1. Make Winter Cycling an Option for You
Rather than storing your bike in the basement or hanging it up in the garage this fall, keep it where you usually keep it, so that cycling to work this winter remains an option for you. If you have to go somewhere “out of the way” to get your bike, you’ll be much less likely to actually do it, especially on winter mornings. Rather, keep it in its usual spot, if that is feasible. A heated area is best, because then you don’t have to worry about snow or ice on it.
2. Make Sure Your Bike is in Shape
It’s not just us cyclists that need to be nourished and looked after… our bikes need it too. Winter cycling is different than summer cycling, and bikes need different things in a different season.
First off, make sure your bike is in good working order – take it to a bike shop and get it tuned up so that your brakes, gears, wheels and drivetrain are all working properly and are properly lubricated.
Second, perhaps look at a different style of tire for your bike, to make going over cold roads a little easier. While I’ve found that thin road bike tires don’t have enough tire-to-road contact to make me feel safe, mountain bike tires, while nice and knobby, collect and hold a lot of snow, making things dangerous.
For me, hybrid tires strike a good balance… wide enough to get a little bit of traction, while thin and smooth enough to “cut” through any snow on the road and give my bike a more stable footing.
Finally, roads in the winter are doused in salt and sand… and this can gum up your gears and chain. Every week or so, clean off the moving parts of your bike to make everything keeps running smoothly. An old toothbrush works great for those hard to reach areas.
3. Dress Properly
Lots of first time winter cyclists make the mistake of over-dressing… forgetting that our bodies generate a lot of heat when they are exercising (yes, it’s hard to believe because it’s so fun, but we are exercising when cycling…).
While dressing for colder weather is a must when winter cycling, it’s important to not go overboard… all those heavy clothes will bottle up your body heat and make you TOO hot.
Your best bet is to wear many layers when cycling in winter… that way you can add or remove layers (store them in your backpack or panniers) as you heat up or cool down.
4. Slow it Down
In the winter, roads are often covered with at least some snow (until the snowplows come) and maybe some ice too. It’s important to take these road surface changes into account when navigating your way through the city.
Most people feel uneasy biking at “full speed” on winter roads, so they slow it down a bit (or a lot, depending on road conditions) to make sure they and their bike have a firm grip on the road. As well, the road surface has changed for other cyclists as well as cars, which may mean that they’ll have a harder time stopping.
Slowing down your speed will give you more reaction and decision time when interacting with other road users.
5. Pick Your Route
This point depends on how many options you have to get where you’re going, but if you live and/or work downtown, it should be fairly easy for you.
One simple way to make your winter commute much easier and safer is by picking out smaller roads to get to where you are going. Personally, I choose residential streets than run parallel to major streets.
This is for two reasons… one, major roads have more cars and often have snow plowed up into banks on the side of the street (where bikes usually go), and two, sidestreets have less traffic and usually a few car tracks through recent snow that let you have a clear path.
Hopefully these 5 points will help you start or continue Winter Cycling this coming winter.
If you have more tips and tricks about cycling in cold weather, please share them in the Forum.