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Snowscape cycling: Tips for riding your bike through the colder months

A bike being ridden through the snow.
Image Credit: Katie Wintersgill

Cycling in the winter either sounds like the best idea ever or something you would only think about if you experienced some sort of psychotic break. Snowstorms, black ice, skidding cars, white-outs and arctic cold weather; what’s there to like about it?

But in the last few years, breaking out the two-wheeler during the depths of winter has become more and more mainstream and it looks like the trend is gaining momentum.

Mason Lover, a bicycle designer at Gremlins Bicycle Emporium and avid winter cyclist said, “Cycling in the winter is becoming trendier, probably directly correlating to the cost-of-living crisis. Right now, people just don’t have money to get around the same way they used to.”

For Lover, there is thrill that comes with winter cycling that can’t be matched at any other time of year.

“You get on all your winter gear,” he said. “There’s a lot more preparation that goes into your morning commute…the joy is like preparing for the treacherous weather and sort of a sense of accomplishment when you get to where you’re going and then you take off all your gear every day.”

It goes without saying that whether you’re new to cycling or an experienced rider, extreme caution should be taken when cycling in the winter.

Evan Spindler, a bike mechanic and winter cyclist at Gremlins said the most important thing to keep in mind when cycling in winter is to take your time. 

“Expect to go slower than you’re normally going to go in the summer,” Spindler said. “It’s not about getting there really quickly in the winter.”

Some of Spindler’s top winter cycling tips include wearing brighter clothing as it gets darker a lot quicker in the winter. Spindler also suggested going for a fat bike or a mountain bike if you don’t feel confident riding in the winter. If you are a confident rider, any bike can be modified.

“My favourite piece of gear would probably be fenders and mud guards,” he added. “That I find helps a lot, especially with how slushy it gets. With all the salt on the road, it’s nice not to be covered in a bunch of gunk after your ride.”

For Lover, the most important thing you need in the winter months are handling skills.

“You’ve got to be ready to swerve a sheet of black ice or some other obstruction in the road. You’ve got to be able to work around cars that might be out of control as well.”

Most importantly, Lover said to anticipate the unexpected.

“Always be conscious of where you’re going and your next move,” he said. “Be thinking about things that you can’t see underneath the snow, ice, salt and rocks.”

Knowing exactly how your bike works, handles and feels is so important to be conscious of, so it’s necessary to understand what kind of bike you are handling.

“In the wintertime, I really like to ride a single speed bicycle because I don’t have to take care of it as often as I would a more in-depth, geared bicycle,” Lover said. “When I’m far away from home or on my way to work in the wintertime, having that assurance of a single speed bicycle is a great peace of mind that I won’t somehow break a chain or some other random mechanical issue that a more sort of geared bike or something like that would have.”

Equipment is something Lover also suggested paying close attention to. His favourite pieces for winter include:

  • A great pair of boots. Your toes are the first thing to get cold.
  • A good helmet and lights because it gets dark quite early and helmets are mandatory when riding in the wintertime.
  • Handlebar mitts (some people call them ‘pogies’). Pogies are weather-resistant, larger gloves attached to your handlebars that you put your hands into.

Riding in the winter is both exciting and challenging but it seems the most important piece of information that you need to keep you safe on the unpredictable roads and conditions is to be informed and wise. Safe riding to you, all who take up the challenge!