If you can dress to ski in it you can dress to bike in it! I’ve often been asked about riding in the cold, and that’s always been my answer. People pay a lot of money to ski in really cold weather, so biking in it is not too different.
Riding in the winter can be tricky, but I think it’s a fun challenge, just like mountain biking. I was not able to mountain bike or do long road rides for a while because of my job and an over-use injury in my hip. So bike commuting in the winter is now my mountain bike season.
There are similar skills required for both:
- You have to take your time around corners.
- Power through crusty snow and ice like through rocks.
- Stay out of icy ruts, or ride straight until you’re out of it.
- Use the front brake less and get your weight over the back wheel on slippery hills.
- And you get to pull out your gear for it! (A good pair of rain pants that fit over jeans will get used a lot in Colorado.)
- Be careful and aware of cars! Both mountain biking and biking in snow or ice can be dangerous, but then cars add an additional danger with bike commuting in the winter.
I know that fat bikes are popular and look fun, but you don’t need a fat bike to commute in snowy conditions. And you don’t need to spend a lot of money on gear if you have a mountain bike and ski clothes.
My nineties era 26″ wheel mountain bike works great for me in snow and ice. The geometry of the bike keeps you upright and over the back wheel, instead of forward like a road frame. Also, it’s lower to the ground than a road bike or 29’er, so I feel more stable, and it’s easier to put a foot down.
Like mountain biking, you really have to pay attention to what you’re riding over, and ride appropriately. In the dead of winter when the ground stays below freezing and snow turns to ice, know that there are always slippery spots, especially in the mornings and evenings.
The smooth, clear ice is the most dangerous in my opinion. One slight turn, weight shift or brake and the bike goes out from under you.
Cold, frozen icy snow in January and February (photos above) is much different than soft, wet snow in the spring (below). The cold, icy snow (above) is harder to turn in and get out of the ruts. But you can ride through the wet, soft spring snow easier and turn out of the ruts easier.
Tips from Mountain Biking:
- Lower your seat for better stability and avoiding falls.
- Lower the air pressure in your tires for better grip, but not too much so that you get a flat, say from 35-40 psi to 25-30 psi. And only if you don’t already have studded tires.
- Use your front brake less, and never on slippery ice.
- Ride straight out of (icy)ruts.
- Power through (pedal hard!) the crunchy stuff like riding through rocks.
Some other tips:
- Ride in the tire tracks from cars, where the snow is already packed down.
- To avoid cars while navigating icy roads use side streets.
- Keep bike inside at night to thaw out and so brakes and shifters work better.
- Dry clean chain often and keep lubed. Chains rust faster in winter weather.
- BE VISIBLE for cars!
- Wear good boots and waterproof ski/rain pants.