Love your bike ride, even in cold weather

We (Bethany and Mike from the Transportation team) are still riding our bikes these cold dark days, because it keeps us healthy and relieves anxiety! Your bike can offer fresh air, motion, and safe social time. Here are tips to help you keep (or start!) enjoying your ride as the weather gets even colder and the days are short. Big thank you to our friends at Local Motion for the bulk of this content (and the cover photo).

We all know how to prepare for OTHER fall and winter outdoor activities, whether it’s to shovel the driveway or go skiing or hunting—biking is no different! With just a little forethought and prep for you and your bike, you’re ready!

General Guidelines

  • Fall and winter riding is like warm weather riding but colder and darker, possibly icy, and you need to prepare for road spray
  • Planning ahead and being well prepared makes winter riding easy and fun. If you’re commuting to work, give yourself extra time to wash up and change when you get to work. 
  • Keep an eye on the weather
  • Know your limits. It’s okay to bail if you’re not comfortable with the conditions 
  • Ease into it on a nice day. Begin slowly by extending your fall ride into early winter and beginning sooner in the spring
  • Remember that there are nice riding days even in January. 
  • The right gear is important

Stay warm but prepare for sweat and road spray

  • Layers are key
    • Start your ride with a cool core. Thin layers usually will suffice, but a down or warmer jacket may be necessary for those really cold days. You warm up surprisingly fast!
    • Waterproof and windproof jacket and pants keep you clean and dry, especially on days with road spray 
    • Be prepared for colder or wetter weather (or a flat tire) with an extra set of outerwear
  • Keep your extremities warm
    • Good gloves/mittens (windproof is ideal)
    • Windproof footwear keeps your feet warm. Hiking/winter boots are fine. Sneakers have too much ventilation for very cold weather, unless you put plastic bags over your socks to form a vapor barrier. You can buy neoprene shoe covers too.
    • Hand warmers are inexpensive and awesome (the new ones should last from your morning commute until your afternoon commute. In bulk, they’re about 50 cents per pair)
  • Protect your face and head when it gets below freezing
    • Clear glasses or clear lens ski goggles protect your eyes from wind
    • A neck warmer or balaclava 
    • A bandana or thin hat under your helmet protects your ears from the wind (otherwise you get that terrible achy brain feeling!)
  • At the first sign of frostbite, get inside!

Stay clean – The roads and trails may be wet or muddy more often. Consider fenders for your bike, and rain pants and a lightweight rain jacket for you. Fenders also help keep road salt off your bike and you. (Photo at left: Mike’s DIY front fender.)

Stay visible – Sunset rides are great, and cruising through the morning fog is a great way to start the day. But remember that the days are short right now, and if you’re riding to work, you’ll likely be commuting in twilight or darkness on one end. Help others on the road to easily see and be inspired by you! (photo below: Mike’s reflective gear.)

  • Lights: 
    • Have a bright front light (white) and rear light (red) and carry extra batteries
    • Use a light with 500 lumens or more if riding after dark. Anything less you won’t be able to see very far ahead of you
    • Consider one light on your handlebars and one on your helmet. That way, you will have a beam pointed to where you’re looking and you’ll have a back-up if one goes dead mid-ride.
    • Run your lights all the time. If cars are lit, you should be too!
  • Reflectors on your bike
    • If you ride with a backpack, remember to put reflectors or reflective strips on here too
  • High-visibility clothing:
    • “Hi-viz” colors, especially the yellow that cyclists and construction workers use, is best
    • Reflective strips on your clothing, reflective ankle and wrist bands, or a reflective vest 

More Tips for Safety

  • Remember that the road narrows when there is snow 
  • You might want to take a different route than your warmer weather route
  • Look for good shoulders, low traffic, areas without ice, and well-plowed roads

Riding on snow and Ice

  • Watch for changeable road conditions, just like while driving a car
  • Watch for ice hidden under a thin layer of snow! This can be disastrous if you aren’t expecting it!
  • Take your time
  • Avoid sharp turns
  • Stay relaxed
  • Try not to brake hard
  • Get studded tires, or reduce your tire pressure a little 
  • Or take a break from riding during or right after a storm until the roads clear! 

Bike Maintenance

  • Clean your bike a couple of times a week because salt = rust. An easy way to do it? Mike’s trick is to fill his water bottle with warm water at the end of his ride and use it to wash down the chain, gears, derailleurs, and brakes. 
  • Lubricate often
  • Get a tune-up in the spring; leaving salt on your bike over summer will eat away at the components

Plan B

  • Carry a cell phone
  • Have a friend or know a local cab company number who can help in emergencies
  • Know your local bus routes
  • Bring a pump, spare tube, tire levers, patch kit (only if you know how to change a tire!)

Motivation

  • Get your gear ready the night before
  • Keep a record of your winter rides, including the coldest and snowiest
  • Take photos and post on social media if that’s your thing
  • Be brave, winter riding is a fun adventure!

Get LOCAL advice and gear – We are lucky to have great local bike shops and services that can provide reassurance and help for every kind of rider. Give them a call, order what you need for curb-side pick-up, or drop off your bike for a repair. 

Our list of area bike shops 

Bradford
Red Clover Bikes

Claremont
Claremont Cycle Depot 

Enfield
Drummond Custom Cycles  

Lebanon
Omer & Bob’s
Mason Racing   

Norwich
Hanover Adventure Tours

Randolph
The Gear House  

Thetford
Vermont Bike and Brew

Windsor
Paradise Sports 

Woodstock
Discovery Bicycle Tours
Woodstock Sports 

Happy riding!

– Bethany & Mike

bethany@vitalcommunities.org
mike@vitalcommunities.org

photo credits: Mike Kiess and Local Motion