Looking for some winter biking tips?
It’s December and the first snowflakes have landed on the steps to your front porch. The cold air bites and you feel like you will have to wait this season out for your next bike ride. A seasoned cyclist will tell you that there is no “right” or “wrong” time to bike and that you should know how to make seemingly disadvantageous situations work for you.
Biking during the winter is the same as riding at night or in the rain. It is a special experience that not only gives you a new perception of already-seen landscapes but also trains you to become a better cyclist. A study conducted in Northern Arizona University reveals that exercising in the cold pushes your body to use up more energy to maintain your body temperature. At the same time, your body uses oxygen more efficiently.
If you want to put a twist on your holidays, go winter biking! Here are some tips to get you started.
Dress in layers, but don’t overdo it. Your core temperature is your body’s means of deciding how to metabolize, so make sure your core is sufficiently warm. One way to check if you have too many layers on is if you already feel warm before you start the ride.
The first layer of your cycling outfit should be made of a material that keeps you dry, like polyester. A lightweight fleece pullover works, too, for days that are extra cold. Your outerwear should be a well-ventilated jacket that is longer at the back. Soft-shell jackets are great for dry conditions; however, in cold, rainy weather, a waterproof jacket with two-way zippers is the better choice.
To protect your head from the cold when winter biking, wear a wool-stocking cap or a helmet-liner under your helmet. For colder days, bring a balaclava or a scarf.
Pay attention to your extremities as well, since they get cold faster. Some cyclists wear disposable surgical gloves underneath their cycling gloves to keep vapor within the area of their hands. Solid bike shoes and heat packs are also a great addition to your winter biking kit.
Carry extra pairs of gloves in case the temperature shifts. Light pairs offer more dexterity, while heavy pairs will give you more warmth. Packing an emergency pair of wool socks in a zipper bag can also come in handy if you accidentally get your footwear wet.
At a pitstop, you can warm yourself up from the inside by drinking a hot beverage. Hydration is, after all, vital. Keep your drink or broth warm in a vacuum flask.
Take good care of your bike
Riding during winter is tough on bikes so it may sound tempting to buy one specifically for winter biking, but it’s not necessary! You can adjust the tire pressure as low as possible – 15 psi works for most – and you can even add studs to gain more traction on snow-covered tracks. Just remember to pump your tires again after.
It is important to keep your bike clean especially during this season when your bike parts are most prone to corrosion by exposure to road salt. When your tires run over the slush, the ridges are filled, and other bike parts get sullied.
Take good care of your bike. Wash your bike after every ride, or at least wipe the dirt off. If you are using commercial cleaning solutions, make sure they are reputable products. (Often, higher-priced bike cleaning solutions are of better quality.) Read the instructions carefully as not all brands follow the same procedure.
Post-wash, spray some WD-40 on the chain to get rid of excess moisture. You may also spray some of the solutions on your frame before going on a ride. Opt for a thick lubricant to ensure smooth winter rides. Finally, wash your bike with care, as abrasion can cause the protective paint to be removed.
You can also attach fenders to block off the slush that is kicked off by your wheels.
Pack wisely when winter biking.
Tracks are harder to ride during winter because of the slush and ice, so use a waterproof backpack with a slim profile instead of panniers and messenger bags. Bring extra heat packs, socks, gloves, and scarves, but keep them to a minimum. Plan and consider which extra gear is more crucial to your trip.
Hydrate frequently when winter biking and have a full meal before heading out.
Use appropriate lighting.
During winter, the nights are longer, and sunlight is scarce. Attach bike lights to both your helmet and handlebar. Single-beam LEDs are enough for city roads, while double-beam LEDs are required for off-road riding. Lights guide you because wet roads and muddy tracks are a riding hazard and warn other vehicles of your presence on the road.
Polish your skills.
Avoid the lane next to the curb when you’re biking in an urban area, as the curb is where snow is most likely to accumulate. Eventually, this accumulation turns into a mixture of road debris and ice. Instead, ride on the pavements.
Keep a calm demeanor on your bike. Don’t lock your knees and elbows. Let your legs absorb the impact of ice ridges and other road obstacles. While you’re enjoying the snow-covered landscape, keep your presence of mind.
Lower the saddle so that your bike will be less wobbly and avoid skidding. The saddle is at the right height if you can flatten your feet on the ground while you’re on your bike.
The key to winter biking is to keep yourself warm, with allowance for movement. Just as when biking in the rain or during nighttime, you should remain visible to people who share the road and be attentive to the many obstacles on the tracks. But above all, enjoy the experience. Winter lasts only a quarter of the year, so don’t pass up the opportunity!