Winter biking is gaining in popularity even though it’s often considered an activity reserved for hardcore daredevils. Also called Nordic cycling, it can actually be extremely fun and safe… as long as you follow these practical recommendations.
You plan to winter bike… WTH?
Why? First and foremost, for fun! Winter biking is the ideal cure for seasonal affective disorder. Besides being good for your health, it is an eco-friendly and more affordable alternative to driving.
The key to making your experience a positive one is to ease into it gradually, always respecting your personal limits. Pick a sunny day with cleared pavement to head out on your first ride rather than in the middle of a blizzard!
Choose your ride
Shop around for a used bike that you are not worried about wearing out prematurely if you are interested in a winter bike and have a limited budget.
After you become a confident Nordic biker, you can invest in a bike that has an aluminum frame and stainless-steel parts with an internal gear hub or a single speed.
You don’t need to buy a ‘fat bike’ for city biking unless you plan to ride on permanently snowy trails. The wide tires will slow you down.
No matter what type of frame you choose, you will have to get it serviced to extend the bike’s lifespan and keep it in good working order.
A winter tune-up consists mainly of lubricating and greasing a bike’s exposed or moving parts to protect against rust and salt corrosion. Ideally, you should get your bike serviced once a month – or at least two or three times throughout the winter.
Store your bike in a secure outdoor shed and avoid taking it inside: melting snow and condensation will only encourage rust. If you have no choice, just remember to use a cloth to wipe it down and a hairdryer to dry it.
Thoroughly clean your bike at the end of winter and re-apply lubricant and grease. It is then ready for the next cold season. Keep in mind that some parts might need to be replaced, such as the chain and chainring.
Tire choice really comes down to personal preference and may evolve over the winter. Knobby tires are the most effective in snowy conditions, while studded tires prove to be very useful on ice. Some people even decide to put a studded tire on the front and a knobby tire on the back.
Make yourself visible!
Winter means shorter days. Don’t let the dark fool you! Make sure that drivers can clearly see you and your ride. Install LED lights on the front and back of your bike and wear high visibility clothing like a reflective safety vest or stick reflective strips on your outerwear. Be careful, a powerful headlight can blind drivers.
The perfect cycling gear, winter version
Prepare to dress warmly, but not overdo it. Dress in layers: a thin undershirt as a base layer, a polar fleece jacket on top of that and a down shell or breathable windbreaker as an outer layer is a good start. The same principle applies to the lower body. Ideally, you should be a bit cold when you leave home; you will quickly warm up once you get moving.
Protect your extremities. Warm mittens are essential, plus a pair of thinner gloves on hand to unlock a bike lock or perform other manoeuvres requiring your fingers. A neck warmer or balaclava for the face, along with ski googles, will help you brave the bitter wind. Stash a few hand warmers in your backpack in case it gets colder than anticipated.
Add a tuque and helmet to the mix. Winter bike helmets also cover the ears and protect better against potential wipeouts than snowboard helmets.
Your regular winter boots will do the trick if they are not too big. Wear thick socks and gaiters as needed.
Drive according to road conditions
As with winter driving, you need to slow down and increase your braking distance when riding a bike on snowy, icy roads. Lower your seat a fraction to be able to reach the ground faster and deflate your tires a little for better traction. Bike on the shoulder or street whenever possible. If conditions are unpleasant or there is heavy traffic, get off your bike and use the sidewalk.
Above all, never put your safety at risk! Use another means of transportation if there is severe weather and drivers are having a hard time navigating roads. Hop back on your bike once streets have been plowed.
Do a test ride on the route between your home and work on a day off. Some bike paths often close when snow arrives and you may have to switch up your regular route.
What’s the 411?
Some community organizations offer comprehensive (and reassuring) training sessions on winter cycling and maintenance. Self-service bike repair stations are becoming more widespread where you will find the space you need to make repairs, plus tools and pro tips at a reasonable price.
Now you are ready to tackle winter!