Winter cycling can be difficult, much more so if you live in a climate that is frequently bitterly cold and damp. Days are shorter, which means that if you commute by bike, you will have to ride in the dark at least once. If there is snow, it is frequently pushed into the bike lane by car tires. If you’ve never had filthy snow flung in your face by a passing car, you’ve never truly felt the pain of riding! Winter cycling, on the other hand, does NOT have to be painful, with good planning and a small investment. Winter cycling that is comfortable and safe boils down to preparing your bike, preparing yourself, and having the proper equipment. And, of course (like with toddler raising), choosing your battles. There may be days when riding your bike is neither safe nor enjoyable. There is no guilt in taking the bus or driving a car in certain instances! This article discusses how to stay comfortable while riding in the winter, as well as how to ride safely in inclement weather.
Prepare for Safe Winter Cycling
Determine Your Route
Consider the best route for the weather. For instance, consider a route that follows the path of the snow plow. Choose a route that connects to a bus route so that you can exit if it becomes too exhausting or risky. Always carry a credit card in case conditions deteriorate to the point where a cab is your only alternative (for example, if your Significant Other refuses to fetch you due to “your own foolish fault for cycling in the snow”).
Notably, while quieter roads are often safer in the summer, they can be more dangerous in the winter due to their lack of plows or even vehicles. While automobiles are hazardous to bicycles, they do have their advantages – for example, they are excellent at melting ice on road surfaces.
Winter Cycling Accessories
Winter Cycling Lights
Nothing is more critical for winter riding safety than being visible to vehicles. To this aim, invest in high-quality bike lights — they are the equivalent of life insurance for dark winter journeys. Utilize them both day and night – they assist you in remaining visible even when it is not dark. It goes without saying that you should have both front and rear lights – but you should also invest in lights that can be seen from the side, such as MonkeyLectric Lights (reviewed here). Cars will be on ALL SIDES of you, not just in front or behind you.
Maintain your lights with the same zeal as you would your prized pets
Ascertain that your bike lights are always charged and are not falling off or pointing in the wrong direction. It’s a good idea to go on a ride with someone else and have them check on the operation of your lights. I frequently see folks riding their bikes with pitiful small lights that I have to strain my eyes to see. That is IMPERATIVELY NOT what you require. You want to be extremely visible while not blinding other road users – a difficult balance to achieve, but well worth obtaining.
Maintain backup lighting
Have two front lights and two rear lights to ensure that you are never without illumination. Another approach to avoid being caught in the dark is to add dynamo lights, such as Reelights, that turn on automatically when you begin pedaling.
Equip Yourself with the Proper Gear for Winter Cycling
Consider Your Reflection
Carry as many reflective components as possible with you. With Bike Wrappers, you can make your entire bike reflective (and also protect it) (reviewed here). It’s also a good idea to wear luminous ankle bands, as their up and down motion makes it quite clear that you’re a biker.
Winter Cycling: How to Stay Warm
- It’s critical to dress appropriately to stay warm during your commute. These guys appear to be having a good time – but I doubt they’d make it through a one-hour journey!
- It’s critical to dress appropriately to stay warm during your commute. This guy appears to be having a good time – but I doubt he’d make it through a one-hour journey!
- It is critical to keep your core and head dry and warm. Cold hands and feet, in my experience, are almost inescapable, especially on long commutes – but they may be overcome. A cold core and head, on the other hand, could cause hypothermia. Or, at the very least, make your life a living hell.
Clothing That Is Layered
Naturally, you’ll want to layer up, as cycling quickly warms you up. Three layers on top, two on the bottom is a solid method. Begin with a wicking base layer, such as Under Armor, on top. You can layer a fleece top on top of that to keep warm (make sure it is breathable, otherwise you could be soaking wet from sweat by the time you get to work). Complete the look with a waterproof, windproof jacket or shell, such as the Gore Countdown jacket I reviewed here.
On your bottom half, two layers are usually sufficient — one beneath your legs to keep them warm and one above to block out wind and rain. Don’t forget your chamois pad – last winter, I traded in my chamois pad for long johns and promptly forgot about it – resulting in saddle sores. Additionally, the chamois pad adds another layer to your groin area – another place that is much more comfortable when it is not frigid. Naturally, a happy groin results in a happy you!
Maintain a Warm Head
I cannot recommend balaclavas highly enough for your head. I kind of like mine; I feel all snug and secure within, like if I’m cocooned in my own toasty little universe. I conducted extensive research on the best balaclavas and published an in-depth piece on how to choose the best balaclava as well as a comparison of the seven finest balaclavas.
The critical factor is to select one that extends long enough down the neck to keep your neck warm. Additionally, I’ve seen through reader feedback and affiliate sales that the Chaos CTR Tempest Multi Tasker is by far the most popular of all the balaclavas I recommend.
If you’re not a fan of balaclavas, a quality thermal skull cap is an excellent (and quite inexpensive) way to keep your head warm while winter cycling.
Take Care of Your Eyes
Protecting your eyes from chilly winds is also critical for safe winter cycling (assuming you don’t want to spend the day appearing as if you been up all night drinking). I wear my Adidas cycling spectacles (reviewed here). Bolle tactical goggles are a less expensive option, especially if you don’t require prescription glasses and don’t mind the occasional strange glance from fellow commuters (reviewed here). These will block out howling winds (however howling winds are the one type of weather that you should avoid at all costs). A strong wind can easily knock you over – not a good thing.)
Maintain Your Hands’ Warmth
It’s difficult to keep your hands entirely warm and dry, but it’s necessary if you want to enjoy safe winter cycling. Choose lobster-style gloves or mittens for extreme cold – keeping your fingers pushed together helps keep them warmer. If possible, five-fingered gloves are preferable. My Gore-Tex gloves are my favorite after years of trial and error (reviewed here).
Consider bicycle pogies for the utmost in hand protection (also called bar mitts). These are designed to go over your gloves, shifters, brake levers, and a portion of your handlebars, totally sealing them off from the elements. I have one of these that I have never used because the inability to see the handlebars makes me anxious. However, it is preferable if it does not make you uneasy.
Maintain Warm and Dry Feet
Leave those 2 oz. cycling shoes with brand logos at the door! To cycle safely in the winter, you’ll need a pair of sturdy, waterproof boots. You may get away with wearing lightweight leather boots such as Chrome Cycling boots (reviewed here). More than likely, you’ll require a sturdy pair of leather boots in your preferred style. My personal favorites are my Blundstone boots, which perform admirably as riding boots, effectively blocking out rain and snow. They are available with a variety of heel variations – for cycling, you want something with less clunky heels that won’t collide with the crank shafts too frequently.
If you must wear cycle shoes, consider adding neoprene shoe covers (cycling booties) to provide additional insulation and to keep warm air in. These almost often include a reflective strip on the back, which adds an extra layer of safety.
There are a few businesses who sell insulated winterized bike shoes compatible with clipless pedals, including 45NRTH and Lake Cycling. (I personally would never go clipless on snow or ice, since I prefer to get my feet on the ground quickly – but that’s just me.)
Additionally, you’ll require nice socks. I have discovered some fantastic socks called Heat Holders, which are marketed as the ideal thermal socks due to their exceptional moisture wicking and heat retention capabilities. Additionally, they feature an ultra-soft, fleecy inner lining.
Maintaining Dry Feet
Between your socks and boots, consider wearing a plastic shopping bag. This may seem strange, but it’s FREE, you won’t even notice they’re there, and they’ll ensure your feet stay dry. Verify that the bags you intend to use do not include any holes, as water will wiggle its way through any hole it may find. Then you’ll be walking about with a water bag strapped to your foot… not great.
Winter Cycling Safety Tips
Wear a reflective vest
It makes NO DIFFERENCE WHAT IT LOOKES LIKE – what matters is that you get to your destination in one piece.
Establish a firm foothold on the road and maintain it steadily
Riding too near to the sidewalk may tempt someone to squeeze past you, putting you into sludgy snow in the gutters — and possibly colliding with a passing automobile. Bear in mind that the curb area is where snow, broken glass, and other road debris accumulate during the winter. Therefore, you should avoid it entirely and stick on the section of road that is continually kept clean by passing cars.
Additionally, taking the road increases your visibility
Of course, you must proceed cautiously in order to avoid infuriating angry drivers into attacking you. In general, prudent drivers will give you a wider berth in the winter — but do not rely on it.
It will take longer to stop in ice or wet conditions, so ride cautiously and slowly, keeping an eye out for approaching objects. When pulling off, ensure that you have attracted the attention of any passing motorists. Slowly, steadily, and comfortably ride.
Be cautious of slick areas
Road markings, tram tracks, drain and manhole covers, and any other type of ironwork are likely to be slippery, therefore avoid them or, at the very least, avoid speeding over them or abruptly braking while on them. This also applies when you extend your leg to come to a halt. There are occasionally iron covers near crossroads – I once put my foot on one and nearly fell over backwards onto the sidewalk as my foot slid out.
When cycling through the snow
If at all possible, follow the plow trail!
Keep an eye out for leaf piles and puddles. Both can be quite slippery, and you have no idea what is behind them. There may be potholes, nails, or something worse.
Brake cautiously. Avoid sliding by being careful with your brakes and using your front brakes sparingly, if at all.
Your paws. Prepare to de-pedal if the bike begins to fishtail, slide, or tilt.
Take care! Anticipate motorists being much more inattentive than usual, and ride cautiously and defensively. Bear in mind that some people may have just left home and may be driving with their windscreens iced up. A decent strategy is to ride invisibly — while remaining as apparent as possible.
Maintain the temperature of your bicycle. Take your bike inside and store it next to the fireplace. Believe me, regardless of how much you adore your bike or how beautiful it is, it does not have feelings! If you ride a heated bike through fresh snow, ice will almost certainly form on the brakes and gears.
Frequently apply the brakes. When cycling on settled snow, brake frequently to dislodge collecting snow off your rims. Additionally, this has the benefit of slowing you down!
Maintain records. Keep track of how many layers keep you warm at various temperatures. This way, you won’t have to re-learn it each winter. This is a highly individual decision — no website can tell you how many layers you will require at given temperatures.
If your gears become frozen. Come to a halt, find a warm location, and allow them to defrost. If there is no warm spot available, it is time to take the bus or cab!
If you come into contact with ice. Maintain a straight course, avoid pedaling, and avoid braking.
If everything else fails. If you lose control, go towards a snow bank — it will provide a gentler landing than colliding with a car.