Riding in the Snow
Snowy conditions pose unique challenges to people who use a bicycle for transportation. You must ride defensively and anticipate potential problems but with the right equipment, and a few modifications in biking technique, riding in snow can be done comfortably! For more information on general winter riding see our Cold Weather Biking Tips.
Just about any bike will work for winter riding, although you may find a skinny-tire racing bike less than ideal. Mountain bikes, hybrids, touring bikes and old ten speeds work great.
Most kinds of tires work well on all but the iciest of conditions. Regular mountain bike tires work well as do hybrid and touring tires. Slick road tires will work well on dry, plowed roads, but can be slippery if there is any snow or ice. Winter tires are available with metal studs built into them, which provide a better grip on icy surfaces. They work well on ice, but are expensive and are inefficient in snow or on clear pavement.
Front and rear fenders are highly recommended because winter streets are often wet and they keep you and your bike clean of road grit and debris. And remember, lights are important, as it gets darker sooner in the winter, it's much easier to get caught out in the dark.
Go slow at first, practice on your local street and not on a busy arterial road. Keep your body relaxed and loose and use your knees and legs to absorb any motion created by running over ice ridges, road debris or similar dangerous areas.
Ride slow, steady, and smoothly and try not to make sudden emergency maneuvers. Remember wet, slushy, roads mean reduced stopping power and extended braking distances. This also applies to cars in front and behind you.
Stay seated as much as possible; standing raises the center of gravity and transitions weight from the rear wheel to the front which may cause a loss in traction, increasing the risk of a fall. If the bike does start to slip, try to make small corrections rather than over steering and weaving. Applying an even pressure on the pedals through the entire rotation of your foot minimizes the chances you won’t spin out the back tire in slick conditions.
Where to Ride
Select a route based on road conditions. If you are confident riding in traffic, busy streets tend to have the least amount of snow and ice. Less travelled roads and bike paths are generally safer but can be covered with hard pack snow and ice which may require you to ride slower and use more caution.
During large scale snow events, the immediate curb area is where snow accumulates, gets plowed over, melts, freezes and generally becomes an uneven mess of road debris and ice. Seek out the pavement just far enough away from the curb to avoid this dangerous mix.
Watch for areas with melted snow. Snow often melts in the sunlight but refreezes in lower temperatures or as the sun sets. These are likely places to find black ice which can be the most hazardous aspect of riding a bike in below-freezing conditions. If you do come upon patches of ice, you can dismount and walk around the section, or just ride slowly and steadily through it.
If you don’t feel comfortable or feel that conditions are unsafe outdoors, please don’t attempt to walk, bike, or drive! Metro and public transit usually run on limited schedules during snow events.