Cycling in winter, oh yes!

Bikes don’t need to hibernate. With thoughtful preparation and the right frame of mind, braving winter roads on two wheels can be very satisfying. Olivier Hinse, former bicycle courier as well as mountain and road bike guide in Latin America, gives us his pro tips for hitting the roads this winter.

Why ride in winter?

Now that the white networks – these paths intended for winter biking in certain cities – are widening, more and more cyclists are choosing to leave the car behind.

In addition to allowing you to avoid traffic jams, reduce your carbon footprint, increase your heart rate and burn calories, riding your bicycle during the cold season will make you discover the pleasure of riding on almost deserted cycle paths, so move at whatever speed you like.

Security 101

To get started, it is better to start with short outings in order to acclimatize to the conditions. By the same token, you will fuel your enthusiasm for winter cycling and the snow will seem less and less of an obstacle to you.

Of course, you have to think about adapting your « driving tactics » to winter. It is often impossible to drive on the shoulder of a street, sometimes snowy, icy or wet, even less on the sidewalks, where the plowed snow and the mud accumulate. « You have to know how to impose yourself and rather take the right path [qu’empruntent les véhicules], where the grip on the road is better, as well as driving ideally at the same speed as the cars (at least 30-40 km/h) if possible”, advises Olivier Hinse. Driving in the middle of the right-hand lane makes you more visible and deters motorists from trying to sneak past you at the risk of pushing you into the snow bank. If they want to overtake on a double boulevard, they will therefore be more likely to bypass you by changing lanes.

Olivier Hinse/Photo: Courtesy

On the technical side, Olivier recommends rolling with your knees and elbows unlocked and using your legs to absorb any movement created on snowy ridges.

Try to keep an eye out for areas where the snow has melted. If you happen to be riding on a surface of black ice, try to cross it without braking and stay straight without leaning your bike.

The expert cyclist recognizes that the management of bottled water is a little more complex in winter. “Install an insulated water bottle in your bottle holder and fill that bottle with a hot beverage so it doesn’t freeze on your mount’s gear. An insulated hydration backpack – to keep stuck to your body if possible – can be an option, but always remember to push the water back into the tube after drinking,” Olivier recommends.

Types of bike

Good to know: there are bikes specifically designed for winter. But, according to Olivier, “whatever bike you have, you can configure it for winter conditions. Driving the one you know is indeed a good idea, as you are used to his behavior,” says Olivier.

“As a courier, I used a basic bike with knobby tires, single speed (single speed) and fixed gear (fixed gear). Because the less mechanics included, the less possible breakage. And as the slush can get caught in the derailleur more easily, it can become difficult to change gears, ”says Olivier.

One gravel bike or off-road road bike are also good options for riding on slippery surfaces.

Good tires and fenders

Another great ally for pedaling in winter conditions: wider, grippy tyres. « At least change the front tire of your bike, as the fork is often wider, » he advises. In theory, when the front wheel has traction, the rest follows. Or install tires with a deeper tread, studded or studded, in order to circulate more safely on the ice, often hidden under the layer of snow.

Olivier Hinse installs mudguards on his bikes only for the winter season. He chooses the longest possible forwards and backwards to protect himself from the icy projectiles which stick to the wheels.

iStock 1194694144
Photo: iStock

Since cold temperatures reduce tire air pressure, get into the habit of checking and adjusting it before each trip. “Also inflate them below the recommended pressure range, to improve traction. On a hard surface, the more inflated it is, the faster it is. On the other hand, on fresh or lightly compacted snow, the tire must be quite flexible [mou] to ‘smash’ and provide a large contact surface on the ground,” says Olivier.

It is important to measure the pressure at the outside temperature. For example, a tire inflated to 10 psi in the house drops to 7 psi at -15°C. A good pump and a low pressure gauge are therefore essential.

To navigate with the pressure

  • The less the weight of the bike and yours, the less you need to inflate.
  • The narrower the width of the tires and rims, the more inflation is required.

fatbike 4 or 5 inch tires

  • Starting pressure: body weight (in pounds) divided by 25
  • Subtract 0.5 psi from the front tire
  • Add 0.5 psi to rear tire

Tires of 27.5 inches and more

  • Divide by 15 (instead of 25)
  • Subtract 0.5 psi from the front tire
  • Add 0.5 psi to rear tire


Being seen

As the sun sets early in winter, Olivier Hinse strongly recommends having an efficient lighting system in order to be visible in all directions: a red and flashing safety light (100 lumens) at the back of the bike and another on the back of the helmet; one or two brighter headlights (500 lumens) to be ideally installed on the handlebars, and a light at the front of the bicycle helmet (or a simple headlamp).

You could also wear a reflective jacket and add secondary lights to your backpack or clothing, without them being as bright. Most cycling clothing has reflective trim.

Batteries last less in cold weather, so bring spare batteries for non-rechargeable lights.

Long live the multilayer

You should know that the cold is not really an obstacle… when you are well dressed. “Starting from the same principle as for cross-country skiing, you should not dress too warmly and rather prioritize the multilayer system: breathable Gore-Tex shell; long-sleeved fleece sweater; long-sleeved tracksuit in merino wool (or not); thin toque to wear under the helmet; warm waterproof gloves or three-finger/one-thumb mittens that facilitate accessibility to brakes and gears; pair of tights or coveralls, waterproof pants; and polarized, anti-fog goggles or ski goggles to protect your eyes. It is in fact essential to insulate the hands and face from the wind, as they are more in contact with it and could suffer from frostbite. There are even mittens to install on the handlebars,” confirms Olivier.

In case of intense cold, remember to wear a face mask. Some helmets have interchangeable liners to adjust their warmth. It’s also a good idea to have a warm jacket with you for pit stops as well as hand warmers (and foot warmers, which work less well) to slip inside your gloves or shoes, especially if you travel a long distance.

No need to buy clothes designed specifically for cycling, argues Olivier. On the other hand, he does not regret his Gore-Tex socks at all, despite their high cost. Otherwise, drag a second pair of socks to stay dry, or vapor barrier liners if you sweat profusely.

Clip-on shoes are less suitable for winter, because since the feet are less mobile than the rest of the body, there is a risk of freezing the toes. “I wear neoprene fall clip shoes and a slightly larger size, so I can wear a warm sock and ideally a Gore-Tex sock. Sometimes I added a canvas waterproof windproof shoe cover to increase the warmth. On the other hand, the ice can still pile up in the clips, ”says Olivier. There are also good clip-on boots. Otherwise, for your flat pedals, put on your lightest winter boots.

Other little luxuries

Consider investing in tubeless tires, as they are less susceptible to punctures, as well as hydraulic disc brakes and synthetic (brake) pads. These use conduit and oil in order to press the rotor between the pads, which means that the brakes will « squeal » less in the cold.

Storage and maintenance

Keep in mind that salt, water and slush damage your mount considerably. So remember to wipe it (especially the brakes and pads) after each outing and store it in the right place. Olivier Hinse suggests leaving his bike outside during the winter, as the thermal shock between the cold and the heat inside could damage its components.

Consider, however, “covering” it by parking it, for example, in a carport, building eave, covered porch or garage, sheltered from rain and snow. You can also buy a bike cover or improvise one from a tarp or an old barbecue cover.

If you must leave your bike outside and it freezes, thaw moving parts before riding. You can speed up the defrosting process by placing your bike in a warm indoor space.

To prolong the life of the bicycle, perform more thorough maintenance by oiling the chain and transmission with a lubricant designed for wet and dirty climates.

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