Bike riding in winter can be fun. It can also be economical and a great workout. However, for those of us in the Midwest and other areas of the country that see snowy winters, biking gets a little more difficult during those especially cold winter months. Even though there are more things to consider when deciding whether or not to bike in the winter, it can still be a viable option of transportation – as long as you’re willing to make some changes.
Thinking about riding your bike throughout the winter? Here are some things you should consider and plan for.
No matter which type of bike you choose to ride during the winter, it will need more attention than during the summer. Constantly riding through rain, snow, and salt can take a toll on your bike, especially the drivetrain (gears). Getting a fixed gear bike or one with an internal gear hub will help, but so will regularly oiling and washing the drivetrain. You’ll have to make sure to regularly wipe off any accumulating slush and salt, as salt will eat away at the bike.
Don’t try to ride in the winter with normal road tires, as you’ll fall over. You’ll need thicker tires with more grip, such as mountain bike tires or snow tires. You’ll also be going over a lot more bumps than in summer, so it’s wise to let your tires run at a slightly lower pressure. That’ll make them squish out a little, making them even fatter for more traction.
Winter is cold. So, you’ll need more clothing. However, you don’t want to overdo it. Wearing too much clothing will cause you to overheat, and then get too cold when you have to stop at stoplights. Dress in lightweight layers, such as cold-weather running/biking tights. Wear clothing that’s light in color and reflective. Make sure your fingers are very well protected, as well as your toes, face, and eyes. You’ll need a face mask and goggles to keep the rain or snow out of your eyes.
Any bicyclist knows how aware you must be when riding in or next to traffic. This level of awareness must double in the winter. There’s a whole new set of hazards to watch out for. Cars will spit slush and water at you, and they can slip and slide in the snow, going in unexpected directions. Since your bike can also slip and slide, this can be a bad equation. There is often snow by the curb, so you might have to ride further out in the driving lane than usual. Just make sure to keep your eyes peeled and your alertness high throughout your ride.
It’s extremely important to keep an emergency kit on your bike in the winter. While a breakdown can cause issues in the summer, cold weather can make them much worse. You’re stuck outside in the snow, without a big coat. You have to take your gloves off to work on the bike, causing a possible frostbite situation. So, keep all your emergency tools that you normally have, along with an extra pair of gloves, jacket, and hat, something to eat, and some water. If you break down, try to find somewhere where you can walk inside to fix your bike.
A Backup Plan
Whether you’re an experienced rider or not, you need to have a backup plan when bike riding in winter. If your drivetrain breaks, a tire pops, a wheel gets bent, or the weather turns nasty, you need to be able to abort the ride. Public transit is a great option, and is usually very bike-friendly. Otherwise, make sure to keep a charged cell phone in a safe pocket of your backpack or bike bag to call for a ride or help if you need it.
Looking for more winter riding advice? Check out REI’s winter riding article. Joli D. writes for Meshbesher & Spence, personal injury lawyers in Minneapolis, MN specializing in car accidents, bike accidents, hip replacement recalls, and more.