For many cyclists, snow, ice and freezing temperatures mean spin classes, watching old Tour de France footage and waiting until spring to dust off your bike. Yet if winter has you avoiding your favorite sport altogether, you’re missing out, says Tom Babin, author of “Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling.”
“Most people think winter cyclists are crazy, but that’s just because they don’t understand how easy it is to deal with some of the conditions,” says Babin. “It can take a bit of trial and error to figure out what you need, but once you dial it in, you get all the benefits of cycling in the summer and then some. Also, it can help you fall in love with winter again, rather than just grin and bear it until you’re back on your bike when the weather warms up.”
Even better? Gearing up for cold-weather rides doesn’t have to set you back hundreds of dollars. “The best gear is what you’ve got,” says Babin. “Just layer up and get out there.”
Here, Babin shares his top tips to help you learn to love riding all winter.
TIP #1: BUY A SECONDHAND BIKE
Depending on how harsh your winters are — and how well (or not) your city deals with things like snow and ice — you may not want to ride your beloved bike in the cold weather, says Babin. “Slush and salt on the roads can corrode your bike components quickly,” he says. So, consider investing in an inexpensive, used road or mountain bike so you’re not worrying about the weather’s impact on your bike.
TIP #2: CLEAN YOUR BIKE AFTER EACH RIDE
If you’re using a bike you want to keep in top condition for warmer-weather riding, know you’ll have to spend some time washing (and drying!) your bike after each ride to prevent rust, says Babin.
TIP #3: INVEST IN WINTER TIRES
If you’re riding in snowy, icy conditions, your biggest risk is slipping and falling. So just like you put winter tires on your car to get more traction in treacherous weather, you can do the same for your bike, says Babin. “Winter tires are made of a different kind of rubber that’s better in cold weather,” he says. “You can also buy studded bike tires. I have just one studded bike tire on the front of my winter bike, which gives me a bit more grip and confidence when I hit bits of asphalt, ice and snow.”
TIP #4: BUY A FAT BIKE IF YOU’LL BE RIDING ON ICE OFTEN
If you have the desire (and extra cash) to go big, Babin says investing in a fat bike — aka fat-tire bikes or fatties — will really inspire you to ride off into a winter wonderland. Though similar to a mountain bike, a fat bike has wider tires (to provide more traction in dirt, snow and ice) and lower tire pressure (which is more forgiving when you hit slush or snow, almost helping you float over it). “These are really fun to ride,” says Babin. “They give you such good stability and, as a result, more confidence riding in harsh conditions.”
READ MORE > HOW TO FALL OFF A BIKE AND NOT GET HURT
TIP #5: WEAR THE RIGHT GEAR
Just a few simple tweaks can go a long way toward helping you stay warm and happy on winter rides, says Babin. First, focus on your base layers. “Merino wool is an ideal material for base layers, because it’ll keep you warm and wicks sweat, which will prevent you from getting cold when you stop riding,” he says. “Once your legs start pumping and you hit your first hill, you’ll warm up — and end up peeling off the layers — which is why I also suggest dressing so that you’re a little bit cold when you get started.”
You’ll also want to make sure your extremities are protected. A good hat that’s thin enough to fit under your helmet is a must, as are warm boots. “A lot of cyclists are hesitant to give up their cycling shoes, but it’s hard to find clip-ins that’ll keep your feet warm,” says Babin. “So, go with flat pedals and wear a good pair of winter boots, because your feet are going to get cold.” As for keeping your hands warm, Babin recommends investing in winter bicycling pogies, which are essentially insulated mitts that fit over your handlebars and stay there. “These are great, because rather than using clunky mittens or gloves, you just slide your hands into these and can steer and use the gears because your fingers are free,” says Babin.
Finally, be sure you invest in a good set of LED bike lights. “Winter means it gets darker earlier, and you want to be sure you’re highly visible — especially in inclement weather,” says Babin. “LED lights are affordable, last forever and are easy to charge.”