I asked some winter-cycling friends from around the world to tell us what they love and, in some cases, hate about winter cycling in their cities. Bike lanes, plowing, bike parking, and reams of people riding in subzero temperatures: Here’s what they had to say in Winnipeg, Montreal, Minneapolis, Tilburg, and Oulu.
In the midst of the polar vortex, where frothing meteorologists competed over cold weather hyperbole, I had my most memorable bike rides of the season.
My home city of Calgary recently hosted the 7th annual Winter Cycling Congress, giving me a week of bike-focused learning and activity. The congress touched on myriad aspects of winter cycling, and I’ll be sharing some of what I learned over the coming weeks, but I wanted to start with what will probably be my lasting memories of the event.
Biking through the cold
It t was cold. Freaking cold. Most days hovered around -25 C, although the sun did bring some moments up to a balmy -15 C. On one of the coldest days, I found myself fat-biking with two friends on a day in which the -30 C weather chased everyone else from the trails (technically, this was outside of the “polar vortex” that engulfed the rest of the continent, but it was our longest and coldest blast of winter in years).
Riding through this kind of cold with a range of other people taught me a few things. First: Cold is relative. Comfort isn’t about absolute cold, it’s about expectations. For some people accustomed to this weather, it was no big deal. They had the right gear, the right methods for staying warm and the right attitude. People from other winter cities where this kind of weather is rare struggled a bit more. There isn’t some mythical cut-off temperature where humans stop riding. It’s all about expectations.
I also learned that it’s amazing how you can enjoy a ride even at extremely cold temperatures. With the right winter gear (on feet and hands, especially), there’s almost no limit to enjoying a ride. I often tell reluctant winter cyclists that cold is not even in the top 10 challenges of winter cycling, and the polar vortex confirmed this. As your body moves, it generates an amazing amount of heat. It can keep your body warm and comfortable even in extreme cold. Dress properly, and enjoy.
What the Europeans bring
There’s an impression out there that Europeans have this whole urban bike thing figured out. Thanks to such cities as Copenhagen and Amsterdam, many North Americans have an image of all European cities as bike havens.
Yet the messages from several of the European delegates at the conference was contrary. Take this interview on the local CBC television station with Lars Stromgren, a vice-president of the European Cycling Federation. Stromgren walks the perfect line here, maintaining positivity and conviviality with an air of wisdom that never veers into condescension.
But pay attention to his message. What’s great about this interview, and with Stromgren’s presence at the Winter Cycling Congress, is the fact that he’s from Stockholm, a city that is far from a model for bike friendlness. In talking with Stromgren at the conference, he was critical of his city, which is only beginning to take cycling seriously.
Stromgren may not know this, but I think hearing the message that Stockholm is in the same boat as Calgary (or pretty much every other North American city) in trying to figure out how to make cities more bike friendly is strangely inspiring. A lifetime of being told things are better in Scandinavia has inoculated many North Americans from listening to any message from Europe. It’s like being told by your parents that you really should try to be more like your brain-surgeon sister. But to hear Stromgren say that good bike cities are a work in progress everywhere — even in the homeland of Ikea — is a relatable, inspiring message.
Check this photo.
It was taken by Pekka Tahkola in his home city of Oulu, and it shows the bikes ridden by students to a suburban elementary school. I’ve written extensively about Oulu, perhaps the most bike-friendly winter city on Earth, but sometimes it takes photos like to really drive home the benefits of building a city around bikes.
Takhola also showed a video from the morning commute at this school that showed streams of kids on bikes rolling toward the school in the snow. The sheer number of kids on bikes drew a gasp from the Congress crowd, who are more accustomed to seeing bleary-eyed children emerging at school from long lines of steaming SUVs. To see so many kids riding — Taklhoa reports that about 1,000 of the school’s 1,200 students ride bikes in this suburban neighbourhood — was shocking and delightful.
Takhola’s photo was so inspiring that it became the viral moment of the congress, retweeted hundreds of times and picked up by news organizations around the world. What I see in this photo is potential. Only a maniac would argue against the benefits of kids riding bikes to school (choose a problem facing kids today — physical health, mental health, obesity, socialization, independence, screen time, community connection), and part of the solution can be seen in this photo.
This is what Oulu gives us: something to aspire to.
Lime launched in my city of Calgary this week, and something unique is happening: Winter. Well, winter isn’t unique, but having a bike-share program run through a cold Canadian winter is unique, and the company is treating the situation as a bit of an experiment in winter bike-share survival.
So I talked to the Lime’s operations manager, Scott Harvey, about this and a bunch of other things related to micro-mobility (including a number of your questions). Here’s a video of our conversation, and the transciption below.
Q: Let me just ask first maybe: Why Calgary and why now?
Well, Calgary obviously being a city that has expended a lot
of resources to build a world-class biking infrastructure, so we recognize
that’s an important part of Calgary’s sort of vision to the future. So we want
to be part of that.
Obviously, second of all, Calgary just was really the first
city in Canada to come to that place where we could enter as a company in a really,
really thoughtful and mindful manner. You know, timing is everything and
really, we as a company said: “Do we want to launch?” We launched October
30th. “Who launches a bike company in the middle of winter?” But we
really felt like Calgary was ready for it. Calgarians embraced it in a way that
we were, like, blown away by how much they embraced it.
So we’ve seen some great numbers come back in terms of
ridership levels and things like that. And the weather has co-operated
amazingly. So, you know, we’ve continued to be able to see those numbers go.
Q: What kind of numbers? Can you can tell me up relative to other cities or anything?
Sure, we you know we don’t talk about actual rider numbers,
but what I can say is that on some of our best days we saw ridership — new
riders, some days were up in like 300, 400 new riders per day.
OK, you mentioned earlier a little trepidation about
launching at the end of October, and there are not a lot of cities that have
bike shares that run all winter, so why launch at that time?
Well, obviously that was when we were, in working with the
city, we were able to launch. There is a huge process. There is, you know,
permitting and, you know, insurance and all of those things that need to go
into us operating within the city. And operating within those constraints and
needs that the city provides to us through that permit, so we wanted to make
sure all the i’s were dotted and all the t’s were crossed before we went into
service. And so that’s just what that date looked like.
But with that, we also said we’re going to have a great
opportunity to test the product in the market, a winter market. We do operate
in other winter markets in the United States . . . , like Minnesota and Detroit,
places like that. So, we already have an understanding of what winter operation
looks like with the product.
But where we sort of have a question mark is what happens
when the weather is really cool. You know, those northern States markets don’t
necessarily get that cold temperatures that we do. So, you know, obviously,
again we haven’t had that opportunity with Calgary’s weather (yet). I don’t
know if you’ve seen, there’s a bike just on the road that have mitts on the
handlebars now. So, we’re doing some testing and trying to gather our own
information so that, again, we can be cognizant of opening in markets like, you
know, potential markets that are maybe in the future in Canada.
So Calgary is just going to be a really good test market as
we continue to expand to Canada that’s where we’re learning a lot of this
information right now. It’s a bit of an experiment.
Q: I think it’s an impressive thing to see the bar mitts on the bars, just as a commitment to winter. So it really is an experiment?
Yes, we know that the bike operates really well in snowy conditions
and in winter conditions. Where the question mark comes from is performance.
When we’re getting down into – 25 C, -30 C, how’s the battery reacting at that
level? Are we going to see the loss of power? Are they OK? We’re going to want
to test that theory. So fingers crossed, again, as much as I hate to encourage
that, but we are in Canada, so at the end of the day cold weather is part of
our our life and so we really want to make sure that we’re making decisions that
are based on facts.
Q: You launched in Calgary with ebikes. Is that unique for the company? Most companies have both ebikes and old-fashioned pedal bikes, right? What’s behind that decision?
We know from ridership information that our customers, when
given the choice of a pedal bike and an electric bike, they will choose the
electric bike most. So from that point of view, when we decided to come to
Canada, we said “Let’s put the electric bike in because that’s what customers
And yes we do have markets in the United States and the one
here in Canada that are ebike only. We’re ebike only because of it, but also
because scooters aren’t going to be part of that conversation here in Canada
for a little while.
So we’re going to work within what we can, which is the
ebike program. It’s just a really really good product. It’s robust. It can
handle, we had some riders ride in that first winter blast of snow that we
bought in October. We had members of the city and they really said, the
feedback we got, was that, you know, the bikes perform really well in the
winter. So we just really feel like this product is the right product for
And, again, we’re the only location in Canada, so Calgarians
should be proud of that fact is about that we were the first. We beat out
cities like Toronto and Montreal.
Q: Yesterday, I asked on Twitter for questions from people. We got lots of really interesting ones, so I’m going to fire those at you right now. OK, one is it about the zone. We talked a bit about launching in Calgary with ebikes, and right now there’s a zone, much like Car2Go, where the bike needs to be parked inside a zone, which is mostly the downtown area. Why that zone, and are there plans to expand it?
Absolutely. So, the city, between the city and Lime, we
decided what the winter zone would look like. And then we’ll have a summer
zone. So the winter zone was restricted to the downtown core and the Beltline.
And, you know, I think that this is the first year of operations, so I think
next year when we go into winter operations the conversation will be a little
different. Because from a mechanical sort of user and ridership point of view,
we missed out on some communities that we think should have been included in that
winter operation zone.
But, again, that’s a great sort of learning curve for us as
a company and for the city so we can go back and have some really constructive
conversations about what that looks like, but then, come the summer, we will be
full city operation. The whole city will have bikes. And so our fleet will, I
don’t have to final number right now, that’s a continuing conversation with the
city, but we will see for the summer months we will see the increase in size.
And there’s been some
anxiety about people who inadvertently left their bike outside of the zone.
There’s really not any sort of, you know, punishment for leaving
the bike outside of the zone. When you’re riding the bike and do leave the zone,
the app will tell you that you left the approved zone.
But you know ultimately for us we felt that rider experience
was more important than “You have to take that bike back into the
zone.” We have the resources here in the city to make sure that those bikes
that are going leaving the zone for people to enjoy a bike ride that we can get
those products back into the zone in a very, you know, good amount of time.
Q: Speaking of rules let’s have the helmet conversation, which is always a tricky one. So just for some background, Alberta does not have a mandatory helmet law for pedal bikes, but it does for ebikes And Lime bike, unlike some jurisdictions where there is a helmet law like Vancouver for example, where helmets are provided with the bike share, they’re not provided here. So that is also causing some anxiety that’s what I read from the questions I’m getting on Twitter. People are worried about getting taking a ticket, they’re worried about breaking the rules. We’re good Canadians, and nobody wants to break the rules. Now what are you hearing? Are there tickets being delivered?
I haven’t heard of any tickets being issued for riders on the electric bikes. From the perspective of meeting that requirement, that is 110 percent one of Lime’s main goals is to, obviously, work within the constraints of whatever the law or regulations are. And of course rider safety is of paramount importance.
So we’re going to do what we can to encourage riders to wear a helmet when they ride our product. It is mandatory, you know, so that is in the in-app messaging. That’s actually right on the bike itself, and then we’re going to continue as, you know, now that the weather is hopefully going to start to improve or stay the way it has been lately, we’re going to start to get more and more involved in some community help promote what we call Respect Your Ride. That’s a program that was launched company-wide and we’re going to, again, start to get that program here embedded in the city, so that then people can have access to get a helmet from us.
So there are a lot of ways we can do that and also that, again, we can start to have that conversation of why it’s important to wear a helmet. We really looked at that program in British Columbia, and the company that provides helmets with their rides and we just felt from a couple of standpoints that wasn’t the direction that we wanted to go. We really felt that it was a much better and much easier way to engage with the customers by having that conversation and by being able to provide people with helmets should they need one. So again that community engagement piece is really the key.
Q: So the way it stands now if you’re using a Lime ebike in Calgary, you should be bringing a helmet with you.
Correct. I mean we want the consumer to provide their own helmet to meet the current regulation. From that perspective, again, there is the ability as we launch our community programs that we’ll be able to engage the customers that want a helmet and you know we can provide a helmet, so we’re going to continue to slowly evolve that process.
But in the meantime, you know, yes we’re asking Calgarians to be mindful of the fact that that is a law and, you know, we really want to make sure that everyone’s abiding by that. And it’s about safety, right? That’s the number one priority. We want people to be safe when they ride the product.
I know people look at it as a hindrance, but at the end of the day, if you’re going to ride the product, and we know that the majority of our ridership comes from people that work downtown and are either say, great example we’re here at the public library the East Village is right here, we’ve got a lot of riders that live in the East Village and come into downtown to do their work. Those are the kind customers that are going to ride our product. Average ride is about six to 10 minutes, so you know, again, it’s it’s people that are either at work and going for lunch or thing going to a meeting or somewhere else.
So yeah, make sure you remember your helmet. Have it in your office, have it in your home and just, you know, remember it when you ride.
Q: Pedal bikes: are they coming? You’ve got ebikes in place now, in the summer when things change, will it be available?
No, again, we feel that the electric bike is the, sort of,
now the new standard for our locations and in particular in candidates in
Which brings up another question I got asked a lot too, it’s about the cost. The cost for a bike — a lot of people are saying it seems expensive. It’s similar to the what you pay on a Car2Go. And they feel like they’ve ridden them in the States and they feel cheaper and the pedal bikes a little bit cheaper too. So I’ve heard a lot of questions about the cost. So that’s the question: Why is it so expensive?
Obviously when someone comes to me and says well if I take two or three hour bike ride it’s gonna be a lot of money. You know, that’s just not the customer we’re necessarily trying to drive after. Our customers are people that, again, that’s why downtown, in any of our markets, are usually the really big focus because it’s people that are, say, going from one building and going several blocks and don’t want to get into a taxi or a cab and you’ll want to add congestion, so then they’re looking for micro-mobility solutions that can that you know take them where they need to be without it being, you know, adding to that problem.
So we feel that the price is is where it’s at currently, is where it’s at. But we’re open to that conversation and you know the more that we operate, again, this is the first time in Canada, first location in Canada. It’s a lot of firsts happening here in Calgary in that regard. So we want to make sure that we hear what people have to say and that feedback is really crucial. So, you know, we’re going to continue to look at that.
Q: A couple a couple of last questions from Twitter: When are you coming to Edmonton?
Good question. Again, Edmonton is one of those cities that
is on the Lime list, and and certainly from the perspective of working with the
City of Edmonton that conversation is well in hand and definitely happening. So
you know Edmonton is still a question mark in terms of exact dates and you know
I’m gonna remain very tight-lipped in terms of the date. I don’t have a date so
it’s not even that I’m not saying it. But you know from the perspective of
Edmonton it’s definitely on the list that’s definitely going be a city we’re
going to want to operate in.
Q: And I heard you say no scooters in the works in Canada?
No scooters in Canada as it stands right now. So from a
legal standpoint there are rules about electric scooters being ridden on public
property, so currently the law across the land — each province is slightly
different — but across the land is that electrified scooters are treated as a
motor vehicle and so by law they cannot be ridden on public property, unless
there are certain stipulations that they meet. And so you know from that perspective,
Lime is working with municipalities to engage in that conversation of when that
law was, when those laws were put on the books and in terms of what our product
looks like so that’s an ongoing conversation with most municipalities or
Well, that’s it. Thank you very much. Welcome Lime to Calgary. I’ve been out there riding it a lot, so I hope to see lots of you out there as well.
When the temperature drops, riding a bike to work gets a tad more complicated. Especially in North America, where bike commuting is sometimes viewed more as an athletic pursuit than a simple transportation mode.
That’s why, in this video, I look at two ways of dressing for bike commuting. Version 1 we’ll call Dress for your Destination. In this approach, no special clothing is used. We simply ride a bike to work, with a few accommodations for the weather.
In Version 2, called Dress for the Journey, we gear up in winter athletic wear — from shoes to balaclava, this is the method in which we layer up like an athlete and ride hard.
Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, so check out the video and decide which method works best for you.
My blog earlier this winter offering tips for keeping your feet warm on a bike prompted some questions, so I thought I would expand a bit in video format. So here it is: Five tips for keeping your feet warm on a bike: the expanded edition.
One of the participants of the annual Moscow Winter Bike Parade. Photo by Tom Babin.
It was the Russian dude in full furs riding a replica penny-farthing (kopeck-farthing?) that did it for me. When I saw this guy roll by the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square yelling shout-outs to hundreds of fellow cyclists around him, I knew this wasn’t the city I once thought it was.
That moment came midway through the third annual Moscow Winter Bike Parade, a rolling party through the streets surrounding the Kremlin that attracted more than 4,000 people dressed for the weather and a good time. It was one of the most fun group rides I’ve ever been on – so fun it nearly obliterated my image of the city as a haven for gigantic multi-lane ring roads clogged with endless rows of barely moving automobiles.
I chose the word “nearly” deliberately. For as awesome as the bike parade was, one can’t leave Moscow without aggressively piloted cars as one of the city’s defining images. It’s a megalopolis built on the automobile, and when not part of a group ride, using a bicycle to get around the city feels about as safe as being a Cold War-era spy.
The bike parade rolled right past St. Basil’s Cathedral at Red Square. Photo by Tom Babin.
(I will, however, spare a moment to gush about the city’s metro system: wide, efficient, affordable, well-planned and spotted with beautifully built stations, the system moves up to nine-million people a day. If you can’t get your head around that, just imagine standing at a station as packed 12-car trains empty out every 90 seconds).
But I was in Moscow as an invited speaker at the Winter Cycling Congress, and if any place can highlight the green shoots of a more bikeable city, the conference centre was the place. Guided by the team at Let’s bike it!, aMoscow-based group that advocates for more people-oriented street design, I was given a tour of what could be the start of something big.
In the last couple of years, city officials (with nudges from such groups as Let’s bike it!), have started to look more seriously at improving the plight of pedestrians and cyclists as a way of easing its horrific congestion problems. A handful of separated bike lanes have been built recently. A bike-share system now operates through the summer months. Pedestrian streets have been improved. Even the new national traffic laws have been adjusted to make it easier to build pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, according to Nikolai Asaul, the deputy minister of transport. “(Cycling) is not safe enough, and comfort is not a priority,” he told the Congress. “For us, it’s a revolution in the minds of our urban planners.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a North American national politician supporting cycling so strongly.
I was also impressed with the winter hardiness of Muscovites (although I felt a little perverse pride in being one of the few people who visits Moscow to warm up). Having a positive relationship with winter is a key part of the best winter-bike cities, and Moscow has this in spades. The city was filled with outdoor winter festivals, light displays, and thousands of people on the streets dressed to enjoy the day, no matter the weather.
In the wake of the winter bike parade, I found it easy to get swept up in the optimism of the moment, but the reality is that Moscow faces some big challenges if it is serious about improving the city’s livability through cycling. And those go beyond the usual urban challenges of space, design and street culture.
Vladimir Kumov, a Moscow bike advocate (centre, blue jacket), is helping the city adopt more bike- and pedestrian-friendly projects. Photo by Tom Babin.
Russia’s political culture has not traditionally been built on grassroots involvement, so those passionate young bike advocates from all over Russia who attended the Winter Cycling Congress face an additional challenge of building a culture of engagement between citizens and municipal officials. While nearly every Russian I spoke with expressed optimism that Russian officials are increasingly open to the idea of active transportation, this kind of political/cultural change is never easy.
I was also heartened by the interest in winter cycling by Muscovites. The conference was crawling with media, and drawing 4,000 people out for a bike ride on a -10 C day in the snow is not easy, even in cities with more of a bike culture. This has not gone unnoticed by Let’s Bike It organizers.
“If you go out in Moscow, you’ll see how many problems we have, and we want to show the government and the people in Russia how we can change it,” I was told by Vladimir Kumov, the founder of Let’s Bike It. “Eight years ago when I started Let’s Bike It, Moscow was a car city. Traffic jams, and no space for pedestrians and cyclists. In the last five or six years, it’s started to change.”
And if you ask the dude in fur on the penny-farthing, he’d probably agree.
Up to 4,000 people were estimated to have taken part in the Moscow Winter Bike Parade. Photos by Tom Babin.
If you ever doubted the global appeal of the bicycle in winter, today’s third annual Moscow Winter Bike Parade ought to disabuse you of the notion.
More than 3,000 Muscovites braved the snow and cold to ride together in the shadow of the Kremlin.
For cyclists in this megapolis that is just beginning to look at ways of improving bike friendliness, this was both a coming out party (the event came on the heels of the sixth Winter Cycling Congress, which brought delegations of cycling advocates, planners and lovers from all over the world), and a rolling street party.
I’ll post more about the fascinating cycling culture of Moscow soon. But for now, just enjoy some of the smiling faces, wacky costumes and downright bizarre bikes that lightened up the streets of Moscow.
Riding a bike is only the best thing ever, so of course you want to do it all winter long. But you’re frightened. All that cold, snow and ice is intimidating.
But after more than a decade of riding through northern winters, I’ve learned a secret: Those are not the things you should be afraid of.
Cold, for example, is the easiest problem for a winter cyclist to tackle. Pedalling legs are like bellows of your internal furnace: Once they get moving, your body will warm. In fact, the real risk in winter is dressing too warmly.
Snow? Pshaw. Snow may have been a problem at some point, but there are plenty of ways to deal with snow these days. Fat bikes will get you through pretty much anything shallower than your shin. A taxpayer-funded snow plow clearing a bike lane in a timely way is even better.
And don’t worry about ice. If you live in an ice-prone area, studded tires are like the magical traction fairies of winter. Even putting a single studded tire on the front of wheel of your bike will work wonders. Two studded tires will make you feel like you’re riding a Zamboni.
Nope, those are easy problems to deal with. What you really need to worry about is this:
That mashed-potato mixture of snow and dirt is snirt, the most worrying part of a winter bike commute. Photo by Tom Babin.
This is snirt. It’s a deadly mixture of snow and dirt (hence, snirt), mashed together by passing vehicles into a loose, soft concoction that seems sent from a wintry hell to make your blissful winter ride worrisome.
Snow and ice is no problem for my winter commute. This stuff, however, is worrying. Photo by Tom Babin.
Snirt is an unfortunate side effect of urban winter, and it’s worrying because it tends to lift up bikes and float them around in unpredictable ways. Over the years, I’ve learned to deal with all kinds of snow, ice and cold, but snirt is the one element that still gives me willies in the night.
There are ways to minimize the impact of snirt. I’ve found that two extremes make a difference. A skinny road bike tire can sometimes cut through small batches of snirt to the more stable stuff below, and a fat-bike tire can sometimes power through it (studs in both cases certainly help). But I’ve yet to find a fool-proof tactic for staying stable in all cases.
So here’s my advice: Learn to live with snirt. You can’t beat it, so give it respect. Avoid it wherever you can. That may mean choosing a route that avoids unplowed side streets. It may mean choosing a line of shallow snirt through a deeper pile of snirt. It may mean riding for a short stretch on a section of the road (or, ahem, sidewalk) that is cleared, even if you’d normally avoid doing so. It may mean getting off and walking through certain patches. Or it may mean taking transit for a day or two after a snowfall until the plows have come by.
Once you’ve come to terms with the reality of snirt, you’ve officially vanquished all legitimate fears about riding in winter. Which means you can get back to enjoying the ride. And in winter, few things are as fun and rewarding as a good bike ride.
Damn that Game of Thrones for making the phrase “winter is coming” sound ominous. Winter doesn’t have to be something to dread, particularly if the root of your aversion to winter is the loss of your bicycle.
These bicycles in Yellowknife in northern Canada aren’t just for show. If they can ride, so can you. Photo by Tom Babin.
Yes, more people are riding a bike through winter all the time. For good reason: You get all those benefits of summer riding, plus you might just rediscover the joy of the season that you knew as a kid. Or, at the very least, maybe you’ll hate winter just a tad less.
But riding in winter can be intimidating for noobs who have lived a life in which they use their automobiles as overcoats. So here are some things to think about as winter looms:
Which bike to ride?
If you live in one of those enviable cities with great bike infrastructure that is well maintained in winter, congratulations! The rest of the winter world envy-hates you, but you probably don’t have to do anything to prepare for winter. Just ride, you dirty, rotten spoiled cyclist.
For the rest of us, some adjustments to the machine between your legs may be in order. There are a couple of things to consider for winter.
If you love your summer bike more than, say, a second cousin or a countertop pet, you may want to think hard about riding it through winter. In some cities, the salt used on roads can corrode your components with dismaying speed. If you wash the bike regularly, it may survive. But if you’re a slothy cleaner or your garden hose is frozen up tight, you might want to consider a second bike for winter. You don’t need anything fancy, just something that moves. The type of bike depends on your type of winter, but keep it simple: I happily rode a 25-year-old mountain bike with one gear through more than a decade of winters. Don’t over think it.
Another option is to winterize your summer bike, if you are OK dealing with a little rust and winter grit. Get a pair of fenders, some decent lights (winter days are short!) and, if you’re nervous about falling, studded tires. And be prepared to clean it regularly
What should I wear?
If you’re reading this, you probably live in a winter city. So you should already own everything you need to ride a bike in winter (unless you are one of those people who sport ankle socks and T-shirts in February and then complains about the cold): thermal underwear, mittens, a warm hat and boots. If your snowfall gets particularly sloppy, a pair of waterproof pants is a good idea too. But don’t go crazy. Keeping warm on a bike is easy once your body starts moving. Think of it like this: dress as you would for a winter walk, and then remove one underlayer so you don’t overheat. A fat-biker once put it to me this way: “Be bold: start off cold.”
Well-maintained winter bike routes will make your life much easier when the temperature drops. Photo by Tom Babin.
Unless, of course, you like spending money on all kinds of specialized gear. Then head to the fat-bike section of your local bike shop, and bring your wallet. There are plenty of fun options to keep you warm.
Where do I ride?
By now, your city should be providing cyclists with safe, efficient routes in winter. But since most aren’t, you may want to choose a different route in winter. Look for roads that are plowed early, aren’t too busy with cars, and have slow vehicle speeds. And prepare for the fact that your ride will be slower in winter. That’s just life.
One tip I’ve picked up over the years: Depending on your city’s plowing philosophy (or lack thereof) choosing the right route in winter may be a little counter-intuitive. You may be tempted to take side and back roads in winter to avoid the cars. But those roads also tend to the last ones plowed, so it can be difficult to get through on a bike. Conversely, you don’t want roads that are too busy or too fast because riding close to moving vehicles is even less fun in winter. Look for those Goldilocks roads: plowed rather early and regularly, but not too busy. And if you find such a road, don’t keep it a secret. The more bikes on a route, the safer it is for everybody.
I’m frightened. What should I do?
Winter cycling can be intimidating, but what’s really holding you back is probably your own fear more than anything else. It’s an attitude. The first few rides will be tough. You need to find the right route, dress for the right temperature and find your balance in slippery conditions. But once you get the logistics down, you’ll love it. So adopt an attitude of experimentation: try a few things to see what works, and don’t give up too easily. And don’t think you’re a failure if you don’t ride every day. Even a few days a week or a month is better than nothing, and you’ll be a happier, healthier person for it.
I can’t wait to brag to my co-workers.
Stop right there. The first rule of winter cycling: no bragging. I know it’s tempting, but bragging about riding through a snowstorm just perpetuates the notion that winter cycling is something difficult. And really, it’s not. Ask the thousands of kids and grandparents who ride through the world’s great winter cycling cities. You’re not special for riding a bike in winter, you’re just smart. So rather than brag about your ride, encourage others to try it too. The more of us who ride in winter, the more it will be normalized. That’s good for everyone.