Winter Cycling Advice from “The Cold Kids”

By Megan Flottorp

The winter months are here, and when the temperature starts to drop, it can take a strong person to work up the motivation to leave the house, let alone go for a cycle. Nevertheless, more and more cyclists are opting to explore the thrill of winter riding each year, and the online community Winter Cycling is a testament to that fact. We got in touch with them (the self-proclaimed ‘cold kids’) to collect some of the best tips and advice from those who sware by their bike 12 months of the year. With a mandate as follows, you know you can trust these guys:

Come hell or frozen water. We are changing the cycling landscape.

Winter is one of the best times to ride a bicycle, and this is one of the best-kept secrets in cycling. Our group is a place for new winter riders to learn how and for veteran winter riders to share their love of winter riding with the group.
Cyclists all over the world are discovering the joys of winter riding each season. Winter Cycling is the new frontier of cycling.

So, what do these lovers of the cold do to stay comfortable while exploring the new frontier? Let’s get to it.

Layers, layers, layers

Layers were on just about everyone’s list of the top tips for new winter cyclists. Sush F. emphasises that these can be a lifesaver because it is hard to predict just how much insulation you’re going to need, “I often was too warm when I started winter riding and overestimated how much insulation I needed. If you have protection from the wind, your body will generate more than enough heat.”

So, instead of venturing out in your heaviest winter jacket and overheating, wear multiple thin layers so you can take things on and off. Plus, you won’t be a total sweaty mess when you arrive at your destination.

Let the body adjust slowly

Jason W. started the Winter Cycling group and is a fierce advocate for cycling in the cold and wet. That said, he advises new winter cyclists to take it easy. “Start out riding a few degrees lower than you would normally consider.” Sylvie S. echoes his sentiment, reminding us to let our bodies adapt to the seasons. “It’s easier to acclimate if you just don’t stop riding in the fall. Riding at 45 can feel pretty dang shocking and awful if you haven’t biked or done much outdoorsy in a month or two. But, if you were biking at 60 and 55 and 50, then 45 isn’t a big change, and then a month or two later, it’s -5, and you’re still doing okay.”

Protect the extremities

Jason also reminds us that the hands and feet will be the hardest part. Hands? “Eventually, you will need some type of mitten when temps drop well below freezing. Feet? Insulated footwear. If well below freezing, go for boots a couple of sizes too big and, of course, winter socks.”

Invest in gear up to the job

Speaking of the fingers and toes, Kevin C. says “pogies” (bar mitts) are a huge help. Being too warm is more of an issue than being too cold. Most people have the solution to this in the form of gear from another sport. Merino wool helps a lot, as does a wind-breaking layer like Goretex.

Daniel C. says, “Footwear is most important, and I’ve had no luck with standard cycling shoes. I use boots (in my case, boots designed for fishing waders) and flat pedals. Boots should be 1/2 size too big.”Or you can try this funky trick from Roy K., “wear thin wool socks, then turkey cooking bags, then a thicker wool sock for warm feet all day. Merino wool base layers for the other parts of your body.”

Don’t overdo it, or you’ll end up wet

Gino T. has solid advice for those tempted to take the bundling up to the next level. “Start off your ride a little cold because you warm up. If you dress warm enough for the weather when you are inactive, you will sweat when you start pedalling. The sweat makes your clothes wet and reduces how well they keep you warm. Stay dry.”

For Joe B., that means getting dressed in the garage so as not to overheat while layering up. As Sylvie S. advises, “you can wear normal clothes you already own, as long as they’re flexible enough to move in. Dress in layers, and aim to feel a little chilly the whole time. You don’t want to be so cold you’re miserable or shaking or anything, but you really want to stay dry. So if you start to feel warm, stop and take off a layer.”

Winter cycling
Don’t overdo it! © Profimedia

Get some peace of mind with studded tyres

Whatever the weather, you should always have a good set of tyres on your bike, but they’re particularly important during the cold winter months. Mike V advises, “In places where icy and snow-packed streets and bike paths are common in winter, studded bike tires can truly be lifesaving. Caution is still necessary on slippery surfaces, of course, but studded tires provide a surprising amount of control and traction to keep the bike from slipping out from under you.”

For Peter L., control means a fixie, “I ride my fixed-wheel road bike with cantilever brakes on my winter commute. I have better control over slippery road conditions than riding with a standard cassette/freewheel setup.”

Keep your bike in winter-ready condition

Winter riding is hard on your bike. After taking it out in rough weather, it’s always a good idea to give your bike a quick treatment to ensure it will be ready for your next foray into the snow. Take five minutes to do a general rinse and wipe-down to remove dirt, salt and grit. Pay particular attention to the chain, gears, brakes and wheel rims. Then dry it off with an old towel and add some bike oil to the chain and gear mechanism.

Take it slow

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t remind you that safety should always be your number one concern. Especially when riding in the cold and wet, you need to be mindful that it will take a while for your body, especially your joints and muscles, to warm up properly. That means no sprinting as soon as your leave the house, and accept that you’re just going to have to go slower in wet and snowy conditions. There’s no need to risk your safety for the sake of a few minutes.

Otherwise, make sure you have that bike lit up like a Christmas tree when riding in dark or snowy conditions, don’t forget the chapstick, and go have some fun on your bike this winter!