riding equipment functional—making sure it’s always ready to perform for you.

Keep it Clean

Riding in the winter is messy, and slurry from the road is often full of corrosive salt. Make sure you thoroughly clean your bike after every ride. Pay special attention to your drivetrain and brakes.

Fenders

Protective fenders will not only prevent the tires from throwing dirt and muck into your bib while you ride, they can also protect your bike components. There are capable fender options for even the raciest of bikes.

Tire Pressure

Cold weather will lower your tire pressure, so check your tires regularly. For added traction, consider running your tires a few PSI lower for a bit more grip.

Lights

It is crucial that you have bright and functioning front and rear lights in the shorter days and reduced visibility of winter. Look for waterproof lights and test various themes outside before your first ride to see how they impact battery life.

Stay Hydrated

Consider purchasing an insulated cycling bottle to keep your water from freezing on long rides.

Retire Your Old Tires

Upgrade your ride by switching to wider, knobbier, grippier tires. Even road bikes can benefit from slightly more grip, while commuters and mountain bikes can add far wider and more aggressive tires.

Consider a Different Bike

For even more confidence, stability and grip, consider moving to a fat-tire bike. Fat-tire bikes have extremely wide tires, often 4 inches wide that run at low pressure. These tires can ride on sloppy roads, packed snow trails or even cross-country ski facilities. If you want to ride off-road in the winter, fat-tire biking is the way to go.

The downside of fat-tire bikes is that they are often extremely heavy. The larger tires and heavy-duty frame make them grumble across pavement with heavy steering. They’re better for messy conditions, and a bit boring on smooth pavement. 

Photo: Emily Polar/TandemStock

Clothing

As with many outdoor winter activities, dressing in layers allows you to adjust your clothing to match your effort, ensuring that you’re never overheating or shivering. (You might already have what you need.)

Base Layer

Wear a warm, sweat-wicking base layer, like merino wool. Invest in an insulated winter cycling bib or wear your summer bib with leg warmers, tights, or merino leggings over the top to keep your legs warm.

Pants

If you don’t like tights, or want even more protection, consider durable and waterproof pants to keep your legs warm.

Midlayer

A tight sweater or well-fitting puffer is great to keep you warm and can easily be taken off and packed down if you don’t need it.

Outer Layer

Look for a jacket that is breathable, waterproof, and windproof to combat the elements. Some jackets are insulated, but beware, insulated jackets can make it harder to regulate your temperature should you overheat while still needing weather protection.

The Extremities

Keep your head warm with a low-profile winter hat, or insulated cycling cap. Add a neck warmer to keep your heat in. Wear sweat-wicking socks on your feet, like wool socks. If your feet keep getting cold, consider winter cycling shoes or find toe covers for your summer shoes.

Winter cycling gloves work great for gripping your handlebars and staying warm, but if you are looking for a cheaper option, use those oversized ski gloves or hand warmers.

Adjust Your Riding for the Winter

Conditions are different, your riding style should be too.

Brake Slower

It’ll take you longer to slow down in slick conditions. Give yourself almost twice as much time and distance to slow down.

Take the Lane

Cars aren't expecting you; make sure they see you by taking the entire lane. This will also protect you from the slop and slush that finds its way to the side of the road in winter.

Give Cars More Space

They aren’t expecting you, and they take longer to slow down as well, so give cars an even greater berth. 

Know Where You’re Going

Have a plan of where you are going and when you plan on coming back. Share that with loved ones. Know the surfaces you will ride on. Many cities push snow off the road and into the bike lanes.

Questions To Ask Yourself

Am I Ready to Clean My Bike?

Your bike needs to be cleaned after a ride. Don’t let it be a surprise. Prepare before you leave.

Do I Have My Safety Equipment?

Helmets and lights are crucial in the winter time.

Is My Bike Ready?

Make sure everything works, your tires are at the right pressure, and all or your extra equipment, like fenders, are firmly attached.

Am I Dressed for the Cold? 

Bad clothing guarantees a bad experience, make sure you are ready for the task at hand. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.