Winter Riding Tips

Safety Corner logoby Bob Zogg

There is no need to pack your bike away for the winter. With a little knowledge and preparation, you can extend the “riding season” to a full twelve months. Here’s how.

Your Bike - In winter months, think less about efficiency and speed, and more about comfort and safety. Touring, hybrid, or mountain bikes provide more stability and hold up better than road bikes under winter riding conditions. Add full fenders, including fender extensions or mud flaps. Mount each fender to fit closest to the tire at the rear so that snow won’t jam between the tire and fender. Mount headlights and taillights—winter days are shorter and you’re bound to be caught out after dark on occasion. Add a rack, panniers, or a large saddlebag to hold a good tool kit, extra clothing, an emergency space blanket, and a cell phone. Consider a wind fairing to keep your hands and face warmer.

Roadside maintenance during winter can be difficult, uncomfortable, and hazardous. Opt for puncture-resistant tires (typically Kevlar-belted) and maintain your bike diligently, paying particular attention to tire pressure and lubrication of cables, brake pivots, and derailleur pivots. It’s best to store your winter bike in an unheated place to slow corrosion.

If you may be riding on snow or ice, get studded tires (yes, they make studded bike tires). If using only one studded tire, mount it up front for steering control. Remember, ice can form on otherwise dry roads when melted snow refreezes on the road surface, and it is often difficult to see.

Your Clothing - Avoid cotton from head to toe, from inside to outside. Cotton traps moisture and robs precious body heat. Opt instead for synthetics, wool, or silk. Dress in multiple, thin layers rather than a single, heavy layer. Use a wind-blocking outer layer. Choose high-visibility colors—this is particularly important in winter since motorists do not expect to see cyclists. Don’t overdress—you’ll warm quickly with exercise. Adjust clothing as you ride to minimize sweating. Stop to add clothing if you don’t warm up quickly after starting out. Choose a helmet that can be easily adjusted to accommodate a hat or balaclava. Use wind-protective eyewear. Switch to goggles when it gets really cold.

Keeping hands and feet warm in winter can be particularly challenging. “Lobster gloves” (that keep two fingers together) often work well, and provide adequate dexterity. Before heading out, be sure your hand wear allows you to operate brakes and shifters. You can extend the season for your summer bike shoes by duct taping the vent holes, adding booties, or using chemical warmers. Extra socks can help, but only if your shoes are large enough to avoid a tight fit. Winter riding shoes are best. They have no vents, cover the ankle, and provide ample insulation. Whatever your footwear, be sure you can walk comfortably and safely under winter conditions.

You - Leave your route with someone before you head out, avoid isolated areas, and avoid riding alone. As always, carry ID, emergency contact information, and your insurance card (or photocopies of these items). Be flexible—wait for good weather conditions. Select shorter routes in winter and leave yourself bail-out options in case weather conditions worsen.

Eat and drink plenty—riding in winter burns more calories and cold air sucks moisture from your lungs. Pick foods that you can chew in the cold. Freeze-protect liquids by warming them at home and using insulated bottles (even a sock over your bottle will help). A hydration pack, (or Camelbak™) worn under your outer layers works well.

Unless stopping only briefly to add a layer, stop at the bottom of hills rather than at the tops so you can warm up while climbing rather than freeze up while descending. Always stop well away from traffic, which is more difficult when snow banks are present.

If you start to get cold, act quickly. Add layers, eat, and drink. If that doesn’t do it, seek a warm shelter, even if you have to knock on a door, call a friend, or call a taxi.

For more tips on winter riding, see Pamela Blalock’s website (http://www.blayleys.com/articles/WinterTips/wintertips.htm or, from the CRW home page, go to Information > Useful Info > Winter Riding Tips).

Remember—safety is about choices. What choices will you make?

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