Winter Cycling Guide: 6 Tips To Handle The Cold On Your Bike

Winter cycling comes with its challenges, but winter bike riding doesn’t have to be unpleasant or dangerous.

In this article, we will go into all the details of winter cycling, including:

  • What To Wear Winter Cycling
  • Tyres For Winter Bike Riding
  • The Best Practices For Looking After Your Bike
  • What You Need To Carry With You For Winter Cycling
  • Making Sure You Can Get Home While Winter Cycling
  • How To Stay Safe Winter Cycling

Are you ready for all year riding?

Here are 6 tips!

Winter Cycling Guide X Tips To Handle The Cold On Your Bike

1. What To Wear Winter Cycling

When it is freezing cold, you may be tempted to slip on a warm jacket, thick gloves, and woolly socks. But dressing for winter cycling takes a little more consideration than that.

After about 5 or 10 minutes of pedalling, you will become pretty hot and start sweating. Your sweat trapped in your clothing will cool you down, but this will make you very uncomfortable and cold.

Your winter cycling clothes should consist of a series of layers. Start with a base layer, put a mid-layer on top and go for an outer layer, such as a cycling jacket.

Layering for winter cycling allows you to add and remove clothing items to suit the temperature and weather conditions. But don’t go overboard by adding too many layers before you set off.

It would be best if you started your ride feeling cold, so when you generate heat while pedalling, you don’t get too hot.

You also need to consider the fabric your clothing is made from. Don’t be tempted to throw on an old cotton t-shirt as an extra layer. Instead, choose a proper base layer made from technical fabric.

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Cotton holds moisture which makes you cold, especially when you stop moving. Technical fabrics wick moisture away from your body and dry quickly, keeping you comfortable.

When it comes to your outer layer, you can go all out with expensive Gore-Tex or super cheap waterproof jackets. With jackets, you get what you pay for.

Cheap jackets are not very breathable, which hold moisture inside them. More expensive jackets have lots of great features, such as vents and excellent waterproofing and breathability ratings.

If you ride an electric bike in the winter, you will need to wrap up warm. The assistance from the motor will mean that you won’t warm up as quickly, if at all. Therefore, your layering strategy will be slightly different.

2. Tyres For Winter Bike Riding

Some bikes are more suited to winter riding than others. For example, a mountain bike with chunky tyres will have more grip than a road bike. For even more grip and security, you may want to ride a fat bike, which are great for riding bike in snow.

But if your budget won’t stretch to a new bike, there are a few things you can do to prepare your bike for winter cycling.

Winter Cycling Guide X Tips To Handle The Cold On Your Bike 3

The first thing you can do is lower your tyre pressures slightly. This will give you more traction on slippery surfaces. But, don’t go too low, as you will be more prone to punctures unless you go tubeless.

You may also want to change your tyres for ones more suitable for winter bike riding. You will get more grip from tyres with a more aggressive tread pattern and a softer compound.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to your tyre’s width. A narrow tyre with an aggressive tread pattern will cut into the mud, giving you plenty of traction. It will also give you more clearance between your chainstay and tyre, preventing dirt from collecting in the gap, clogging your frame.

However, if you choose wider tyres, you stand a good chance of riding on top of the mud due to the larger contact patch. If you are a mountain biker who rides in areas with lots of rocks and roots, a wider tyre is the best way to get traction.

3. The Best Practices For Looking After Your Bike In Winter

Some people say that you should not wash your bike after every ride. This may be the case during the summer when you mainly ride in the dry, but it is different for winter bike riding.

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Your bike will pick up the salt left by gritters when you ride on the road. Even if you can’t see it, you can be sure it is stuck you your bike. This will eventually corrode your frame and other metal components.

If you are a mountain biker and your bike doesn’t go anywhere near a road, you will still need to wash it. This is because the extra dirt from wet surfaces will get into your bike’s drivetrain, acting as a grinding paste, wearing it out.

Even if you don’t have time to wash your bike properly, it is worth giving it a squirt with a hose and a wipe down after each ride.

After you have washed your bike, you need to lubricate and protect it. A coating of wet lube on the chain will keep it running smoothly while spraying the frame with bike spray will protect it from the elements on your next ride.

You can reduce how much dirt and salt flicks up onto your bike by fitting mudguards. They also make your ride much more comfortable, as you don’t get that wet, muddy splatter in your eyes and up your back.

4. Spare Clothing To Carry With You For Winter Cycling

Even if you use your bike for a short commute, you need to carry some extra clothing items with you for winter cycling.

Carry an extra layer in your backpack so you can slip it on if you feel cold on your ride. But you are more likely to wear it once you have stopped.

It is also a good idea to carry a spare pair of gloves with you. They may be heavier or lighter than the ones you usually wear, but it is good to have the option to change them when you need to. You can even wear both at the same time when it gets freezing cold.

The good thing about lighter gloves is that you can still wear them to fix a mechanical problem or change an innertube when you get a puncture.

If you are mountain biking in the winter, you may want to carry a spare pair of cycling socks. If you get wet feet from stepping in a puddle, the rest of your day can be pretty miserable. But simply putting on a dry pair of socks will save the day.

5. Make Sure You Can Get Home While Winter Cycling

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Getting stuck in the cold due to a problem with your bike while winter cycling is not pleasant. It can also be dangerous, so you need to make sure you can get back on two wheels quickly.

Therefore, we recommend that you carry a multitool with you and know how to use it. A multitool will be sufficient to do most roadside or trailside repairs.

You should also carry a spare inner tube (even if you are running tubeless tyres), tyre levers and a pump. The last thing you want to be doing is to have to push your bike home for something so simple to repair.

With all this said, there are some things you cannot fix during a ride. So make sure you have a charged mobile phone, so you can contact someone to pick you up.

6. How To Stay Safe Winter Cycling

Getting home safely should be at the top of your list no matter what time of year you ride. But, you should do a few extra things to keep yourself safe while winter cycling.

When you ride on the roads in low light conditions, it can be tricky for motorists to see you. Therefore, you need to do what you can to let them know you are there.

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Fit your bike with a good set of lights, front and back. Don’t buy the biggest and brightest, as they can distract road users, and they use up their batteries too quickly. Don’t go too cheap either, as they are not always very bright.

The other thing you can do to improve your visibility is to wear bright and reflective clothing. You may associate this clothing with being a bit geeky, but riding your bike in the dark isn’t a fashion show.

Having said that, there is some excellent hi-viz road cycling and mountain bike clothing that looks pretty good. You wouldn’t even know that it is reflective until you shine a light on it.

Now You Are Prepared For Winter Cycling

Whether you ride for fun, fitness or commuting, winter bike riding is still on the cards. Winter cycling just takes a little bit of preparation, but it should not stop you from hitting the roads or the trails.

However, if winter cycling isn’t for you, you can still get your fix riding indoors. Check out this article to see how a spin class can keep you fit over the winter months: Spin Class Guide: What Is Spinning, Format, Benefits Of Spinning

Photo of author
One of BikeTips' regular content creators, Tom lives in the French Alps. When he isn't writing, he can be found charging downhill on a mountain bike or snowboard. Tom's other passion is fitness, which goes a long way to help him make the most of the Alpine lifestyle.

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