Winter riding is super intimidating – being really cold is mostly horrible, and not feeling safe is even worse.…so we’re here with this basic winter riding guide because winter riding can also be fun and gratifying! We’ll talk about some simple, non-extreme hacks to help you feel comfy while you’re out there on your bicycle.
Play at your pace and take it easy, do what feels good; you don’t need to kill yourself with a super cold or, super long ride. Party pace and good vibes forever. Some of our favourite rides have happened in the winter months!
We are going to break this down into 3 main categories: Clothing/Layers, The Bike & Safety.
Layering Clothing to Keep Dry & Warm
There are so many ways to layer, it can be tricky…what is too little, too much? As you can see in the pictures, we show two very different ways to layer, and both are effective. We’d break it down further like this:
Base Layers: Long sleeve tops and long underwear are foundational pieces, snug against your skin to keep you cozy. Avoiding cotton as base layers is key, you want to avoid fabrics that hold water – go with a wool, or other synthetic like polyester.
Top half: Depending on the temperature, another layer or two. High neck options! We love a good fleece, with a polyester layer below. 3 layers before a jacket are a pretty great failsafe.
Hands: Gloves are their own little world, there are so many options. Doubling up on gloves is highly recommended for colder temperatures, Thin base gloves, and some bulky ones over top. 5 finger gloves if you need the dexterity, but mittens keep those fingers together for some extra heat. A little trick: keep some latex gloves in your bag to throw on if your hands are getting cold. They act as a windbreaker for your hands – especially if you’re using touch-screen friendly outer gloves.
Bottom half: Wind blocking and water resisting bottom layers are recommended. We love a good fleece-lined pant with the aforementioned characteristics. Ski pants are great, and often available at thrift stores! We also use rain over pants, they can get pretty hot though and don’t breathe that well.
Feet: Waterproof, insulated boots are a must. Doubling up is a theme here, but that can apply to socks too, light and then heavy. We discovered insulated insoles, so so good, they create another layer between you and the (cold) ground.
Shoe covers are handy for some extra protection from wind. Have you ever slid your feet into some zip lock plastic bags before putting your shoes on? Less messy than tin foil, and pretty effective!
Head: Under helmet hats that extend to your ears are clutch. You can get some great running caps that’ll do the job, or just a toque. We use a merino wool cycling cap with long ear flaps that never disappoints. Balaclavas are maybe the best thing ever. Take it to another level with over helmet covers add shield of protection that can take your system to another level, packable too!
Accessories: Keep ya neck warm with a scarf, buff/gaiter. Glasses can help a lot, tears from wind can make seeing clearly tricky, and we use our clear lens cycling glasses all the time. Snowboarding goggles when things get extra chilly and windy. Even some cheap safety goggles can work in a pinch.
Here’s a quick little cold riding hack-pack, an affordable, throw-it-in-your-bag-kit to be ready for all conditions:
- Zip lock bags for feet (strong ones, cheap ones get holes and de-feet the purpose:)
- Latex gloves
- Hot packs (hands and feet) – super handy when you’re really, really cold and need to warm up! Toss them back into a ziplock bag when you’re done and you can reuse it next time you need it. When you need it again, just expose to air.
- Over helmet cover to keep the wind from your lovely head
- Warm drink in thermos! Start your ride with a thermos of something warm
- Safety Goggles / Eyewear
A few small items and adjustments on the bike can make a big difference. Again, nothing fancy but some basics to keep ya steady.
- Fenders! There may be no better way to be wet and miserable than not having fenders, and going riding in wet conditions. Best way to keep your feet, back and pants dry – fenders.
- Plastic pedals in cold temperatures actually make a huge difference vs. metal. Plastic conducts less thermal energy than metal, so your feet will be warmer with them.
- Tire pressure. Low but not too slow, helps get more tire on the ground, the wider the tire the better (for us at least!).
We love feeling safe on any ride, but winter especially. Visibility, stability, nutrition, skin-sun protection and even having a working phone are some things to consider.
- Visibility is so important, winter days can be short and cyclists are less visible in this part of the year. Lights, make sure you’re charged up as batteries drain quicker in cold temps, so you might even consider bringing an extra. Consider high visibility clothing like reflective patches, straps or vests.
- Sunscreen isn’t only for the summer, UV rays don’t care about the temperature.
- Tune-ups keep your bike loving you as much as you love it, winter takes an extra toll on your trusty steed so try to take the time to make sure chains, cables are working well. Studded tires aren’t essential, but work really well in icy conditions and offer good peace of mind. Support your LBS.
- Nutrition! Cold weather is misleading, you feel less dehydrated and sometimes less hungry – carry hydration and snacks. Snacks always…
- Your phone can freeze up and stop working and if you’ve been there, it’s pretty annoying. Throw your phone in a zip lock if you’re going to be out for a while.
- How cold is too cold? While it’s a matter of judgment and comfort, the risks can increase as weather dips below freezing. Ice can be tricky, so work your way up – no rush.
We often hear, ‘How do you ride in the winter? It’s so cold…and aren’t you worried about falling?’ These are real, valid concerns, and the truth is that winter cycling can definitely be more dangerous and that’s scary. We think there are some ways to mitigate the risks with some basic preparation and takin’ it eaaaaaas-ay. We hope this guide helped ya get out there in the winter… if ya want. It can be a great time. Be Nice y’all.