Winter Preparation

Preparing For Winter

To Ride Or Not To Ride?

Biking doesn't need to stop just because it's cold and/or snowy outside, but it's ok if it does for you! (Full disclosure: I don't bike in the winter, for a variety of reasons including that my fingers and toes get cold easily and also that my everyday "commute" involves travel down alleys and up/down a fairly steep hill at the end of an alley - it's just easier to walk, so I do.)

Regardless of which option you choose, I've put together some information to help you get your bike ready for winter.

Winter Bike Storage Tips

Clean & Dry
Make sure to wash off any dirt, bug guts, or mess on your bike, using warm soapy water. Include the seat, hand grips, tires (yes, between the spokes, too!) and frame. Pay extra attention to the chain and other drive train parts to ensure you remove all built up grease. Hint: bike chain degreaser works well, but dish soap can be used in a pinch. 

Dry dry dry your bike. Any moisture left on your bike can lead to rusting, corrosion or cause damage via freeze-thaw cycles. Ensure your bike is dry. 

Winter Bike Riding Tips

Preparation is the key: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. 

Make sure your bike is prepped for winter riding: 
  • consider wider and/or studded tires. If you plan to ride all winter, investing in a fat bike might make sense for you, but it's not necessary, though a bike with narrow tires, like a road bike, may not be appropriate for safe winter riding. Winter tires are available for bikes, just like cars.
  • ensure you have good lights for your bike, particularly a front light to light up the surface in front of you. Adding a second head light affixed to your helmet can also help but remember your front light is to illuminate your path, not for other road users: keep the flashing lights to your backside. 
  • ensure your brakes are in excellent condition. Brake pads for cold weather can make a big difference, as some types become hard and brittle in the cold and won't work as well. If you have hydraulic brakes, ensure the fluid is full and have additional fluid (and a kit that works for your brakes) for any necessary top ups. 
  • consider adding fenders to reduce the amount of junk that gets thrown up onto your body: carrying a block of semi-frozen spray on your back or dealing with a face full of salty slush will make you miserable.
Some people opt for a more simple bike for winter riding: fewer gears, flat pedals, fixed wheel axles, a seat bolt rather than quick release, etc. While these are not necessary, remember that road salt and cold temperatures are very hard on bike frames and components: your winter bike isn't going to last as long as your summer bike so you may not want to have a high-end, expensive bike with additional bells and whistles. 

Prepare yourself as well: 
  • invest in water-proof, breathable clothing, good footwear, warm mitts and face coverings. This is not the time of year to put fashion over function. 
  • prepare a change of clothes and a way to transport them that will keep them clean and dry, just in case. 
  • plan for additional time to get to your destination, as well as additional time to take care of your bike once you've arrived (including your return home). 
  • expect more breakdowns than you get in the summer: how will you complete your journey if one happens en route?
  • ensure you carry your cell phone and that it is charged (remember, cold drains the battery quickly) in case you need to call for help.
You may decide to only ride when it's above -10*C, or if it hasn't snowed in a few days, and that's absolutely ok! If you choose to only bike in certain conditions, you may not think you need as much preparation for your bike or yourself, but it never hurts to be prepared for much worse weather than you would like to be out in. Being prepared could ultimately save your life. 

In Conclusion

No matter how many trips you take by bike this winter, choosing to prioritize your health and safety as well as your comfort are important. I certainly won't judge you if you choose not to ride at all (like me), and if you do, I'll be sending you warm thoughts. 

Regardless of your cycling choices for the winter, remember that winter will still happen: if you choose not to find joy in the cold and snow, you will still have the same amount of cold and snow, but less joy. 

Take care of yourself, and your bike, and I hope to see you outside this winter.

- Melissa Malejko, Owner of Safer Cycling Calgary
beautiful tree
snow angel