Why Ride in the Winter?
With a little planning and a positive attitude, winter can be a great time to ride, in fact there are several aspects of winter that are advantageous to cyclists:
Dress right in cooler temperatures and you will remain comfortable throughout the ride, and finish up dry and ready to go on to the next activity.
The lack of foliage and clear crisp weather in the winter allows for some great views of the landscape.
Work off the extra winter pounds.
The winter holiday season is a time of indulgence and can often become couch potato season, but even a short bike ride can jump start your metabolism, burn lots of calories, and energize you for the rest of your day. Many people make New Year’s resolutions regarding health and exercise, and cycling year round is the perfect way to stick to them.
Winter Ride Checklist
- Wind-resistant jacket
- Hat that fits under your helmet
- Dress in layers and use clothing with zippers for venting
- Be aware of ice and other slippery spots
Dress for Success
How you dress for winter cycling is the key to comfort, but it doesn’t have to be expensive technical gear. As long as you keep pedaling, the activity of cycling generates a pleasant warming from within. Hold just enough of this heat within your clothing and allow the excess to vent out and you have found the winter riding “sweet spot.”
Start out with a wicking base layer on your torso (cotton is not the best), then a medium weight layer such as a light fleece or wool shirt. Finish off with a jacket. A light windbreaker will be enough for temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and a heavier jacket can be used for temperatures around freezing and below. If the jacket is a bright color and/or has reflective strips, you will be more visible to others, which is important on dull winter days and dark mornings and evenings. Legs should be covered completely in the cold, but thick layers are not usually necessary. Workout pants, athletic tights, jeans, or slacks are generally fine. Warm gloves are important, especially when the temperature dips close to freezing, since the hands do not generate much heat when cycling and extremities can have poor circulation. Medium to heavy weight gloves which block the wind are best, such as ski gloves. If it’s really cold, a thin fleece hat can be worn, and most fit beneath a bike helmet comfortably.
Experiment with clothing combinations, and don’t overdo it. It can be surprising how much heat is generated when cycling, especially uphill where efforts are higher and wind chills are lower. Find the sweet spot and keep moving!
Winter Bike Setup Tips
There are a few simple bike modifications that can make winter cycling safer and more comfortable. The most important is lights, since the days are short, and riding in darkness is much more common. A white light up front facing forwards, either on the handlebar or the helmet, and a red rear flasher on the rear of the bike facing backwards is the minimum to see and be seen.
Fenders make a huge difference on wet days and do a great job of keeping the rider dry. Capital Bikeshare bikes take this one step further with a full enclosed skirt guard and chain cover.
Wider tires with some tread add stability, traction, and control on winter surfaces that can sometimes be wet, snowy, or even icy. Mountain bike tires work great for 26 inch wheel sizes, and cyclo cross tires are a good winter option for bikes with 700cc wheels.
Plan Ahead and Enjoy!
The most important advice for cycling in the winter is check the weather forecast! If it looks like conditions are going to be snowy and icy, then that is not the best day for riding. But if the roads and bike paths are clear, and the temperatures are above freezing, it’s probably a great day to ride!
If you do encounter snow or ice, don’t panic since sudden braking or swerving can cause a slide. Be light and delicate on the brakes and ride in a straight line if possible. If the slippery area is short, it’s often best to dismount before it and walk the bike around. A little preparation and planning goes a long way with winter cycling, so keep these guidelines in mind, and enjoy biking in the winter wonderland.