Most winter bike riders, especially those who cycle down here in balmy Southwestern Ontario, will tell you it’s a myth that winter riding is only for extreme, hard-core cyclists who don’t mind the misery of frozen numb fingers and toes. If you dress in layers, paying special attention to your extremities – hands, feet, face – and plan your route carefully, you may well be surprised by how pleasant and even fun winter riding can be.
You don’t have to commit to riding every winter day, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. If the forecast is calling for gale force winds, the streets are slick with ice, several inches of snow is in the forecast, or visibility is unusually low due to snow and grey skies, you may wish to drive your car or take public transit that day.
Layer, layer, layer.
Pull out the thermal underwear and layer your clothes. Make sure you can unzip or unbutton your outermost layer as you go in case you get overheated. Invest in a warm pair of gloves, thermal socks, waterproof or resistant boots and a warm hat or earmuffs.
Watch the Weather.
Checking the forecast ahead of time can help you make good decisions about what to wear the night before or if you need to allow yourself extra time to get to your destination.
See and Be Seen.
Protect your eyes with a pair of ski goggles or sunglasses. Tinted lenses will cut down on snow glare and keep wind and snow out of your eyes. Don’t forget to Get Lit! Gloomy winter days call for front and rear lights on/flashing all day long to ensure that you’re seen by traffic. Reflectors on your bike, backpack, jacket, helmet are also a good idea.
Some riders like to install off-road tires with extra tread for winter riding to help give their bike better grip on snowy or icy roads. Reducing your tire pressure to its minimum recommended rating (found on the sidewall of the tire) can also increase traction with the road.
Look after your Bike.
Road salt is not your bike’s best friend. Fight corrosion by giving your bike a rinse at the end of the day and use a thicker, wet weather bike lubricant. Many bike shops offer wash services throughout the year. This is the single best way to keep your machine in tip-top shape all season. Front and rear fenders also help protect your bike while keeping slush from spraying up your back. If ongoing cleaning and maintenance is not your thing, consider buying a ‘beater’ bike to get you through the winter.
Relax, take your time and enjoy the winter season. There is nothing quite like the peaceful quiet of riding through a soft winter snowfall.
Want to read more on the joys of winter cycling? Check out Tom Babin’s classic book, Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling.