Your bicycle – Your winter ride
Consider using an old bike (or buy a used bike) as a designated winter bike to protect your regular commuter bike from the elements. Salt, sand and grit wear down gear cogs, cause rust and get into suspension and braking systems.
A mountain, hybrid or commuter style bike will give you the most traction. A bike with aluminum rimmed wheels will last longer and provide much safer braking. If you ride frequently in the winter, you may need to replace your winter bike every few years.
Note: Fat bikes (or winter bikes) are fun but they are an expensive choice for a winter commuter bike and best used in clean snow conditions.
Lower the air pressure in your tires, without going below the manufacturer’s recommended range to get a better grip on the road. The PSI range can be found written on the sidewall of most tires.
For traction in snow, thick-tread mountain bike tires are a good option. If you live in an area with a regular freeze/thaw cycle you may want to invest in studded tires. These tires have good traction and small metal protrusions that grip onto slippery patches such as ice. If you only have the budget for one, put it on the front. Your front tire guides your bike’s position. The weight of your body/panniers will help with traction in the rear. Depending on how much you ride, you may be able to use the same studded tire for several winter seasons.
For lightly packed snow or slush, thin tires can be very effective for cutting through the snow to reach the pavement.
Know the conditions that are most common in your area and choose your tires accordingly. Ask other winter cyclists in your area for their recommendations.
Brakes can be affected by winter conditions. Cables rust and parts seize. Your brakes are important so be sure they are operational every time you head out.
There are many weather resistant options for carrying belongings on a bicycle.
Carrying a heavy bag on your back creates a higher centre of gravity. This can be challenging in winter because the shifting weight can cause instability in slippery conditions. Consider a well fitted backpack for lighter loads only.
Baskets can be attached at the front or back and are very convenient any time of year. A well attached milk crate on a rear rack is a cost effective option.
There are many types of weather proof panniers available. This is a great option for heavier loads. The lower centre of gravity can help with stability.
Tip: Panniers make your bike appear wider and create a larger visual footprint, therefore, motorists tend to give you more space when passing.
In winter, full fenders are recommended. The fenders will protect you from splash ups and you will remain dryer, cleaner and warmer. Leave the maximum room between your tire and fender to allow for packed snow build up.
Tip: When riding, leave a little space behind other cyclists to keep clear of the debris they may kick up.
Tip: If your bike has accumulated slush and grime between the wheel and the fender during your ride, bang your wheel against the ground to dislodge this accumulation before parking your bike as it may freeze during the day or overnight.
Tip: Consider adding a frame fender for additional protection.
Tools and Supplies
Here are some things to consider carrying with you:
- A tire repair kit
- A multi-tool for little repairs
- A cell phone or bus fare
- An extra outer layer
- Spare gloves (light weight)
Tip: If you do encounter a flat, try to get your bike somewhere you can change your flat indoors. Your hands will thank you!
Getting your bicycle ready for winter riding
There are a few extra challenges that come with riding in winter. Consider some maintenance to prepare for the winter season:
Give your bike a quick tune up to ensure it is in good working order.
Put on fenders if you do not already have them to avoid having slush sprayed on your clothes.
Apply wet-weather lubricant (available at most bike shops) to your drive train early in the winter season and re-apply as needed.