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  • Writer's pictureDave Shellnutt

Hot Winter Cycling Tips!

I rode through the rain today and thought, “I can’t wait to ride through a snow fall instead of this!”

Sure, my drenched butt probably had me romanticizing about winter rides to work, but honestly, I really do love it. I smile ear to ear and giggle like a kid when I am pedaling through a few inches of snow on my way to work. The air is crisp, the snow sparkles.

Those are the days I look forward to most.

Winter riding? You’re ridiculous!

I get why it might seem silly, unsafe, or too difficult to bike in the winter. When I first moved to Toronto, I also put my bike away and walked to work. Perhaps we have been conditioned by our parents to put our bikes away as kids each fall. Storing them in garages and sheds across Ontario, safely out of the way of accumulating snow and creeping rust. Whatever the rational is, it is clear that there are less cyclists on the roads during the winter.

For me, it took a chance encounter with a 100 plus person lineup for a delayed King Streetcar to push me into snowy winter cycling. I was hooked immediately. 6 years in, I remain as dedicated as ever. You could be too!

Consider my points below and let me encourage you to keep riding all year long, despite the temperature or snow. I assure you, the benefits far outweigh concerns you may have.*

It’s too Dangerous!

I think we can all agree that urban cycling presents dangers and hazards all year round.

However, winter cycling does add some additional challenges.

Cars (wrongfully) do not expect bikes to be on the roads in the winter, so they are not looking for us. To that end, I ensure my bike lights are pumping every time I start riding. Maybe also consider using some high visibility gear? Think of that neon vest as another layer of protection against the wind.

I also ride defensively. I try not to surprise anyone. Ding and ring that bell people. Make eye contact with turning cars where possible.

In addition to cars, winter conditions can be challenging. The solution to this is simple, bike according to your ability. I grew up riding mountain bikes through mud and water to my dad’s chagrin, so I feel more comfortable in deep slush and snow. If you aren't comfortable in deep snow, don't ride in it.

When in doubt, go slow, go straight, and bike according to your ability.

The reality is I am rarely ever biking through a blizzard.

Weeks can go by without a fresh snowfall, so the lanes are clear and dry throughout much of the winter. When it does snow, the City of Toronto does a reasonable job ensuring that roads and bike lanes are heavily salted and clear of deep snow.

Hot tip: for extra grip let some air out of your tires

It's too cold!

Obviously, one of the main negative reactions to winter riding involves the temperature.

Toronto winters can be very cold. But that cold hits you as you wait for a streetcar or trudge slowly through the snow on your walk to work as well. As you dig your hands deep into your pockets for warmth, standing still in the blowing snow, I am whipping along a side street on my bike. Who's warmer?

To bike you must crank and run your own motor, continually moving your pedals with active force and power. Even on the most frigid days, the 3 block rule applies. Within two or three blocks of hopping on my bike, my core temperature is up. I feel warm no matter the temperature or distance (within reason).

As long as I am pedaling, the heat is on.

You will be more comfortable biking than walking and definitely toastier than standing waiting for a bus or streetcar.

So Gear Up and Get Out There!

  • Layer up: Each winter I use one medium weight jacket, either leather or down, and just layer up underneath depending on the temperature that morning. Get one or two long

underwear bottoms and tops, a fleece or sweatshirt and you will be good to go in anything up to minus 10/15. When in doubt, add another layer.

  • Cover up: For your head and face, don’t buy a new winter helmet just use two thin face/neck warmers. One on your head and one around your neck. They are lightweight so you do not get too hot and wet, but thick enough to keep the wind off your face. Plus, as my friend Tom says – “the best part is that the face mask makes you look like a ninja”. I agree with Tom, it does look cool.

  • Goggles are a must: If you invest in anything, invest in ski goggles. Goggles keep snow and sleet from hitting you in the eyes and also keep a good portion of your face warm.

  • Chain Lube: The major downside with winter riding is the toll it takes on your bike. I hit my chain, crank, breaks, and bolts with cheap lube every few mornings before I ride in. This not only keeps your bike moving smoothly, but it also fights off rust. Try to keep that chain clean.

*I used a bunch of MEC links here just for reference. I do not support the current corporate take over of our coop.

“Dave, you didn’t address the gloves versus handle bar mitts debate?!”

Listen, there is a ton of topics we could discuss related to winter cycling. The above is just what I hear most when

people ask me about winter riding. My hope is only to get you passed the cold and snow fears. To get you on your way to becoming a winter cyclist! From here, you can source out the many blogs, chats, and helpful discussion threads to help fine tune your preparedness.

Whatever you do, have fun, ride safe, oh and let some air out of your tires so they grip better on ice!

*There are added costs associated with winter riding that may make it financially prohibitive for some. I am fortunate enough to be able to source appropriate gear and have a second winter bike. If you need some help with the financial side of things, reach out to me and I will try and assist/point you in the right direction.

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