How to stay safe, warm as a cyclist in the winter

The weather is changing, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid bike paths

Now that stores have started playing Christmas music, the arrival of winter is inevitable. Don’t let cool temperatures and flurries signal the end of your cycling season. Pedalling around in the bitter cold and snow can actually be a good time.

Yet, before heading out into the great white north, there are a few factors to consider. A good way to ruin winter cycling for yourself is by being underdressed and underprepared. Following a few simple steps will help you avoid frosty misery.

Dressing properly is the foundation of winter fun on your bike. Fingers and toes are the first to freeze on a cold day, so pay particular attention to gloves and socks. A wind and waterproof glove with an insulated liner is the ideal choice but can be expensive. A frugal alternative is to wear nitrile or latex disposable gloves underneath any winter glove, as they provide a fairly resilient waterproof layer.

Thick socks are a no-brainer for staying warm, but don’t go overboard. A tight shoe will feel colder than one that doesn’t constrict your foot, regardless of how cozy the socks are. I have the best luck with a pair of regular socks underneath thick wool ones. The army surplus stores on St-Laurent Street sell the classic red-striped wool numbers at an affordable price.

Rosey red cheeks may be cute, but they hurt when pedaling around the city on your bike. So wrap up your face. A cycling balaclava is a good investment, as it is breathable and provides great coverage from wind and snow. A frugal alternative is to use a cheap neck gaiter that’s long enough to pull up over your ears and around your face. Whatever you wear, make sure it is thin so that the fit of your helmet is not compromised.

Layering keeps me comfiest on a chilly day. A bunch of thinner shirts and sweaters under a windproof jacket feels warmer than a big, puffy parka, especially on a bike. Also, the mobility of thinner layers is a huge plus when cycling in challenging conditions. By wearing multiple layers, you can regulate your warmth. As soon as you start sweating, it’s going to be really tough to stay warm. Having wet clothing in sub-zero temperatures means you’re going to get really cold. Layering is a great way to avoid this frosty fate, as you can remove certain pieces of clothing when you start getting warm.

When it comes to your bike, it’s best to make sure that it’s durable and comfortable. Buying a new set of brake pads is a great way to welcome the winter. While a wet chain lubricant might make a bit of a mess, it’s worth it because your chain will stay protected from salty road spray. It is also super helpful to spray your bike down with WD-40—a common and cheap penetrating oil—after every sloppy, winter ride as the spray displaces water and stops your bike from rusting.

Riding in the snow is challenging, but you can set your bike up for success. Lower your seat a little bit so it’s easier to put your feet down if you’re in deep snow. If you don’t have big, knobby winter tires, it doesn’t mean the snow is impassable. Take a little bit of air pressure out of your tires, especially the front one, for a little more grip. Lastly, pedal in an easy gear. Having your feet spin around with little resistance means your back wheel is less likely to slip.

Enjoy the snow and bundle up, because Montreal is a great city for cycling in the winter. The Maisonneuve bike lane is plowed daily, and most smaller lanes are sanded to keep the road’s grip. Make use of a city that supports winter cycling, and enjoy it.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

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