If you're just starting out with cold-weather biking, consider taking a test ride to see what pieces of clothing you need to add or take away. It doesn't take long for a bicyclist to figure out which part of their body gets cold first. Numb toes and fingers can stop any cold weather ride short. Thankfully, you don't need a lot of fancy gear to keep going. If you're just out for a joy ride or commuting to work or class, a few extra layers may be all you need. Winter riding can be enjoyable, convenient and safe, but don't be afraid to call it quits if it gets too chilly; you can always look into other sustainable commuting options. Most of all, have fun!
If the roads and paths are clear and dry, you can ride the same as you do any other time of year. Otherwise, take your time and pay attention. Take wider turns wider on sloppy roads and use caution at spots where the weight of cars has packed snow down into irregular ice lumps. Ride on clear pavement when you can and don't be afraid to take the lane if riding on the bike lane or side of the street isn't feasible due to snow banks or lack of plowing. Overall, don't be turned off by road conditions immediately. There are plenty of days when road conditions are not an issue.
- Stick to roads and paths that have been cleared of snow and treated with salt.
- Be cautious of exposed sections of road or places where the wind has blown cross the road as the wind chill can create extra ice.
- Go around icy patches if it's safe to do so and go slow.
- If you can't avoid the ice, don't make any sudden moves – try to ride it out. Take into account the longer stopping distances required.
- Be cautious over or go around road markings, manhole covers, and the like. They can be slick.
There is an abundance of high-tech cold-weather clothing out there, but you can get started with a few essentials that are items you likely already own.
- Gloves: Your fingers and hands are out in front while you ride, receiving a good portion of the wind as you pedal along. Thick, wind-resistant gloves are key, but not too thick; you still want to move your fingers and be able to shift gears or activate your brakes. Some folks choose to go gloveless with a super toasty set of pogies that attach to your handlebars.
- Shoes and socks: Just like your fingers, your toes are first in line to receive that cold weather wind. Thick socks or thick shoes such as hiking boots will keep you pedaling. Consider water-resistant shoes as winter road conditions can be slushy.
- Ear protection: As you pedal along, you'll receive quite a bit of wind blowing by and into your ears. Put on earmuffs that go behind your head, or a headwrap such as a buff or a neck gaiter to cover your ears. A stocking cap under your helmet can also work. Always check that the thickness of the cap doesn't interfere with your helmet's protection.
- Extra layers: Your regular winter coat over top a thick under-layer is a good place to start. Depending on your body and the outside temperature, you may want to wear an extra insulating layer under your pants. For really cold days, a set of snow pants over your regular pants can keep you warm. Remember that you will warm up once you start pedaling. So, it's okay if you feel a little bit cold at the start.
In winter the nights are longer, which means you might be riding in the dark. Be seen by other road users with a set of lights: one white light for the front of your bike and one red light for the rear. Lights not only help you to see the road ahead, they help other road users to see you, too!
Just about any bike will work for winter weather, though you may find it a bit more challenging on a road bike with narrow tires or a time-trial bike with one gear.
- Fenders: A low-cost, high-return piece of equipment that will protect your drivetrain and your clothes from wet road conditions.
- Tires: Wide tires and lower pressure are the way to go. Check the sidewall on your tire to find out your tire's pressure range in pounds per square inch (psi). Start at the lower end and experiment to get a feel that works for you. Low pressure allows the tire to flatten, giving you greater contact with the road. Be cautious not too go too low as you risk giving your tire a pinch flat or rolling the tire off the rim completely.