Cycling is a very simple means of transportation. That’s why many people make a conscious decision to do it all year-round. If you find the idea of winter cycling daunting, just remember – a little planning can go a long way
Tips and tricks
- Pick the right bike for you. Take into account multiple frost/thaw cycles, as well as the potential damage caused by road abrasives. Note that single-speed bikes (freewheel or fixed gear) and bikes with a hub system gear are less vulnerable to the ravages of winter.
- Consider investing in a mud guard: your clothes will thank you for it every time you go out.
- Make sure your bike is equipped with the proper lights (white headlight and red taillight). It gets dark very early in the winter months, and snow-, frost- and dirt-covered windshields can considerably reduce driver visibility.
- Use a bigger lock, so you can park your bike anywhere (many parking facilities are unavailable in winter).
- Have lock de-icer on hand at all times in case your lock freezes up. Keeping your lock sufficiently lubricated can help ward off some unpleasant surprises.
- Lower your seat slightly for added stability and move it forward to put more weight on the front wheel.
- Lubricate all parts regularly and generously to improve performance and reduce the risk of freezing.
- Listen to your bike: in very cold weather, the wheel hubs, crankset and headset are particularly vulnerable, and the braking system can seize up. Inspect your bike before you head out, and stay vigilant at all times.
This is a hotly debated issue among winter cyclists. Some prefer the extra traction of wide, knobby tires, while others insist on narrow tires that cut through the snow and offer improved stability. And some veterans swear by knobby and relatively narrow cyclocross tires. Studded tires are naturally better in icy conditions, but they cost more. Regardless of which type of tire you choose, lowering the air pressure (without going below the manufacturer’s recommended range) will give you a better grip on the road.
You can leave your bike outside every day or park it inside. However, if possible, it is best to avoid repeated freeze/thaw cycles, which can cause rust and damage to some of the more fragile parts. If you do choose to leave your bicycle outside, avoid letting snow or ice accumulate on the transmission (crankset, chain, derailleur) when it is not in use.
Icy or snow-covered roads
Most bikeways are closed in the winter, except for a few sections along Montreal’s “Réseau blanc” – a network of paths that stay open year-round. Nevertheless, motorists are less likely to expect to see cyclists on the streets, so make sure you stay visible. Be more mindful of other road users, who are grappling with the same winter conditions you are. Stick to main streets where the snow has been cleared away, or quiet back streets where you can ride down the middle of the roadway, away from the accumulated ice and snow banks. If you do have to stray from the paved surface, be extra careful and act accordingly: slow down, don’t brake or turn suddenly, and give yourself more distance to stop. Also important to remember: when braking on a slippery surface, your rear wheel is the safer choice.
A final word of encouragement
Winter cycling is growing in popularity, and there are a number of bike shops open year-round to guide and assist you. If you make sure you have the proper equipment, follow the necessary safety guidelines and use good judgment, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the pleasures of cycling whenever you want!