Winter cycling tips and tricks

It seems more and more people are getting into cycling year-round, including during winter.

After several years of riding through some pretty nasty winters, I’ve done a brain dump of some of the things I’ve learned.

One of the more difficult rides to work...

Keeping warm

  • Get some insulated insoles (Marks WorkWearhouse carries them for just a few dollars.)
  • Get some of the small hand-warmers that you crush to activate. Slip these inside your shoes (the hand warmers put out just as much heat as the foot warmers but take up less room.)
  • Put some sandwich baggies over your toes – this will create a “mini sauna” in your shoes/boots which will help keep your toes warm.
  • Keep your core warm – this will tell your body to send warm blood to your extremities. If your core is cold, your brain will focus on keep that warm, which will take away the warm blood from your extremities.
  • If you wear a scarf or balaclava over your face, make sure it’s not too tight. A tight one will constrict the blood flow to your skin as well as making it hard to breath through.

Riding style

  • Mount curbs head-on (carefully). If you try and ride up them from the side like you do during warmer, dry weather, you’re likely to take a spill.
  • Don’t try and brake or turn suddenly!
  • If you ride with pedal straps or clipless pedals, clip out before you approach icy intersections, hills or turns.
  • If you need to get up out of the saddle to climb a snowy or icy hill, make sure you still keep your weight back as much as possible so your rear tire is less likely to spin.

Studded tires

I’ve tried a few different studded tires and there’s certainly a difference in the brands and placement of studs.

  • In my opinion, the best ones for road and pathway winter weather are the ones with most of the studs towards the sides of the tire, not in the center. Roads and paths aren’t always ice or snow covered, so the studs in the center really don’t serve much purpose for commuting. The studs on the sides, however, are important – they’ll help keep your traction when you’re riding over rutted ice as your tire hits the sides of the ruts.
  • You could also go with just the front tire studded. You’re not too likely to go down if your back tire slips a little bit, but if your front one does, ker-splat. 🙂
  • Remember, too that studs on the bike really aren’t going to stop you from sliding completely. Trying to ride up the side of curb like you do in the summer is likely going to result in you taking a dive – I’ve been there and have seen it happen to other cyclists. In the winter, it’s best to ride up onto the curb head-on so your tire doesn’t slip.
  • As for the cheap-vs-pricey dilemma, I’d go with the more expensive ones. They typically have carbide-steel studs while the cheaper ones just have hardened steel. The cheapy ones I bought lasted one or two seasons. The carbide studded ones I have have lasted several seasons. So, in the long run, the more expensive ones are cheaper because they don’t have to be replaced as often. Of course, the wear on the studs is going to depend on the distance of your ride and whether you’re riding mostly on clear surfaces vs ice/snow.
  • It’s also a good idea to make sure you “seat” the studs – try and get some distance in on the tires before you hit the nasty weather. Most tires have a recommendation on to ride around 40 km on dry pathway or road and to avoid sudden breaking or acceleration during that break-in period.
  • You will probably lose some studs over the lifetime of your tires. You can get replacement studs or just not worry about it. I’ve never replaced any of my missing studs (very few) and haven’t noticed any difference.
  • You will definitely notice a difference with the studded tires. They’re heavier and slower and don’t make for a nice smooth ride the way slicks or even knobbies do. I put new 700×35 studs on my bike last Thurs and the ride on Thurs and Fri was definitely more tiring that usual. It’s the first time I’ve tried skinny studded tires; I’ve always switched to my mountain bike and thrown studs on there before. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a noticeable difference between the two sizes.

Bike and gear mods

  • Ride with your waterbottle upside-down. Ice will form on the “top” first, which will actually be the bottom when it’s upside-down.
  • Wrap your brake levers with some cork wrap or foam – this will help keep your fingers a bit warmer as they won’t be resting on cold metal, which will suck the heat out of your fingers, right through your gloves.

Mental tricks

  • Buy some new gear, whether it’s new socks, a new jacket or new scarf. Just the interest in trying our your new gear will help give you that mental motivation.
  • If you usually take the train or bus, just picture yourself standing there freezing waiting for it to (hopefully) show up. Think about being squished together next to runny-nosed, hacking and coughing miserable commuters.
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