Hot Winter Cycling Tips
Updated: Nov 14
I rode through the rain the other day and thought, “I can’t wait to ride through a snow fall instead of this!”
Sure, being soaked probably had me romanticizing about winter commuting, but honestly, I really do love it. I smile ear to ear and giggle like a kid when I am pedaling through a few inches of snow. The air is crisp, the snow sparkles.
Those are the days I look forward to most.
Winter riding? You’re ridiculous!
I get why it might seem silly, unsafe, or too difficult to bike in the winter. When I first moved to Toronto, I also put my bike away and walked to work. Perhaps we have been conditioned by our parents to put our bikes away as kids each fall. Storing them in garages and sheds across Ontario, safely out of the way of accumulating snow and creeping rust. Whatever the rational is, it is clear that there are less cyclists on the roads during the winter.
For me, it took a chance encounter with a 100 plus person lineup for public transit to push me into snowy winter cycling. I was hooked immediately. 7 years in, I remain as dedicated as ever. You could be too!
Consider our points below and let us encourage you to keep riding all year long, despite the temperature or snow. The benefits far outweigh concerns you may have.*
It’s too Dangerous!
I think we can all agree that urban cycling presents dangers and hazards all year round.
However, winter cycling does add some additional challenges.
Motorists (wrongfully) do not expect bikes to be on the roads in the winter, so they are not looking for us. To that end, I ensure my bike lights are fully charged every time I start riding - day and night. Maybe also consider using some high visibility gear? Think of that neon vest as another layer of protection against the wind.
Ride defensively. I try not to surprise anyone.
Ding and ring that bell people. Make eye contact with turning cars where possible.
In addition to cars, winter conditions can be challenging.
The solution to this is simple, bike according to your ability. I grew up riding mountain bikes through mud and water to my dad’s chagrin, so I feel more comfortable in deep slush and snow. If you aren't comfortable in deep snow, don't ride that day.
Hot Tip: When in doubt, go slow, go straight, and bike according to your ability.
The reality is I am rarely ever biking through a blizzard.
Weeks can go by without a fresh snowfall, so bike lanes are clear and dry throughout much of the winter. When it does snow, municipalities sometimes do a reasonable job ensuring that roads and bike lanes are heavily salted and clear of deep snow. They may do even better this year ;)
Hot tip: for extra grip let some air out of your tires
It's too cold!
Obviously, one of the main negative reactions to winter riding involves the temperature.
Ontario winters can be very cold. But that same cold hits you as you wait for a bus or trudge slowly through the snow on your way to work. As you dig your hands deep into your pockets for warmth, standing stoically in the blowing snow, I am whipping along a side street on my bike. Who's warmer?
To bike you must crank and run your own motor, continually moving your pedals with active force and power. Even on the most frigid days, the 3 block rule applies. Within 2 or 3 blocks of hopping on my bike, my core temperature is up. I feel warm no matter the temperature or distance (within reason).
Hot tip: if you pedal, the warmth will come, but also have good gloves and a face warmer.
As long as I am pedaling, the heat is on.
You will be more comfortable biking than walking and definitely toastier than standing waiting for a bus or streetcar.
So Gear Up and Get Out There!**
Layer up: I use one medium weight jacket and layer up underneath depending on the temperature that morning. Get one or two long underwear bottoms and tops, a fleece or sweatshirt and you will be good to go in anything up to -10/15. When in doubt, add another layer.
Cover up: For your head and face, don’t buy a new winter helmet just use two thin face/neck warmers. One on your head and one around your neck. They are lightweight so you do not get too hot and wet, but thick enough to keep the wind off your face. Plus, as my friend Tom says – “the best part is that the face mask makes you look like a ninja”. I agree with Tom, it does look cool.
Goggles are a must: If you invest in anything, invest in ski goggles. Goggles keep snow and sleet from hitting you in the eyes and also keep a good portion of your face warm.
Chain Lube: The major downside with winter riding is the toll it takes on your bike. I hit my chain, crank, breaks, and bolts with cheap lube every few mornings before I ride in. This not only keeps your bike moving smoothly, but it also fights off rust. Try to keep that chain clean.
“Dave, you didn’t address the gloves versus handle bar mitts debate?!” Listen, there is a ton of topics we could discuss related to winter cycling. The above is just what I hear most when people ask me about winter cycling. My hope is only to get you passed the cold temp and snow fears. To get you on your way to becoming a winter cyclist!
*There are added costs associated with winter riding that may make it financially prohibitive for some. I am fortunate enough to be able to source appropriate gear and have a second winter bike. If you need some help with the financial side of things, reach out to me and I will try and assist/point you in the right direction.
**I used several MEC links here just for reference. I do not support corporate take over of our former co-op. Buy local!!!! #bluemountain #biking #lawyer #roadsafety #bicycle #bikesafety #bikelaw #winterbiking #toronto #ottawa #hamilton #kitchener #london #guelph #oakville #peterborough #personalinjurylaw #personalinjurylawyer #snowtires #thebikinglawyer #thecyclinglawyer #cyclinglawyer #cyclinglaw #bikelawyer not a #bikeaccident