For many cyclists, the arrival of winter marks the end of their season. And that’s a shame. Winter cycling can be some of the most scenic, refreshing and adventurous of the year. Sure, a shift in the weather presents a new set of challenges. But with the proper equipment and skills and a few adjustments in your routine, dealing with the elements on your city ride can be as simple as adopting the right mindset and embracing the change in seasons.
The Quick List:
- Keep extremities warm. Wool caps, neck warmers and socks, plus thermal gloves or mittens fight the winter chill.
- Ask your bike shop about fender options to protect your clothes and bike in wet weather.
- Carry extra clothes. You may catch some spray, even with fenders.
- Slow down. Prevent wipeouts by braking early and by being cautious when riding over snow-pack.
- Own the road. Snow piles, plows or trucks may block the bike lanes, narrowing the road. You may need to signal and enter the traffic lane.
- Actively scan ahead. Metal or painted surfaces become slippery, and snow or puddles hide debris.
- Protect your muscles and joints. Do a few stretches before leaving home.
- Pack extra batteries for bike lights. The cold can affect electronics.
Photo above by comedy_nose
Embrace the Season with Our Guide to Winter Cycling
The benefits of riding a bicycle for transportation in the city don’t subside during the winter. In fact, some may multiply. Think zipping past traffic stalled by sloppy weather. The following tips for keeping your winter ride safe, comfortable and enjoyable were compiled by velojoy contributor and NYC cyclist and racer Neil Bezdek, who also writes the blog Rambling Man for bicycling.com.
- Let some air out of your tires. Softer tires have a larger contact patch with the ground and better traction.
When the pavement is wet, I set my 23mm tires as low as 80 to 85 psi.
- Drop your saddle. A one centimeter reduction in seat height lowers your center of gravity and puts you in a more nimble position.
- Tighten your brakes. Wet rims require additional stopping power to slow you down. Pads also wear quickly in foul weather, which effectively loosens the brakes. To tighten your brakes, simply rotate the barrel adjusters (near the calipers on road bikes and levers on flat-bar bikes) counter-clockwise. Or, ask the mechanic at your local bike shop to do this for you.
Biking in the rain and slush can be like taking a cold, gritty, 360-degree shower. Waterproof clothes, shoes and bags are helpful, but particularly on long rides, sometimes you have to accept that you’re going to get wet.
- Avoid down and cotton. As the saying goes, cotton is rotten, at least for cycling. And here’s why: unlike synthetic fabrics or wool, cotton and down fibers fully absorb water and hold it right against your skin. This layer of water conducts heat away from your body, while other materials, such as wool, maintain at least some of their insulating properties when wet.
- Protect your extremities. Your body’s circulatory reaction to cold weather is called shunting; blood is directed away from extremities to protect more vital organs in your core. My favorite wet-weather accessories are fleece-lined, neoprene gloves available at bike shops and outdoor stores and neoprene socks, which can be found at scuba shops.
- Hydrate. Ever notice that being cold sends you to the bathroom more frequently? Not only does shunting render your limbs cold, but it can dehydrate you. With more blood directed to the core, your body acts like it’s holding more water than it really is.
- Preserve your vision. A standard cycling cap is the perfect rain awning, while glasses keep water and debris out of your eyes. Cycling specs with no frame on the bottom of the lenses are less likely to fog up, especially if you pinch the nose piece to elevate them away from your face.
- Stay visible. Wear bright clothing and turn on those bike lights.
Above: Bekka of Bikeyface breaks down winter warmers for your cold-weather ride.
Staying safe on wet roads is all about thinking a step ahead and remembering that your traction is limited.
- Brake twice. Quickly squeeze and release the brakes before you really need to slow down. This clears water off your rims, and you’ll have much better stopping power for round two.
- Brake before turning. Braking and turning each apply lateral force to your tires. Doing both at the same time doubles this force and is more likely to send your tires sliding.
- Lean your bike, not your body. It’s impossible to turn without leaning in, but leaning your bike instead of your body makes it easier to keep your mass over your tires and correct for a skid. If you lean inside with your body and your tires slide outside, the only place for you to go is down.
- Use the rear brake. A sliding rear wheel is much easier to control than a sliding
front wheel. Deliberately skidding your rear wheel can also help you gauge how slick the road is.
- Avoid puddles. You never know what’s lurking beneath. And If you’ve let some of air out of your tires to improve traction, you’re more likely to suffer a pinch flat if the pavement is rough.
- Dodge pigeons. New York’s beloved mascots slow down considerably when temps drop below freezing.
- Follow subway lines. On icy days, streets with subway lines running underneath are the last to freeze over.
- Take it easy on bridges. With nothing but frigid air beneath them, bridges can be icy even when the streets are clear. Remember that the Brooklyn Bridge’s wood planks are slicker than the pavement on other bridges.
- Beware of metal, cobblestones and paint. These surfaces are slick as ice when wet. Also watch out for patches of oil mixed with water, especially if it’s been a while since the last rain or snow.
- Park away from the curb. Snow plows pose the same danger as street cleaners. Ever wonder how all those twisted, abandoned bikes on the sidewalk got that way?
- Clean off your bike. A bicycle is like a bathroom—a quick cleaning on a regular basis is a cinch, but it will turn into a hopeless mess with neglect. Simply wiping down your bike, especially the chain, rims, and brake pads, goes a long way towards keeping it clean and free of corrosive salt.
Our Favorite Winter Cycling Video EVER:
Dottie, the popular Chicago-based writer of Let’s Go Ride A Bike, reveals step-by-step, layer-by-layer instructions on dressing for bicycling to work in winter — even in the most frigid temperatures – by combining everyday clothing with a few key cycling-specific accessories.
More Winter Cycling Links You’ll Love:
Finally, Icebike.org, is a good site to consult for all things winter bicycling.