Winter outdoor activities, including winter cycling, have many advantages. This includes a stronger muscular commitment that translates into easier fitness achievement or maintenance, as well as more effective preparation for the summer season. Winter cycling is, in fact, a great form of endurance training.
Additionally, by choosing to cycle in winter you will not only avoid traffic jams (especially the unavoidable ones that pile up after heavy snowfall) but you will also help with climate and environmental protection. The European Cyclists’ Federation has calculated that cycling produces 12 times less CO2 emissions per passenger kilometer than a car. That is a big difference!
However, cycling, much like every sport, requires appropriate preparation, regardless of the season. Below are a few things you should be sure to take care of when cycling in winter.
Preparations for winter cycling should begin in autumn. This starts with inspection and maintenance of bikes: a greased chain, adjusted brakes, and efficient lighting. It also helps to add reflective strips to bikes that will be used in the darker winter months, which adds visibility for drivers and pedestrians.
When the temperature drops below zero, it’s also worth reducing the air pressure in your tires. This will improve grip on snowy or icy roads. If you don’t have any experience with this, it’s certainly better to ask a service center to do it for you.
It is also a good idea to fit mudguards or splash guards on your bike to protect you from mud.
The right clothing
The right clothing is the biggest key to all outdoor activities in winter. Just ask the Canadians – or the Norwegians or the Canadians! In Norway, you will probably hear: “det fins ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær,” which means “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”
A good, tried and tested rule of thumb is to dress in layers. The cold will really be felt in the first few minutes of a ride, and if you find that you have dressed too warmly (it really does happen), it will be easy to take off the outermost and unnecessary layers.
It’s worth investing in thermo-active underwear, which is designed to wick away moisture and keep you warm, as a base. Two intermediate layers, such as a t-shirt and a thin sweatshirt, and an outer jacket will afford the best defense against the cold. It is also a good idea to wear leggings underneath your main pair of pants. This is important because even though your knees are moving while cycling, they are still exposed to the cold wind. You could say this is the norm, even when going for a longer winter walk.
When cycling in winter, think about those areas of the body which cool down more quickly. This includes the head, neck, hands, and feet. Make sure you have a warm hat to protect your ears, gloves to keep you warm and able to maneuver the handlebars well, and thick socks on your feet – these will certainly make riding more enjoyable. A helmet is an indispensable winter accessory that should be included along with all the warm clothing.
Winter cycling techniques
The way you ride needs to be adapted to the changing conditions, so it’s worth knowing in advance how to behave on a bike in different weather conditions.
In winter, you can expect to cycle on cold, wet surfaces, as well as ice and snow. The main aim should therefore be to avoid skidding. You can reduce the risk of this by reducing your speed and avoiding sudden maneuvers, all while keeping a straight line when cornering. Braking will also be safer if you use the rear brake.
When riding your bike downhill in the snow, it’s a good idea to move to the back of the seat and keep your arms straight to help maintain a straight line. If you’re riding down an icy hill, it’s a good idea to sit on the frame, with your feet on the ground to form a sort of skid. This will help keep you upright and help stabilize the ride.
Before entering a bend, on both icy and snowy surfaces, reduce your speed significantly. It is also a good idea to focus more on maintaining balance and equilibrium.
When going for a bike ride in winter, remember that it’s supposed to give you pleasure or satisfaction. It’s certainly worth a try to find out how you like it, and each subsequent approach to cycling in winter will be easier!
However, if there comes a day when for some reason cycling is not a good option – take the bus. Or ask someone you know if they are going in the same direction as you by car.
There are many ways to reduce your daily CO2 emissions from transport – you don’t need to suffer when reducing your carbon footprint!