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Cycling In The Snow: Tips And Techniques

Updated on February 20, 2013
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer, he ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

Out in Sherwood Forest in the snow on a cyclocross bike

Cycling in the snowr- riding in the snow through Bestwood Country Park. Part of the legendary Sherwood Forest
Cycling in the snowr- riding in the snow through Bestwood Country Park. Part of the legendary Sherwood Forest | Source

As a cyclist you shouldn't fear the snow- it provides an opportunity to really enjoy riding your bike

Cycling in the snow can be great fun. However the white stuff poses different conditions to what many people are adjusted to cycling within and therefore it is important to be aware of what considerations you need to make prior to cycling in the snow and ice which can result.

There are a number of considerations for cycling in the snow that you should be aware of

1. Cycling clothing considerations for cycling in snow

2. Preparing your bike and being ready to ride in the snow

3. Riding techniques for snow cycling

4. Riding surfaces and cycling in winter weather

Clothing considerations for cycling in the snow

Headwear for cycling in cold weather

A large amount of heat is lost through the head so always make sure you're wearing a hat to limit heat loss. Consider also headwear for cycling in the snow that covers up your ears too. If you're a generally nesh person consider wearing a balaclava to give more warmth. Alternately buff's / snoods provide additional warmth to the nexk area.

Always wear a helmet when cycling in the snow- the degree of unpredictability of the surfaces means a helmet may be required and you should never allow yourself to be in a false sense of security

Cycling Jacket for snowy conditions

Your jacket choice for cycling in snow should be made dependant on if it is snowing. Due to the cold weather that is associated with snowy conditions warmth is a priority so a winter cycling jacket which is thermal, breathable and windproof is a good choice. If it is snowing consider using a jacket which has water resistant properties as well. You don't necessarily need a full on gore-tex waterproof jacket to do this as snow doesn't have the same penetrative effect as rain.

Base Layer/ Layering System for cycling

Consider using at least a long sleeve thermal and wicking base layer to provide warmth and wick away sweat from your body however if you tend to feel the cold you could also wear an additional layer of a lightweight long sleeve cycling jersey if you require further warmth.

Legwear for winter cycling warmth

Depending on comfort you can wear a traditional pair of roubaix cycling leggings if you choose or go for an option which has windproof panels or a water resistant finish to provide additional protection from the elements. If you need a little extra warmth you could consider wearing a pair of lightweight knee/ leg warmers underneath your bib-tights however these can lead to a degree of movement restriction.

Feet and footwear considerations for winter cycling

Getting cold feet while winter cycling is very uncomfortable and can even get to the point of being unbearable. Consider a second pair of thermal socks and even a pair of waterproof thermal overshoes to protect your feet and keep then dry.

Hands- Glove considerations for cycling in cold conditions

Keep your hands warm and protected in a pair of thermal and waterproof gloves. Choose cycling specific winter gloves which will allow you to have accurate control of the handlebars in cold weather. For those who often get cold hands a consideration for cycling in snowy conditions is a pair of thin, lightweight liner gloves which will provide additional warmth while not limiting grip on the handlebars.

Fresh bike tracks from snow cycling

Fresh bike tracks in the snow on the way out of Bestwood Country Park.
Fresh bike tracks in the snow on the way out of Bestwood Country Park. | Source

Bike considerations for cycling in the snow

Sadly a skinny tyred road bike won't really cut it on snow and ice. The narrow tyres do not provide the grip required for safe riding in winter conditions.

When cycling on snow the wider the tyre- the better it's ability to float over the snow instead of getting bogged down in the white stuff. When riding in muddy winter conditions you want a tire that cuts through the mud yet for snow you're looking for tyre volume to glide over the snow.

If you ride a cyclocross bike consider fitting some thicker tyres than a regular pair of 32mm cx racing tyres. If your bike has the potential clearance you could use 38-42mm tyres and they will greatly enhance your ability to glide over the snow.

Mountain bikes have much wider profile tyres which are suitable to riding over snow covered roads and paths

To protect from the spray from the roads and soft snow that gets kicked up from the tyres it is a consideration to fit a loose fitting set of mudguards to protect the rider from the spray. These cannot be tight in terms of clearance as otherwise the mudguard could become clogged up with hard packed snow.

Always make sure your gears are working well and not jumping around. Cycling in the snow is hard work at the best of times- not least if your chain is bouncing around and won't stay in gear as well! Ensure your chain is lubricated ready as the salt in snow can have devastating effect on a bike's working parts.

If you're using your bike in the snow to commute always ensure that the batteries for any lights you use are replaced regularly or if using rechargeable batteries that they are charged up prior to riding in the snow. In the case of snow showers it is imperative to increase your visibility to those around you who may not expect to see a cyclist on the road.

Riding techniques for cycling in the snow

Cycling in the snow can be a fantastic experience and there is a great amount of enjoyment to putting down a fresh set of tyre prints in a bed of freshly laid snow. However be aware if you do this as the snow may cover up a selection of objects such as rocks or crevasses which your front wheel could dip down and catapult you over the handlebars. Follow the following tips for cycling in the snow and you should be able to avoid ending up in a pile with your bike on the floor.

  • Put as much weight as possible on your rear wheel while having some pressure on your front wheel while remaining nimble for steering
  • Switch your initial braking focus to the rear wheel. If you front wheel locks up on ice you will have a distinct possibility of ending up on the floor as you will not be able to correct your steering.
  • Try to take corners steadily and stay as upright as possible to avoid losing traction.
  • Brake and turn separately.
  • Try to remain seated in the saddle as this provides traction to the rear wheel which will drive you forwards
  • Ride a gear or two higher than you would normally do so. This stops your rear wheel sliding away from under you in the same way as a cars wheels slide in the snow in a high gear.
  • Stay relaxed while riding in the snow as you will need to make lots of tiny movements to regularly correct your riding position. Tensing up means you cannot do this and your control will be limited as a result.
  • If you're on the roads be aware of other road users that may have issues with controlling their movement. Cars can't always follow a straight line through ultra loose snow.
  • Where walkers have left footprints in the snow will break up your rhythm and cause your steering to be bounced around. Try to keep to smoother sections where possible.

Riding surfaces and winter weather

When cycling in the snow it's always worthwhile to have some consideration towards the surfaces you ride on. Loose fresh snow can provide fantastic traction however it can also cover up a number of potential hazards.

Snow on the roads which has been compressed by cars can be very slippery and icy and care must be taken particularly when turning on such a surface.

Snow can thaw during the day and re-freeze overnight which leads to the formulation of a very slippery icy top layer

Car drivers are not always as careful as they should be so be aware of the surfaces around you which they may also be coming into contact with an take action if required.

Shadows provide a potential additional hazard to cyclists while riding during winter conditions. Be aware that shadows from trees and buildings which hide frozen snow patches and ice.

Have a safe and enjoyable cycle in the snow

Do you have any tips for dealing with cycling in the snow? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below.


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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Really Bobby?

      What would you suggest as a bike that's made for snow riding?

      As someone from the Uk where generally we might have a couple of weeks of snowy conditions a year that might some a bit of a waste of cash. Especially when you can use a regular mountain bike without major issues.

    • Bobby Metal profile image

      Bobby Metal 5 years ago from Clinton New York

      Just buy a bike made for snow riding

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks Tim. The pictures are from me out in the snow yesterday- I simply had to get out on the bike and ride.

    • profile image

      timmathisen 6 years ago

      Riding in fresh snow is a lot of fun and a great workout. This article makes me wish I actually had some fresh snow to ride in today. Lot of great tips.