Winter Riding Tips

Winter Riding Tips

Colder temperatures and darker days are no reason to put away your bike for the season. While it can be a little more tricky to ride in the winter, there are a few things which can help make it possible.

Indeed, cycling through the winter can be enjoyable, relaxing, and fun. Getting that extra bit of exercise can help get you through the darkest and coldest days, delivering you to work or home feeling fresh and revived. Cycling in the winter is not much different than walking – it doesn't require specific type of clothing, and the focus is to be comfortable and warm. If you're thinking about giving winter riding a shot, here are a few ideas to help make it a better experience:

1. Wear layers & protect your extremities

If you live in Canada, you’ve already got most of the gear you’ll need for winter cycling. Wear a few layers that you can unzip/button along the way. The most important layers will be what goes on your hands, ears, and feet. Your core will get warm as you ride, but your fingers can be left feeling pretty frosty if you're under-equipped. Make sure you have a good set of gloves or mitts for your hands, boots for your feet and toque or earmuffs for your head and ears. Protect your eyes either with a pair of ski goggles or sunglasses.

Some key tips for keep yourself protected during winter biking include:

  • Avoid wearing too many layers as cycling in the winter causes you to sweat a lot - layer strategically!
  • Cotton is not recommended, nor is wool. Synthetic materials such as polyester are recommended since they retain less moisture.  
  • Wear a rain jacket and/or rain pants to protect yourself from the windchill 
  • Always cover exposed areas such as wrists, ears, and cheeks
  • It is recommended to wear mitts in colder temperatures  
  • Wear non-cotton socks to avoid moisture build up
  • Always keep your bike lights with you since the days are shorter

If you want to get out and ride even on the coldest of days consider picking up a pair of handlebar mitts. Handlebar mitts add an extra layer of warmth for your fingers, but make sure they comfortably fit over your brakes and shifters before you ride. If the mitts are too tight they can make controlling your bike difficult.

Handlebar mitts

2. Look after your bicycle

While salt does wonders for melting ice on the road, it also accelerates rust on your bicycle. You can combat this by riding with front and rear fenders which also keeps slush from flying up your back. In addition, clean your bike regularly. Giving it a quick rinse off when you get home every day is a good idea. Make sure your bike is dry before you head out again; you don’t want your parts to ice up! If you’re not up for all that maintenance, consider getting a ‘beater’ bike for winter or picking up a Bike Share membership.

There’s a lot of debate on whether to ride with fat or skinny tires; fat tires potentially provide more traction, whereas skinny tires enable you to cut through snow. Studded tires are generally not necessary due to Toronto’s relatively warm winter conditions. For more in depth winter maintenance tips check out We Love Cycling’s tips.

3. Research your route

Generally speaking, Toronto roads are clear throughout much of the winter. However, after a major snow event it can days before Toronto’s roads are clear. While many riders prefer quieter streets through the snow-free months, lots switch to arterial roads in the winter as they get priority for snow clearance. You can follow the City’s plows here.

If you’re downtown or nearby you can use one of the City’s Cycling Snow Routes. These bike routes are given priority clearance, often with completion before the rest of the road. If the bike lanes haven’t been cleared or have had snow pushed back into them report it by calling or emailing 311. We've noticed they're responsive on Twitter @311Toronto, too!

Click here to read more on City of Toronto cycling route winter maintenance. 

4. Take a Bike Share bike! 

With the expansion of the Bike Share network, it's getting easier to get around the city with a Bike Share pass. Consider getting a membership with Bike Share and explore some of their more affordable options to get around the city quickly and efficiently. 

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