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Winter Biking Advice

by Gary Snider (Gary regularly cycles from his home in Steinbach to his place of work at Mitchel)


Daily commute - 20 kilometers, to work and back home

Bicycle - MEC “Chance”, 11 speed internal gear rear hub, hydraulic brakes

Plus side - Riding year-round helps me stay positive (endorphin boost), it’s a great way to stay fit without a gym membership, and it’s my small way of resisting our comatose car culture.

Down side - The weeks of riding to and from work in the dark requires a bit more mental fortitude, and strong northwest winds means my morning ride is going to be tough.

 Frozen Myth:

Overheating is a problem that most people don’t associate with biking along a windswept winter highway. But even with the best wicking undergarments, light layers and a vented windbreaker, the heat and moisture generated by biking can still be difficult to manage.  Everyone is different, both in how hard they ride and the way their body warms to the work.  Usually after the first two kilometers I’m opening zippers to increase airflow around my torso and neck.  Even so, I’ll arrive at work with some hot spots. Arriving 10-15 minutes before work starts, allows me to cool down and switch into my work clothes.

 Protecting the weak spots:

Hands – For seriously cold weather use leather mitts with liners and consider adding “pogies” to your handlebars.  Pogies (handlebar covers) can be bought at some bigger bike stores, but save yourself the $30 by cutting the sleeves off an old winter jacket, hem the shoulders and slip these (cuff end first) over the handles, brake levers and shifters.  Use some wire or shoe laces to fasten them in place and your hands and wrists will be toasty, even on the coldest days.

Face – I tried a dozen different ideas the first winter and was frustrated with the way that my breath would fog up the inside of my double layer ski goggles.  The solution was a lightweight balaclava (MEC Ninja) that can be easily adjusted above or below the mouth and chin, a pair of old ski goggles and a DIY nose mask that directs my breath down while keeping my cheeks and nose safe from frostbite.  My helmet will fit nicely over the thin balaclava, which is good to -15C, and when colder than that I replace the helmet with a toque.

Feet – This is still an area open to improvement as my feet will still suffer on the coldest days (a youthful run-in with frostbite seems to have compromised circulation to my toes).  My current set-up is a nice pair of lightweight winter hikers and merino wool socks.  On days -18C or cooler I add some “Heat Factory” foot warmers and bring along a zip-lock bag (airtight) to store them in, so I can usually get two or more roundtrips out of the $1.25 investment.  Moisture is the enemy, so always use the best wool socks you can afford.

 Winter Bike Set-Up:

Stay Bright - With short days, a good part of November through to mid-February is spent riding in low light or full darkness.  Reflectors aren’t enough – every bicyclist needs a red strobe behind and a bright headlight up front, or you’re asking for abuse or injury at the hands of inattentive motorists.  A store like Mountain Equipment Co-op has a score of great lights.  Similar lights are available locally at Body Driven Sports. My bike has an eye-burning “Planet Turbo” strobe ($12) on the back and a “Planet Blaze” 2 watt LED headlight ($32).  In addition to lights I wear a reflective jacket, use tires with reflective sidewalls and have added two strips of 3M tape to my lunch kit and bike bag.  Safety experts also recommend the use of reflective ankle strips, as these are highly visible when you are pedaling.

 Traction – Studded tires are a bit pricey but worth it if you are riding regularly in the winter.  They work as advertised, adding confidence for turning, starts and stops.  Even with skinny 700c x 38 tires fitted with carbide studs, I have more traction than most cars when conditions get icy.

 Chains, gears & lubrication – Winter riding is really tough on a bike’s drive train.  Fenders help reduce the amount of salt and grit that reach the chain, but even so, I find that I need to thoroughly clean and oil the front chain ring, chain and rear cassette every week.  My current bike has no exposed cables but if yours does these also need more attention than usual.  I have a piece of old carpet and add a plastic sheet when cleaning my bike.  I find that a stiff brush can knock off a lot of grit from the gears.  Follow this with a biodegradable de-greaser on the chain, run it through the gears and wipe it off with a rag.  You may have to repeat this again prior to lubricating with either graphite chain lube or light oil.  But be prepared for the sad fact that one or two winter’s worth of riding is often enough to condemn your chain and rear cassette.  Replacement of these wear parts is just a small price we winter riders must bear.


As more of us ride through the winter we’ll be changing people’s heads about what is really possible in terms of alternatives to burning the ever-decreasing pool of fossil fuel.  The real bonus is that we’re going to be healthier and happier too, which will have a wonderful ripple effect through our families, schools, workplaces and the wider community.  When I see you out there on your bike, I’ll be waving and cheering you on!

Did you know that a velmobile (an aerodynamic, recumbent bicycle) requires 1/4 to 1/3 the energy an upright bicycle requires, that consistent speeds of 40 km per hour are reasonable, and that commutes of 50 km are practical. Low-tech magazine has an excellent, extensive article on this

Body Driven Sportsl
303 Main Street in Steinbach for bikes and more

Wike.Ca for bike trailers

Mountain Equipment Coop in Winnipeg for bikes, biking equipment and much more