Just because winter weather is upon us, that doesn’t mean we can’t still get out and ride. It just means that we need to prepare and plan appropriately, to make for the safest and most enjoyable experience possible. With the bike, gear, and apparel options that are available these days, year-round riding has never been easier. Here are a few tips and ideas that will give newbies the confidence to try winter riding, and help the brave souls that are already out there to enjoy the adventure a bit more.
Just about any bike will work for winter riding, but think twice before venturing out on your high-end road bike. Even when the roads are dry, the salt, sand, and grit can wreak havoc on your drive train.
If you are commuting or just heading out for a ride, consider going with a sturdy older bike that is set up specifically for the conditions of the road. Tire choice is critical. Wide tires with decent tread should do the trick in most conditions. If you are specifically riding in snow and ice, investing in true winter tires with metal studs can be a great choice. PRO TIP: when traction is questionable, let a bit of air out of your tires to increase surface contact with the road and improve traction.
Fenders are especially important if you are commuting by bike in the winter. They do a great job preventing snow, water, mud, sand, and other grit from spraying your face and clothes along the way. If having a muddy racing stripe down your back when you finish the ride is your thing, then forego the fenders. If not, then the are highly recommended. Mucky Nutz is one of my favorite brands of fenders. There are fender options out there that provide more complete coverage, but there aren’t any that I have found that are as versatile and as easily installed onto nearly any bike. Lights are great to have on any ride, day or night, even in the summer. In the winter, however, with more glare on the roads and less daylight, they are an absolute must. The importance of both seeing and being seen cannot be overstated. There are a ton of options out there for any budget. Key considerations are brightness and battery life. You can find headlights and taillights sold separately or as sets. A nice choice is the Lezyne Strip Drive Headlight and Taillight set, which provides 300 lumens up front and 150 lumens in the rear, will mount to any bike, and has multiple flash modes. Price for the set is $67.99 – a small price to pay for safety.
Simply stated, without proper clothing you will be miserable and will find excuses to avoid getting out and riding in the first place. When considering clothing, the simple goal is to maximize comfort on the bike. How to best do this? First, you need to ask yourself a few questions. How cold is it? Is any precipitation expected during the ride? What about expected road debris (sand, gravel, etc.) where you will be riding? Time of day and risk of running out of daylight if anything goes wrong (flat tire, etc.)? Any wind expected? How hard do you plan to ride? How much do you tend to sweat? The answers to these questions (and probably more) must be taken into consideration when getting dressed. Regardless of the specific answers, the key is usually to layer. It all begins with the base layer, which should provide both warmth and moisture management. Synthetic fabrics do a great job of wicking moisture away from your body – both your own (sweat) and Mother Nature’s (rain and snow). I consider the mid layer to be the “utility player” of winter cycling clothing. It is a versatile layer and is not even always necessary. If used, it should provide additional moisture management as well as warmth. It can be used under the outer layer for additional warmth, or as the outer layer – and will sometimes be used as both during different times in the any given ride as temperatures and efforts change. The outer layer is there to provide not only a good thermal barrier for warmth but also a weather barrier for wind and water resistance. A proper approach to layering should keep your core dry and comfortable, but keeping your head, hands and feet warm is equally important for a comfortable and enjoyable ride. You should stay away from riding with a hood, as they tend to funnel in cold air as you move. Tight-fitting but insulated beanies (preferably with a synthetic wicking material) work great under helmets. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to shield your eyes. Sunglasses can work fine in most cases, but also consider ski goggles, which offer a more complete protective barrier for both your eyes and face. On more than one occasion cold fingers and toes have caused me to cut rides short. A good pair of gloves is great in most conditions but when the temperature really drops, or if you have suboptimal circulation in your hands, consider a bifurcated “lobster claw”/mitten hybrid.
For your feet, heavy socks and water/windproof booties can really do a nice job of keeping your piggies warm. In more extreme weather, winter-specific riding boots should be considered. When in a pinch, putting plastic shopping bags or small trash bags over your socks before stepping into your shoes can be great. I know this from first-hand experience.
I hope these tips have helped. Now get prepared, put on your layers, and get out and ride!
Trent Newcomer is a veterinarian and the franchise owner of Velofix Colorado, a mobile bike shop operation that serves the Front Range, from Fort Collins to the entire Denver metro area. Book a bike service appointment and have them roll up to your home or business at velofix.com.