If your bike didn’t cost thousands of dollars and you don’t mind riding it in the ice, rain, and snow, then it is possible to ride a bike in the snow. Riding on snow and ice is much more dangerous and these safety tips will help ensure you stay as safe and alert as possible.
Is It Safe To Ride A Bike In The Winter?
Riding in sub-freezing temperatures is not necessarily dangerous, but you do need to take several precautions to stay safe when riding on the snow.
Here are some of the precautions you’ll want to take:
#1 Watch The Forecast
Depending on where you live, the weather can change on a dime. One minute it can be sunny and the next you can be riding in a blizzard. Download your local weather forecast app and always monitor the forecast, so you know what type of weather you’ll be riding in.
#2 Monitor The Road Conditions
Even if you live in a major metropolitan area, you may find it difficult to find a plowed bike path after a winter storm.
For example, a biker in Denver found herself shouldering her bicycle for more than a third of a mile when the city didn’t plow the roads on her daily bicycling route.
#3 Protect Your Bike
Invest in some good bicycle insurance that will protect both you and your bike. While it’s true that most homeowners’ insurance will cover your bike if it gets stolen. It can be expensive trying to file a claim for your bicycle.
Bicycle insurance is a protection plan for your bicycle, similar to auto insurance. Depending on the plan you get, it will protect your bicycle from damage, theft, replacement cost, and transit protection.
It will also cover your medical costs if you are injured while riding.
#4 Follow The Plow
Bicycle lanes and trails are regularly plowed in some major metro areas. In Boulder Colorado, the city clears their bicycle lanes and trails with a Ranger and plow, which make it much easier for cyclists.
Other cities may coat the bicycle lanes with salt or brine, which can help make the roads easier to pedal on.
#5 Make It Easy to Be Seen
Make certain drivers see you, wear fluorescent clothing, ride in the daylight, and if you can’t avoid it, wear reflective clothing, and use flashing lights when riding at night.
#6 Choose The Right Bike
Winterize your expensive bike and invest in an older bike you don’t really care about. Sand, brine, and grit can destroy gears and suspension.
Don’t forget to add fenders, winter wheels, and bright bicycle lights. Many cyclists tend to ride a single-speed bicycle in the winter, as there are fewer moving parts and will be easier to maintain.
#7 Clean Your Bike
Road grit and brine is great for helping your tires grip the road, however, it can quickly corrode your bicycle.
It’s a good idea to wash your bike down with warm soapy water to prevent the salt from rusting your bike up after every bike ride.
#8 Keep Your Bike In Cold Storage
I’m not saying you should store your bike out in the snow. However, you don’t want to expose your bike to the cold and then take it back inside where it’s nice and warm.
This can cause moisture to build up inside the frame which can cause your bike to rust. If you’re riding your bike in the cold weather, it will stay in better condition if you keep it in a room where there are no temperature fluctuations. Keep it stored in the cold garage or your backyard shed.
#9 Opt For Studded Tires
Even the best tires won’t grip black ice. But a good set of thick, treaded tires will be much better for cycling on snow. Opt for a lightly knobbed mountain bike or cyclocross tire to get the best grip.
When riding in the cold, deflate the tire pressure to help the tire come into better contact with the road.
#10 Go Tubeless
Since you’ll be lowering the pressure for ice, you may want to consider using tubeless tires in the winter season.
It will reduce the risks of punctures. If you do happen to get a flat, you can plug the hole quickly. Many bicyclists prefer tubeless tires for mountain and trail riding because they are lighter and more cost-effective.
#11 Hydrate Properly
One of the hardest parts about carrying a water bottle in the winter is to ensure it doesn’t freeze. While most cyclists won’t need to hydrate on short rides, however, if you’re riding an hour or more you may need to hydrate.
Longer rides in the winter can affect your body the same as summer rides, therefore, you need to replenish your body. If you’re planning on a long bike ride, consider filling your bottle with warm or hot water to prevent it from freezing.
Some cyclists recommend carrying the water bottle upside down in the bottle carrier.
#12 Use Extra Caution
It can be dangerous when riding your bike in traffic when the weather is nice. It becomes much more dangerous when you’re riding on snow and ice on the ground.
Not to mention, it takes vehicles 8 to 10 seconds to stop and avoid accidents. As a cyclist, you should be prepared to encounter the unexpected.
#13 Brake Slowly
When riding on slippery stretches, go slow and be prepared for anything. Use your rear brakes only and be prepared to take your feet off the pedals if your bike starts to fishtail or you lose control.
Avoid using the threaded leather toe strap that locks your feet in place. Ensure you’re using pedals that will enable you to move your feet quickly in case you need to catch yourself.
#14 Flat Pedals
Speaking of pedals, flat pedals are the best choice for winter riding. You’ll have more foot control if things go wrong.
If you can’t live without your clipless pedals or you find your feet slipping all the time. Consider loosening the release tension on the pedals so your feet won’t feel like they’re in jail.
#15 Lower Your Saddle
When the conditions are bad, a lower saddle will help you have a lower center of gravity. It not only helps you helps you get your feet on the ground faster if you need to, but it also gives you more control on your bike.
Things To Watch For
Snow isn’t usually the problem for bicyclists, black ice is your nemesis. After all, you can be riding along smoothly and before you know it you can be riding on a patch of black ice without any warning at all.
Avoid riding on roads where the top of the road surface that contains water or moisture such as gutters, bridges, and drains, especially in the morning hours or evenings.
I normally wouldn’t advise it, but you should opt for busier roads where the constant flow and exhaust fumes have melted the ice.
Avoid riding near the curb, as it will likely still have a build-up of ice that can make you have an accident.
Freshly fallen snow is beautiful, but it can be a challenge for cyclists. The powder is light and fluffy after a storm, but after a while, it can become wet and soggy feeling like you’re riding through wet cement.
Be prepared to pedal harder and burn more calories when you’re riding right after a blizzard, especially, if you’re on trails that don’t get cleaned or off-road bike trails.
If some cyclists rode before you, it may be easier to ride in the trails they left behind.
How To Dress For Winter Riding
I don’t want to get into the type of gear you wear in the winter, as I’ve written a complete guide for cold-weather riding, and you don’t need any specialized clothing for cycling in the winter.
As long as you’re wearing warm clothing that gives you the freedom to move around freely. You’ll be exposing your skin to fierce cold winds so you’ll want to ensure you’re the following:
- Headwear: We all know the importance of layering our feet, body, and hands. It’s important to keep your head warm in the winter cold to keep your head dry and keep the heat in. Even if it’s cold outside, you’ll still sweat so you’ll need a hat that allows moisture to wick through it.
- Gloves: Avoid bulky gloves that make it hard to control your bike. Instead, opt for a good pair of waterproof, insulated gloves.
- Layer up: Riding in the cold can be miserable, especially, if you’re not dressed properly. Add an extra layer on top of what you would normally wear. A bike ride that normally takes you an hour can take 40 minutes longer, depending on the conditions of the road, and you’ll be going slower than your normal pace, so you won’t be generating the same levels of heat.
The most important thing is to choose clothing that will help you stay warm and dry at the same time.
Many cyclists choose to ride a bike in the winter, as it’s usually easier to get around in. You don’t have to worry about finding parking, rising gas prices, being stuck in traffic jams, or delays on public transportation.
If you do decide to bike ride year-round, make sure you adhere to these safety rules and leave your expensive bike at home.