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Bicycling During the Winter: Essential tips to stay warm and toasty

Updated on July 27, 2013
Leaving your bicycle outside during the winter is an obvious poor choice.
Leaving your bicycle outside during the winter is an obvious poor choice. | Source


With the leaves changing and the temperatures dropping, mayn cyclist will hang the bicycle up, shift to the perilous depths of the "pain cave" (a.k.a. the basement), some simply have no other option but to ride for transportation. With the right gear and a little preparation you can keep your riding going all winter long. You just have to "winterize" your bike and yourself to tackle the chill head on. No need to lose you form just because Jack Frost has other plans.

Prepare for the Temperature

Morphing yourself and you bicycle for winter riding can be simple and somewhat easy. Take some time and prepare your bike and yourself following these steps to get started:

  1. Add fenders(if your bike allows it). Dropping temperatures bring rain and snow, snow brings road salt. Road salt is damaging to both the bike and your clothing. Fenders will guard you and those riding behind you from all of the above.
  2. Install puncture resistant tires and tubes. Cold rubber and cold medal can be very difficult to work with, not to mention so can frozen fingers. The less likely you are the get a flat, the less likely you are to get frostbitten fingertips.
  3. Check your brake pads, and check them often. Road salt, winter debris and dirt have a way of wearing down on the brake pads.
  4. Moisture is bad, you will need to make sure that your non-carbon bike parts are lubed with a good grease to keep them from galvanizing together. Park tool grease, white lithium grease or even marine grease will work fine.

Post-Ride Maintenance

If your ride was through any sort of moisture, on the road or in the air, be sure to clean it by whipping it down and removing excess water. You should never let a bike sit in water, this will eventually cause your cables and housing to rust, forcing you to seek a full tune up. You should also ensure that any grit and dirt also be whipped off. If you rode through any moisture, also ensure that your drive train (chain, rear cassette, rear and front derailleur and crank cogs) are whipped down and freshly lubed.

Ride Carefully

There are many items that can cause slick riding surfaces, like Rain, leaves, ice and snow. You will be safest if you relax your shoulders, elbows to ensure a quick reaction time with out causing poorer handling by any sudden jolting of your body. In moist or snowy roads and trails be sure to ensure you will have adequate time to slow yourself down while braking, fluids will always decrease your braking performance. For added safety while braking, shift your body weight more directly over the rear tire to increase the weight and therefor increasing the rear wheels traction. Much the same as driving a car, be alert for any ice patches, including black ice patches. You can and most likely will spin your rear wheel out or even slide your entire bike out from under you, on any sizable patch of ice.

Tips & Tricks

  1. If you are riding a steel frame, paint over any nicks of chips to help prevent rust, nail polish works well for this.
  2. Again if you are riding a steel frame, find a good rust protection spray and coat the inside of your frame, this will help ensure that any water that may get inside there doesn't rust out the inside of the frame.
  3. Depending on your residence, you may encounter road salt. Road salt is highly corrosive to the drive train and will find it's magical way there. Do yourself a favor and clean, wipe down and lube you drive train after every ride. You don't want to find out in a few months the road salt ate your bike.
  4. If you ride with clip-less pedals, use a Teflon-based lubricant to help keep dirt and grit from finding it's way into the nooks and crannies

Bundle Your Butt Up

Choosing the right clothing to wear can make all the difference between an enjoyable ride and frostbitten toes and fingers. Be sure to wear multiple layers, include a base layer with moisture wicking properties to keep moisture off the body, an outer shell that will block wind and insulate the body from the cold temperature as well as having ventilation under the arms and a rear ventilation flap. These ventilation points will provide an exit point for the sweat of you body to exit and keep it from building up inside your clothing or on your body. If possible make sure each article of clothing has a zipper, so you can unzip each layer or zip up each layer as temperature dictates.

In the winter months, visibility becomes lacking. Low light conditions and an early sunset all play a role in reducing peoples ability to see during the winter. Choose your outer layer wisely, seek out bright colors to aid motorist in avoiding you safely.

Be sure to have an assortment of all of the following

  • Wind Jacket
  • Light Vest
  • Arm Warmers
  • Thermal Arm Warmers
  • Leg Warmers
  • Thermal Leg Warmers
  • Knee Warmers
  • Full fingered gloves
  • Wind Breaking Gloves
  • Thermal gloves
  • Thermal Jersey
  • Shoe Covers
  • Thermal Shoe Covers
  • A Cycling Cap
  • Thermal Cycling Cap
  • Ear covers of some sort
  • Thermal Bib Tights
  • Wool Cycling Socks
  • Wool glove liners

This is just a starter list, you may need to find out items that will suit the needs of your particular environment. No matter where you reside, you will need to pick out clothing that not only does the job of keeping you warm but is also not so bulky as to inhibit your movement and prevent you from controlling your bike or shifting your gears. Depending on the light conditions, still wear sunglasses of some sort. Be sure to have Amber or Clear lenses as options for your ride.

Tips & Tricks

  1. Chemical heat packs used by hunters work wonders, they can help keep your feet and toes warmer.
  2. If you need to carry bars, pre-open them so you don't have to struggle with them with gloves or come to a stop to eat.
  3. If your feet or hands get cold, stop and try to warm them up. If it doesn't work go inside. If all else fails end your ride short, or get a ride home. Toughing it out can lead to nerve damage or worse, frostbite. You don't look tough, just stupid.
  4. If you stop for a mid ride snack and drink, avoid dairy or other liquids and foods that can upset your stomach while riding. Coffee and Cocoa while delicious can make their way back up in the middle of riding, Tea is easier on the stomach and also has caffeine to perk you up and give you energy.

Eat and Hydrate

It's cold and you aren't gasping for water, yet your arm pits, crotch and back are covered in your sweat. The cold air has a way of tricking ourselves in to not feeling as thirsty as we were all summer long. The problem is that we are clearly still sweating and losing moisture. Carry a water bottle with you no matter the temperature. While you wont need as much as you will on a hot summer day, you should still be drinking plenty of liquids.

You will also still need to eat some calories, but much to your dismay, it can be difficult having a granola bar (or what ever ride food you prefer) with gloves on and you don't want to stop and take them off just to eat. You decide to come to a stop and eat a bar, as you go to wash it down with a few gulps of water you find the water is starting to freeze. To avoid both these problems, add a high calorie sports drink that's also loaded with plenty of sodium and other salts to help hydrate, this will even keep the water from freezing.

Where do you do your winter riding?

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    • Paul Rinkenberg profile image

      Paul Rinkenberg 5 years ago from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

      Yeah, I'll have to add a few pieces when to that list. I also don't have a balaclava listed. Probably because I've done fine with normal bibs and just a hat on my head and growing a beard,in the winter. Thanks for the comment though!

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Nice hub. The best piece of clothing I've purchased for winter riding is a pair of Assos air block bib tights (not sure bibtights are on your list!) they're warm and fantastically protective while the bib adds lower back warmth.