Tips for Cycling in the Winter
Wintertime cycling can become dangerous quickly. Check out these tips to learn how to stay safe on your bike all year long.
Hopping on a bike can have positive impacts on your mood and overall health. Whether it’s the feeling of crisp air against your skin or the satisfaction you get after making it uphill — cycling is a rewarding sport that involves control, poise and coordination. It’s also one of the easiest ways to get around.
In the winter months though, cycling can be pretty messy. And if you’re not careful, it could become dangerous. Snow, black ice and dark roads are just a few of the hazards you’ll encounter with winter cycling. But don’t put away your bike just yet! Read our tips to learn how you can ride safely this winter with minimal discomfort.
Prepare your bike for winter
There’s no question that the winter elements can be hard on your bike. That’s why it helps to get a tune-up before the nasty weather sets in. If you don’t want to risk ruining a high-performance bike, don’t use it for winter cycling. An everyday commuter with a sturdy steel frame can be easily adapted instead.
Unless you know your way around a bike, book a professional tune-up. This service typically includes:
Cleaning off any grease, oil and dirt
Realigning the gears and checking for damage
Tension adjustments to various cables
Brake/tire inspection for wear and grip
Invest in the right winter gear
From proper lights to high-quality brakes, winter cycling is much more manageable if your bike is well-equipped.
If you’ve ever been splashed while riding, you’ll know fenders are a must-have. Also known as mudguards, these shields will protect you (and those behind you) from the dirty slush on your bike tires.
If you’re in a city like Winnipeg that gets a lot of snow, clip-on fenders are your best bet. They not only snap on to your downtube or seat post, but also provide enough room to accommodate heavy snowfall. If you live in Vancouver, for example, with a rainy climate, close-fitting fenders are the better choice. Not interested in spending money on bike accessories? You can make your own mudguards with a two-litre bottle or paint tray.
Your brakes are only as good as the pads they’re working with. Look for winter-ready brake pads that improve wet-weather braking. If your bike has classic disc brakes, choose sintered pads for better performance on wet roads. All that salt and grime will wear your brakes down faster, so keep an eye on the pads, and don’t hesitate to replace them with a fresh set.
The cold weather commute is hard enough without having to worry about getting a flat tire on your way. A set of high-quality winter tires is worth the investment. Look for deep treads that can squeeze water from under the tire in wet conditions. Some winter tires have a protective layer underneath to prevent punctures. Meanwhile, fatter tires offer more control; they’re not only more comfortable, but also ride better on rough surfaces.
Do not over-inflate your tires — the extra air will make your ride more slippery. Reduced air pressure will cause the tire to squish outwards, offering much better traction.
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Dress for the cold
Dressing appropriately for winter cycling will take some experimenting. Wear too much and you’ll overheat, or wear too little and you’ll be frigid the whole ride there. Gloves, thick socks and a neck warmer are essential. But stay extra comfortable with these tips:
Dress in layers. This will allow you to add or remove pieces easily as your temperature changes.
Wear a coat with a breathable, waterproof shell.
Wear thermal cycling tights over long johns on extra-cold days.
Waterproof pants are great for wet roads; look for versions that are slimmer through the lower legs and ankles to prevent cold air from getting in.
Because the days are shorter in winter, high visibility is key. Many drivers don’t expect to see cyclists during this time of year, so wear brightly-coloured clothing with reflective strips, even if you won’t be riding in the dark. Install a bike headlight and rear flasher for extra visibility.
Tips for drivers
In many urban cities, you could say there’s been a cycling revolution. In Toronto, for example, advocates have been pushing for more bike lanes to reduce pollution and improve cyclist safety. This means drivers are encountering more bikes during their daily commutes.
Motorists can do their part to share the road responsibly by following a few simple tips:
Give cyclists the space they need to navigate safely; remember, they’re much more vulnerable in a collision.
Look behind you when exiting the car to avoid ‘dooring’ an oncoming cyclist.
Pass cyclists at reasonable speeds, so you can be ready for unexpected moves
Don’t let a few snowflakes discourage you from winter cycling. With the right gear and careful preparation, you’ll be able to conquer those roads no matter the season!