In the summertime, you use your bicycle to move around. In the winter you use your skis. Or legs. This is the traditional way to think when you live in a place with cold winters. Well, when talking about cycling this is not necessarily the way it has to be.
I use my bicycle to get to work all year. 3-4 days a week. In the summer, this is a walk in the park, and the same goes for the winter – if you prepare yourselves and your bicycle for it. In this article, I will give you my advice on how to get started with winter cycling.
How to prepare yourself
The winter season is cold and dark. You need to keep yourself warm and make yourself visible to others. Exactly how you should dress up will depend on the daily temperature and the length of the ride, but this is my general advice:
Head: It is important to keep your head from getting cold. Only using the vented helmet will not do. Use a cap, a buff or a balaclava. The neoprene balaclava is my favourite from +6 to -5 degrees Celsius. It is easy to put on, comfortable to wear and it covers your head and partially your face. From -5 and colder I put a cap on top of it. Use sports glasses to protect your eyes from the wind, snow and dust. You may want to consider using an anti-fog spray.
Jacket: Use a bicycle jacket that is designed for winter. Make sure the jacket protects you against wind and water. The jacket should have adjustment for airflow so you easily can adjust the temperature. It’s important that the jacket is large enough to handle 1-2 layer of clothing under it. Try the jacket in the store and check that the arms are long enough to cover your gloves when cycling. The jacket should be in highly visible colours and be reflective to light.
Under the jacket: Use 1 or 2 layers of sport underwear. Use wool based clothing when it gets very cold.
Hands: Use warm winter gloves with a good grip.
Legs: There are specially designed trousers for winter cycling. I personally use the summer cycle shorts with the long pants over them.
Footwear: I use hiking shoes and old-fashioned platform pedals. I want to be able to put my foot fast to the ground if my bike slides. You can of course use clip-on-shoes if you are sure of your own skills.
How to prepare your bike
Let’s start with my most important advice in this article: Use studded tires when cycling on snow and ice. Never attempt to use your summer tires, because they will slip.
Lights and reflectors: Use a good headlamp and a good tail lamp. In addition, you can also use a lamp on your helmet or backpack. Use reflectors in your wheels so you are visible from the sides.
In general, you can’t have too many reflectors and lights when cycling in the dark. Do not be afraid to overdo it. Make sure you are visible from all angles.
Update: The use of very bright headlights is becoming more and more popular. Keep in mind that this can blind others unnecessary. Be aware of this issue and take care.
Screens: Up to you. It is a lot of dirt and salt on the roads in the winter, so I love my screens. They keep my backpack and me clean.
Maintenance: Dirt, salt and ice attacks your bike. Your bike needs a lot more cleaning and lubrication during the winter than it needs in the summer. If possible, store the bike in non-freezing conditions over night to remove the ice. Consider asking the shop to service your bike before and/or during the winter.
Brakes: I only have experience with hydraulic disc brakes, and they works fine in the winter. Regardless of the brake system you have, test the brakes before the ride and during the ride to make sure they work all the time. This is very important!
General experiences cycling in the winter
Snow, ice, darkness and studded tires will make your ride slower in the winter vs. the summer. Take your time. Be careful with ice and snow, the studded tires do not work ‘by magic’. Remember that car drivers struggle with the winter conditions as well, so watch out.
Do not always listen to advice from competition cyclists. They have a different focus than you, such as low bicycle weight and a cool appearance. You should think more about safety, visibility and practical every day solutions. I was told once that I should remove the reflectors in my wheels because it ‘didn’t look cool’. Well, that’s advice that could be fatal.
Use your common sense, gain your own experiences over time, be careful and enjoy your winter cycling!