Riding your bike in winter isn’t an affair for everyone, but it is getting easier. It takes nerves. There’s a few more hazards to worry about — ice, snow, snow on ice, narrower streets, slush, massive puddles, and the matter that it gets dark at 4 p.m.
Fenders are key during winter riding – without them you’ll get covered with wet, grimy spray from your tires, and so will those riding behind you. Close-fitting fenders are great for rainy climates, but clog up with slush in snowier conditions. Fenders that clip-on to your downtube and/or seat post are ideal for use in heavy snow, as they won’t clog.
Short days and low-visibility weather make front and rear lights essential during winter. If you ride in dimly lit areas, a front light that helps you see what’s ahead (not just be seen) is key. Opt for a light that’s about 150 lumens or more. If you commute only in well-lit areas, a front light that helps others see you, 60 to 150 lumens, is fine. Cold conditions are tough on batteries, so consider running two rear lights or at least carrying a spare.
Proper wet/snow tires will offer the most security in terms of grip for winter conditions. Look for tires with larger spacing or channels in the tread, as this will prevent hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when a wedge of water lifts the tire from the road, creating a situation with a dangerous lack of grip. Having tires with channels in them provides a space for the water to go, while still providing proper contact with the ground. If you live in a place that sees frequent amounts of snow & ice, consider a studded tire.
Did we mention it's cold? An extra layer on top of what you would normally wear in winter is a good idea. Not only is it much colder than most of us are used to but the state of the roads means you are likely to be riding slower than your normal pace, so you may not be generating the same levels of heat.
Pay particular attention to your hands and feet
Feet: overshoes, thermal socks and winter boots are all a good idea. Cold feet make for a miserable ride. It's tempting to put extra socks on but layering outside the shoes keeps blood flowing to your toes and your feet warmer.
Hands: It's even more important to keep these warm than your feet – trying to control your bike with two blocks of ice on the ends of your arms is not pleasant on any level. Good gloves are a must and glove liners – even inside thermal gloves if you feel the cold – are a good idea too, as are covers like Bar Mitts over the brake levers and grips (if your bike has flat bars). The benefit here is twofold: not only do they reduce the wind-chill to your hands but they also reduce the chilling effect on metal brake levers and bars with thin grips
Often in wintertime it’s raining and/or snowing. Cycling in these conditions without protection for your eyes can leave you squinting for the entire length of your commute. A pair glasses with a basic clear lens, will help keep the water out of your eyes.That said, on super snowy days or days when it’s too cold to ride without your eyes watering so much you can’t see anyways. In these cases, consider clear/amber ski goggles. They cover a lot of skin, block the wind, and let in lots of light.
Summer cyclists usually get a tune-up once a year. Year-round cyclists tune-up every few months because winter can be tough on bikes. Some people will even use a "beater" bike (albeit a well-functioning one) for the winter months. Make sure you get your bike serviced before winter and after winter as wear and tear and grime build up occur mostly during this period.
- Get down !
Some people suggest that you lower your saddle slightly, so lowering your centre of gravity. The other advantages of dropping the saddle are that it's easier to get your feet down flat on the road should you suddenly need to use God's stabilizers, and less dramatically but just as usefully it makes it easier to start off sitting in the saddle when things are really slippy. That extra weight can the be difference between getting the traction needed to move and having your back wheel slip with potential painful top tube consequences.
- Snow and Ice
Watch out for areas with melted snow. Snow often melts in the sunlight but refreezes in lower temps or as the sun sets. These are likely places to find black ice, which, as with auto driving, is probably the single most dangerous aspect of riding a bike in below-freezing conditions. The simplest way of avoiding problems when riding on icy roads is to choose the dry line. One recent winter saw very cold but dry weather in much of the country, so the roads weren't uniformly covered in ice. Instead, it was lying in patches on the road or in gutters, or it was run-off that had frozen across the road so the dry line wasn't always a straight one. Another year, sticking to the dry line was simply impossible, because compacted snow on untreated roads had just frozen. That's when you have to cope with actually riding on the ice.
If your bike commute is farther than a couple of miles, you're probably going to need to carry work clothes. There are 3 options for this: backpacks, messenger bags or panniers. For winter riding, a waterproof backpack is a good option. It offers a slim profile and a stable 2-strap configuration. A messenger bag has a single strap and, if not loaded carefully, can shift around and throw off your balance. This can be a nightmare when the ground is wet or snowy. Panniers are good but they do make your bike a little wider. This can be a concern when riding in winter because it's best to stay farther out from the curb then you would in the summer—which means that you are closer to cars than normal. However, panniers do offer the best cargo solution on any bike and with reflective accents and lower profiles this problem is less apparent than it used to be.
With all the dirt, gravel and other contaminants on the road, any bike will soon start to squeak, click and clatter after a certain period of time. The more moving or exposed parts, the more places that sand, salt and dirt can gather and affect performance. By minimizing rust and dirt accumulation, you'll keep everything working much happier and smoother. To do so, get in the habit of cleaning your chain and drivetrain after almost every ride. A chain cleaner, rag and an old toothbrush are all you need. Just clean it up and re-lube it with a chain lube designed for wet/dirty climates. Wipe down your brakes after snowy or dirty rides and make sure the contact surfaces with the wheels are clean.
One of the best things about cold-weather biking is “winter spirit,” the heightened sense of camaraderie you’ll have with other bicyclists who choose to fight cabin fever and celebrate the season. And while winter cycling might be challenging at first, it gets easier and more fun with experience.