Tips for riding your bike all winter
Here's everything you need to know about staying warm on your bike and riding in cold weather and wintry conditions.
Fri, Jan 11 2013 at 10:54 AM
It is really cold out there, and in many places in the continental U.S., the winter biking season has begun.
I live in Toronto, and the city doesn't make it easy for winter bikers. The bike lanes become snow lanes, and where they run parallel to parking, the cars now fill the bike lane completely. There is no buffer like they have in New York City.
It isn't like Copenhagen or Sweden, where they have special ploughs designed for the bike lanes and do them early. Last year Toronto promised to clear the bike lanes, but the way they are designed it's almost impossible.
The city of Boulder, Colo., goes all out to make winter biking safe and easy. Multi-use paths in the city of Boulder are maintained to high-level transportation standards. Separate snow removal crews begin plowing the city's multi-use paths at exactly the same time that other crews are plowing city streets.
When it comes to staying warm while winter biking, I typically wear a thin balaclava under my helmet. As for the rest of your body, I highly recommend the following:
Warm waterproof boots (I'm a Sorel fan.)
Warm gloves (Wear thin wool gloves underneath warm mittens. This will keep your fingers warm when you take off the mittens to lock or unlock your bike.)
Glasses or goggles to keep the snow out of your eyes
Scarf or neck warmer that can cover your mouth but still breathe easily. A long scarf allows you to wrap your neck and face, but it also has long tails that you can use to cover your chest underneath your coat.
Warm hat or nylon skull cap that fits underneath your helmet it
Long underwear if it's really cold or leg warmers that cover your knees
For longer (sweatier) rides, it's a good idea to make your underlayer that is closest to your skin one made of wool or a synthetic material. Cotton tends to stay wet longer and may end up cooling you down, whereas wool tends to hold moisture.
Good coat. I wear a rather nontraditional winter coat for cycling. It's long black wool tailored women's coat. I love it and it works for me on my upright dutch bike that has skirt guards on the rear wheels — it's not for everyone though. A windproof coat is a good idea, and even a nice bright windproof shell over your layers should do the trick. Because my coat is black, I also wear a reflective safety vest.
Lights! Use extra ones if you want to be even more visible.
Mud guards on your bike.
Brakes that are in good working order, and a bike in a good state of repair.
I have to say, the roads are even more obviously in a state of disrepair when there is a layer of snowy slush on top of everything. Given the road conditions, I don't necessarily recommend winter biking for inexperienced cyclists — not during precipitous conditions anyway.
Here are a couple other important tips when cycling in winter:
Remember to keep your nerves in check and focus on keeping your body centered and balanced even when conditions are slippery. It's a fine balance between watching the road more closely than usual when there is snow, slush or ice on the roads as well as the usual cars and pedestrians.
Be sure to ride to conditions and slow down in general.
Use extreme caution when crossing streetcar tracks.
Also, be even more aware of reduced visibility due to obstructed car windows — from snow, ice and humidity that hasn't been cleared.
Related post on MNN: Don't miss this winter biking guide
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MNN tease photo of winter biking: Shutterstock