Winter Bicycling Tips
Although it may seem a bit daunting, the onset of winter should not stop you from riding your bike as long as you are prepared for the weather and conditions. Here in Colorado we are spoiled by temperate conditions along the Front Range, allowing for great riding almost year round; however in higher elevations, winters can be rough and present a number of obstacles, which will admittedly have you longing for fat bike or warmers seasons ahead. That being said the benefits of winter riding are plentiful and can be quite enjoyable. Here are a few tips for your reading and riding pleasure:
It perhaps goes without saying but good quality winter clothing is paramount. The right windproof, waterproof and thermal gear will keep you dry, warm and pedaling. Layering is highly encouraged as you’ll likely work up a sweat. Layers are suggested in this order – wicking / base layer, an insulator and an outer shell. Recommended clothing items include: waterproof jacket, thermal bib tights, thermal / wicking vest, jersey, windproof / thermal gloves, clear glasses, thermal socks, under-helmet skull cap and winter booties / toe-covers.
Unfortunately bad weather is synonymous with punctures as wet roads seem to attract shards of glass, sharp pieces of flint and thorns. Be prepared and carry a spare tube (or two), a small frame pump and/or CO2 cartridges. Note however, that cartridges can often freeze when operating in low temperatures.
Eating enough before and during a ride is as important in winter as it is at any other time of year but be aware that some energy bars and chews can become very hard during low temperatures; perhaps consider a gel as an alternative. Additionally, drinking regularly is important. It may not be obvious that you are sweating under all that clothing, but fluid loss happens when cycling at any temperature. Consider mixing your drink with hot or warm water to stave off the harsh chill of winter.
Be visible. Lights are becoming more and more popular – day and night – to make ones presence known to other road users, be it drivers, pedestrians or fellow cyclists. In winter, the days are shorter and often gray, making lights all the more important. Bright, small and affordable LED lights can be commonly found at your local bike shop.
Maneuvering around on damp and potentially snow packed and icy roads can be challenging and potentially dangerous on traditional 23mm tires due to their lack of grip and durability. Tires with some traction that offer a degree of puncture protection are highly encouraged. Tubeless tires are also an option, just note they are typically more expensive and require a little more time to install. And as most winter cyclists would attest, mudguards are a must and simply courteous to have; preventing spray and muck up your back side and on the face of your amigo behind you!
You should keep on top of maintenance year round but in winter you’ll need to pay particular attention to moving parts like your chain and drivetrain. Give your bike some regular love and wash off any accumulated grime. Check for wear and tear on rims and brake blocks as wet weather can be particularly damaging to these parts. Keep your chain oiled regularly and make sure that your cables are in good shape. Salty water off gritted roads can wreak havoc on components and exposed cables, causing issues when shifting.
An aluminum-framed road bike with mudguards, puncture-resistant tires and lights makes the perfect winter machine. However, most are not in the position to own a different bike for each season, so one can easily winterize their ride by equipping themselves with cheaper parts, mudguards, wider tires and lights, and perhaps have lower gears to cope with a slower winter pace. If you are looking to specifically buy a bike for the purpose of winter riding, popular choices are cyclo-cross bikes, cheaper aluminum-framed road bikes, hybrids and mountain bikes with slicks. Winter rides are traditionally heavier so don’t be alarmed if your average speed drops and you breathe a bit heavier on climbs, but come spring you’ll be as strong as a pro.
While an appropriate warm-up is important year-round, warming up is especially vital in cold weather. Muscles, tendons and ligaments need significant blood supply to function properly and cold temperatures can constrict vessels and arteries. Your winter warm-up should be a little longer than normal in order to give those tissues enough time to heat up and receive adequate blood flow. Boost your normal warm-up by five to ten minutes.