8 Expert-Backed Winter Cycling Tips
Don’t hang up your bike when the first snowflakes fall—here’s how to ride it right this winter.
Many of us hang up on our bikes at the first sign of snow, but if you do, you’re missing out on a whole bunch of the benefits of cycling through the winter. When your body struggles to stay warm in the cold, not only do you burn more calories, but your body also learns to use oxygen more efficiently, according to research from Northern Arizona University. Plus, riding in the snow (safely) can be a lot of fun.
Here are 10 things you should and shouldn’t do to get the most out of your winter riding season.
1 Do: Fold clothes
“Your body is making all the decisions about what to do based on your core temperature, so make sure your core is roasted,” Mayhew says. From there, you can add multiple layers that you can put on or take off as you warm up or ride longer. “Really, you can fix anything with a good base layer and jacket.”
Kevin Whited, winter commuters and transit development coordinator in Carmel, Indiana, says at least initially be aware that you’re going to be cold.
“You shouldn’t feel warm when you’re out and about to ride,” Whited said. “If so, you’re wearing too much clothing. You should always be a little cold before you get in the car and start riding.”
2 Don’t: Buy a new bike (unless you really want one
Fat bikes are great, but you don’t necessarily need four-inch tires to blast through the snow. Cycling in winter can be tough, though. Rather than risk your first ride, opt for that long-neglected mountain bike that collects dust in your rafters, if any.
For more stability on snow, keep tire pressure as low as possible without flattening. Depending on your weight, you may be able to ride 15 psi or less. (Be sure to experiment with tire pressures in the fall so you don’t change tires in the winter.) Also, try the widest tires you can fit on your bike. If you want more traction in icy conditions, consider buying a pair of studded tires.
3 Do: Wash your bike after every ride
Riding in the snow kicks a lot of salty and dirty water onto your bike’s parts, causing corrosion and damage over time. Be sure to wash your bike after every ride, or at least wipe or rinse it.
Shamrock Cycles’ team mechanic Fred Iversen says one of the first rules every cyclist learns is to never use WD-40 on a bike, but spraying it on the frame before riding will help Remove ice and dirt from tire kicks. After cleaning after riding, spray it on your bike chain to remove excess moisture. He says using a thick lube like NixFrixShun will keep everything running smoothly on your next freezing ride.
4 Don’t: Ignore Your Limbs?
Your hands and feet usually get cold first, as your body focuses on keeping your core warm. Keeping your extremities warm is the key to a pleasant winter ride. Sarah Prater, a mechanic at Cycology Bicycles in Knoxville, Tennessee, wears disposable surgical gloves under her regular winter riding gloves to keep her hands warm while riding, keeping her hands warm while riding. An extra layer of vapor forms between the skin and the cold.
“It makes your hands a little sweaty and clammy, but I’d rather do that than freeze my fingers every day,” says Platt.
Air-activated heat packs are inexpensive and can add much-needed warmth to the inside of gloves and shoes. Buy a box and put them in your car or backpack—and be sure to have some extra convenience for your riding buddies who don’t plan ahead. Some of these hand warmers last up to 10 hours, so you can reuse the same pair back home as you did on your morning commute.
In sub-freezing temperatures, winter riding boots (like the Lake MXZ 303) can be the difference between a temporarily bearable ride and a reasonably comfortable ride.
5 Do: Pack extra gear
Whited always wears two pairs of gloves—one heavy, one light—to deal with temperature changes. A lighter pair of gloves also provides more finger dexterity, making tire changes quicker and easier. An extra pair of wool socks in a resealable plastic bag can be a godsend if you accidentally put your feet in a puddle or an icy stream on a trail
6 Don’t: Be Afraid of Raiding Your Other Exercise Equipment
If you love going uphill, there’s no reason to buy a ton of new bike gear. Ski gloves will keep you warm on your bike, although you may not have the same dexterity. Ski helmets can also keep your dome warmer than a multi-ventilated bike helmet, but be careful not to push too hard and overheat
7 Do: Make sure you are seen
Sunlight is scarce in winter, which affects road safety. Always keep at least one small rechargeable bike light on the front handlebar in case you spend too much time at the midway coffee stop. And consider investing in shiny taillights like the Bontrager Ion 200 to announce your presence to the world on the road.
8.Don’t: Ignore your skin
Even in winter, it’s still important to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, like your face, when riding during the day. This is especially true when there is snow on the ground, as snow reflects nearly 90% of UV radiation. Your skin can also be severely dry on cold winter rides, and using a protectant like sunscreen, moisturizer, or even petroleum jelly can help keep your skin hydrated. Also, don’t forget the lip balm.
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