Winter Cycling Tips – How to Ride a Bike Safely in Winter
Cycling might be the last activity on your mind in the winter, but getting out on your bike from November through March has its benefits. Find out why you should get out in the winter, the possible pitfalls of winter cycling and how to stay safe and have fun.
The Benefits of Winter Cycling
Winter cycling is one of the best ways to get out and about in the winter. It gives you a great excuse to leave your apartment or home and shed some of that winter weight. It can also keep your biking skills sharp for the upcoming spring.
The Possible Hazards of Winter Cycling
Depending on where you live, temperatures can drop below freezing in many areas. Dropping temperatures can be extremely dangerous during the winter time. If you’re not prepared, you could get hypothermia or frostbite.
Cycling can also be a little chillier than just walking around in the winter. The wind can whip past your body and decrease the temperature by 10 to 20 degrees.
These temperatures can drop even further after the sun goes down. Cycling during the winter can be fun and exhilarating, but it can also be dangerous. You might not even notice the symptoms of hypothermia until it’s too late.
2. Icy Road Conditions
Road conditions can worsen in the wintertime and become downright dangerous. The snow often melts and refreezes during the winter several times. This can cause extremely dangerous cycling conditions. If you’re cycling on a road with car traffic, these conditions can worsen even further. Drivers can often lose control of their cars’ steering mechanisms and create terrifying conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.
Conditions can be especially bad at night or over bridges. Black ice can be tricky because you might not even see the danger until it’s too late.
It’s easy to get fatigued in the wintertime on your bike. Winter cycling is more challenging than cycling during ideal conditions. You need to be on top of your game in the winter to keep an eye out for ice, snow and other weather-related issues.
The falling temperatures can cause your body to feel tired much quicker than in the summer. You might need to change the way you pedal or sit to create safer conditions; this can cause your body to tire much quicker than usual. You might not be able to avoid obstacles if you’re too tired to stay alert.
4. Fewer Hours of Daylight
The winter also brings fewer hours of daylight. This means you’ll experience less visibility throughout the day. Even when the sun is at its highest, you might not see as many rays as you would in the summertime. Storm clouds can often block the sun in the winter.
You also will end up riding in the dark during rush hour because the sun doesn’t rise until later and sets much earlier. If you’re not used to avoiding traffic and weather conditions in the dark, you might want to educate yourself on some best practices for riding with less visibility.
The Best Winter Cycling Tips
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to cycle safely in the wintertime. You won’t be able to travel the same routes you travel in the summer. You will need to be diligent and aware of your surroundings. You’ll need to be a little more flexible in your ride. Yet the freedom to cycle during the winter will be reward enough for the extra time and effort.
Check out some of the most helpful tips to stay safe and have tons of fun cycling in the winter.
1. Cycle During the Day
Cycling during the day seems like a no-brainer. Yet you’ll need to pay special attention as to when the day begins and when night falls. You can download an app to find out sunrise and sunset times for each day.
Check out your weather report to ensure that there aren’t especially cloudy conditions or fog that could affect your ride.
• Download an app to research sunrise and sunset times
• Keep an eye on weather conditions to ensure you get the maximum amount of sun during your ride
2. Use the Right Gear at Night
Sometimes you can’t always ride during the day. Night cycling during the winter is safe if you take the proper precautions. Make sure your bike has a good headlight and plenty of flashers to make cars and other cyclists aware of your presence. Wear reflective clothing. Wear as much warm clothing as possible as the temperature can fall up to 20 degrees further at night.
• Purchase a headlight for visibility at night
• Wear reflective clothing
• Layer your warm clothing to ensure you stay toasty and dry
3. Wear the Right Outfit
Keeping warm in the winter is all about layers. Your clothing should be warm but not too warm. You don’t want to start sweating excessively; this can cool your body down significantly. Try to find clothes that are made for nighttime or cold weather cycling. You’ll need proper gloves, a hat, outerwear, pants and shoes to make your winter cycling a safe experience.
• Buy clothing made for winter and night cycling
• Wear as many layers as possible, so you can take layers off when you start to sweat
• Find clothing that wicks away moisture to prevent excessive sweating and hypothermia
4. Get the Right Bike Gear for Ice
Your bike may have been made to ride in ideal conditions during warmer months. You might need to get thicker tires for your bike in the winter to avoid skidding and slipping. You can also get studded tires for your bike just like you would for your car. Purchase fenders to ensure that snow doesn’t end up in all the wrong places on your bike.
Making sure your bike has all the right accoutrement will make a huge difference in the winter.
• Buy tires that are appropriate for sleet, snow, rain and ice
• Put fenders on your bike
5. Combine Transportation Methods
One of the biggest mistakes winter cyclers make is trying to tackle too much in harsh weather. Combining your ride with other types of transportation will ensure you don’t get tuckered out too quickly. You can combine your bike ride with:
• Commuter lots
Map a route that allows you to drive to a commuter lot before hopping on your bike. Public transportation can also help you keep your energy levels up during and after your ride.
6. Fuel Up
Eating a healthy and hearty breakfast sounds like a cliché, but it’s one of the best ways to ensure you have plenty of energy for your ride. You need to keep your reflexes sharp, and you can’t do that if you’re riding on an empty stomach.
• Eat plenty of whole grains
• Load up on protein and carbs
• Bring protein bars along on your ride
• Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
7. Keep Your Bike Tuned
It’s important to keep your bike tuned any time of year, but it’s especially important in the winter. Keeping your bike tuned up ensures that you are safe to ride in nearly any kind of weather. It can also extend the life of your bike, so you won’t need to repair it as much. Some basic tuning includes:
• Cleaning the chain
• Adjusting your bike’s brakes
• Tightening cables
8. Proceed with Caution
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget that you need to be extra cautious when riding your bike in the winter. Cars generally give cyclists more leeway when there’s snow, but some drivers don’t know how to drive safely in winter conditions.
You need to be extra vigilant when riding your bike in the winter.
• Look both ways at intersections
• Use rearview mirrors
• Listen carefully for cars approaching from behind
• Use your turn signals diligently
9. Ride Right
Consider attending a cycling gym to perfect your form for the winter. Training for winter rides throughout the summer can ensure that you are physically ready to ride your bike in harsh conditions. The placement of your hands and feet can make all the difference when it comes to safety in the snow.
10. Change Your Route
You might love your daily route in the summertime, but you might need to switch it up in the winter. You’ll want to take a look at Google or Apple Maps before heading out on your ride to look for any road closures or detours. Try to avoid bridges as they are magnets for ice. Don’t ride too close to construction sites as they often don’t pay attention to cyclists as they’re operating equipment. Try to avoid rural or country roads if you can. You don’t want to slip and fall without someone close by to call for help.
• Change up your route to ensure safety
• Avoid busy roads, rural roads, construction sites and bridges
• Keep your eyes open for any road closures to avoid problems when you hit the streets
11. Winterize Your Bike
Just like your car, your bike needs extra love in the winter. Your bike can be subject to more wear and tear throughout the winter, so you need to make sure that you’re taking care of it to last through the spring. Check your tires for any holes or lacerations to ensure safe riding. Keep your chain well-oiled throughout the season. Make sure you remove sand and ice from your bike every night. Clean road salt from your bike once a week to ensure it doesn’t erode your bike’s finish.
• Ensure your bike is ready for the winter by cleaning and prepping it
• Clean your bike more often in the winter than you would in the summer
• Oil your chain once a week to ensure the gears and wheels work properly
• Check your bike for any damage as often as possible to stay safe
12. Pay Attention to the Weather Report
Make like you’re a winter hiker, and pay special attention to the weather report. Try to avoid cycling on days that are predicted to experience colder temperatures, freezing rain or snow. You don’t want to get stranded on your bike. Don’t ride in unsafe conditions. Have a back-up plan in case the weather turns ugly when you’re already out on the road. Ask a friend to give you a lift home, or find nearby public transportation to stay safe. When in doubt, don’t ride your bike. You’re better off being safe than stuck in the middle of nowhere on your bike.
• Check the weather report before heading out on your bike
• Don’t ride your bike during winter storms, extremely cold weather and icy conditions
• Employ a back-up plan for times when you can’t ride your bike
13. Stay Connected
Make sure you have your phone charged and on at all times in case of an emergency. Keep your battery charged, and keep a spare battery pack handy. If you’re cycling on a country road and fall into a snowbank, it could be hours before someone finds you. Make sure you keep yourself safe by being as prepared as possible.
• Make sure you have 100% battery when you leave the house
• Keep your phone in a waterproof and weatherproof case
• Test your phone in cold conditions to make sure the cold temperatures don’t cause your battery to deplete
• Tell friends and family where you’re cycling and your route in case of emergencies
Bring flares with you in case of emergencies where you don’t have cell phone service. You might feel silly carrying around all this extra gear, but you’ll appreciate your preparedness if you ever have a close call.
The Bottom Line
Riding your bike in the winter can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. It’s a great excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the fresh winter air. Riding safe is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer, so make sure you plan ahead for any problems that can arise.