How to Ride in the Snow

Winter is just around the corner and cyclists need to prepare their wardrobes and their bikes.

By Benjamin van Loon

When it comes to winter riding, there is a common saying in the cycling world: There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment. Preparation is preservation. As the mercury begins to drop, start your gear check from the inside out and you might find yourself getting excited about the first frost.

Start in Layers

If you have never ridden in the winter before, your first time out of the gate might cost you a few bucks, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Layers are crucial to preserving body heat, staying dry and ensuring mobility in cold weather. Because everyone acclimatizes to the cold at different rates, some riders will need more layers than others, depending on the season and their expected level of exertion.

You should have at least a base layer – something you wear against your skin – that will keep you warm and dry. Look for long- and short-sleeved dry-fit, moisture-wicking T-shirts, as sweat can build up easily at this layer and render the outer layers ineffective. Avoid cotton if possible.

Outer layers should be both warm and windproof. The wind exacerbates cold temperatures. If you get something with a wind-breaking shell, you wonít have to bulk up as much. Sometimes windproof fabrics are also waterproof, which is an added advantage.

Winter Riding Checklist

Go through this checklist and see if there is anything else you need

+ Base layers (long underwear, thermal wear, etc.)

+ Waterproof and windproof jacket and pants

+ Gloves, insulated socks, shoe covers or winterized cycling shoes

+ Mask, balaclava, hood, hat and/ or goggles, for the really cold days

+ Properly inflated tires

+ Wipe down the bike after long, wet rides

+ Keep the chain lubricated

+ Lights for added visibility

+ Pre-winter and post-winter tune-ups

+ Positive attitude

Add the Extras

Cold bites worst at your extremities, so even if it costs you extra, invest in a heavy pair of waterproof gloves that will shield you from the wind. If you’ve donned all the layers, but your hands and feet are under-protected, you might as well be wearing nothing. Cover your feet with wool socks and heavy-duty shoe covers, available at most sports and recreation stores. Some companies also make winter-specific cycling shoes, which are often more expensive, but will mean fewer layers for you.

The cold can be hardest on your face and head, where a lot of heat can be lost. Cold air constricts your air passages, making riding difficult, so covering your face and nose with a mask can help you breathe. A good balaclava accomplishes all of this, though some people may only need a scarf and a toque or earmuffs.

For subzero riding, you may also want to pick up a pair of snow goggles. You might look like a character from a James Bond flick, but they are really effective at shielding your eyes against blinding wind and snow.

Prep Your Ride

+ With the salt, snow and brutal temperatures, winter can be hard on a bike. Take it to the shop for a quick tune-up before winter hits.

+ If you’re going to be riding in the snow (which can be fun), outfit your bike with multi-weather tires treaded to push snow and water outwards. Some knobby tires can collect snow and ice, making your ride just as unstable as riding through snow on treadless road tires.

+ Though not necessary, installing fenders on your bike can help keep you and your bike clean.

+ For night riders, buy and install front and rear flashing lights. The days are shorter in the winter, and visibility can be low. Make sure others can see you.

+ After every ride, if you have gone through snow or slush, wipe down your bike – particularly the cables and the chain. Also pay special attention to your rims. Grime gathers quickly in winter weather, and it can wear down your brake pads and damage your rims if left unchecked.

+ Keep your chain lubed with water-repellent lubricant, which will prevent grit from damaging your chain and gears.

+ Always keep your tires inflated to their recommended pressure.

Enjoy Yourself

There is something peaceful about riding on freshly fallen snow. While you have to take extra time to stop and corner, much of the ambient sound and traffic is absorbed by the soft powder. Plus, the added challenge of riding on new terrain can only serve to develop your skill in the saddle.

Website for winter riding fanatics: icebike.org

6 Comments

  • Tim

    Maybe a bit of overkill here. I ride in Vancouver and on the coldest days I might ride with a wool hat and a neck warmer. The first few kilometers are cold but one warms up fairly quickly.
    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2012/01/overcomplicating-winter-cycling-why-its.html was quite critical of the article.

  • Ty

    This makes it sound like riding in the winter is too difficult and costly. Honestly, to get started, just wear whatever works. Here in the northwest, winter means darkness and rain, for the most part, and temps in the mid-30s to upper 40s. For my 14-mile roundtrip ride on a dry winter day, I wear:

    – My regular jeans
    – My regular socks, sometimes they are cotton and sometimes wool but never “insulated”, whatever that is
    – My regular black loafers
    – A long-sleeve wool t-shirt from Ibex (yes, this is kind of gear. But you can sweat in it and you won’t smell)
    – Button up the front shirt
    – A wool sweater
    – A windbreaker that is water resistant
    – Gloves I bought on sale at Eddie Bauer since I had none

    On a rainy day, I add an inexpensive pair of rain pants from J&G, I put my shoes in my bag, and I wear a pair of short rubber boots from Tretorn. Some days I wear a thin lycra and fleece cap under my helmet since its made to fit under the helmet. So, mostly regular clothes with a few adaptations.

  • steven fleming

    Maybe Mr. Loon meant this as a guide for bicycle *touring* in the snow? Seems like overkill for bike commuting.

  • Sean Carter

    Our local cycling .org has quite a few threads in the forum on winter cycing – here is the link – http://www.bikecalgary.org/forum/38

    My advice – 1) Avoid your front brake as much as possible and definitely when turning 2) go slower 3) check the weather, be prepared 4) smile!

  • Samamtha

    Just saying, that if you’re looking for useful tips for winter rider from folks who ride year-round in Midwestern cities, check you bikewinter.org. It looks as though that icebike.org site hasn’t been updated in quite some time.

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