Mountain biking in snow and ice
With the onset of winter, you can encounter some truly fantastic environments on your bike. Despite the ice and the heightened risk of slips and crashes, riding in the snow is quite safe (as you are travelling slowly and there are lots of drifts to fall into) and most of all, it’s fun!
Like anything new, there is a bit of working out how to do it, so you feel comfortable. Firstly, you have to get out there and try it.
In the meantime, here are a few tips from Cycling UK’s training manager Ross Adams to help you ride safely in the white stuff and have some fun.
When planning your ride, remember winter riding is often slower, those hard packed singletrack ribbons of bliss may have been replaced by snowy / muddy / icy sniper trails waiting to catch you off guard. Slowing down and not getting involved in any Strava shenanigans will be your friend and keep you rubber side down, a case of tortoise over hare.
It’s also worth considering that If conditions do change for the worse during your ride, don’t be afraid to be flexible and alter your plans to cut your route short or avoid particularly hazardous trails.
Consider making the route less challenging in extreme winter conditions, that techy climb or descent can become unridable in snow and ice. Keeping your momentum by using gentler climbs and flowing descents will keep you rolling, maintain your core temperature, and minimise the risk of having an impromptu dismount!
As with any ride, tell someone where you are going, share your intended route, expected time you’ll finish and what to do if you don’t return by an agreed time. If your intended route changes, update your base contact of those changes, and check in with them once you have returned. This is always good practise for any ride but becomes even more prevalent in winter conditions.
Daylight can be a rare commodity during the winter months, and associated weather in the hills can change very quickly, so charge those lights in good time, even if you don’t use them, getting in the habit of keeping them charged and with you will serve you well for that one time when they’re inevitably needed.
Check the forecast for the area you’re planning your ride, use a mountain forecast to get more detailed information, including air temperature but more importantly wind temperature, this time of year wind chill can be more of a factor when considering how cold it’ll feel.
Now that you’ve checked the weather, its time to plan your outfit accordingly.
Know your body, I tend to ‘ride warm’ so I know once I generate body heat, I can retain it. However, my extremities can be affected; I personally concentrate on the fingers and toes. Work out what works for you and plan your wardrobe accordingly.
As mentioned above though, you’ll be riding slower, however if the white stuff has made an appearance you’ll be working hard and not carrying as much momentum along the trail, so layering your clothing is the trick as you can regulate your body temperature more easily. Start with a close fitting base layer, followed by your usual riding jersey; a gillet can be a good option as it can be easily removed and packed away and don’t forget the top layer of a wind/waterproof jacket; again, if this can be packable, then it gives you further options to add and remove as the temperature changes.
With the advent of riding trousers, these can be a better alternative to the traditional bib tights and baggies combo. There’s plenty of brands at a range of now filtering through, so you should be able to find something that fits your budget.
Now for those pinkies and tootsies, those summer gloves and thin socks just aren’t going to cut it once the temperature plummets and the snowmen make an appearance, and nothing can ruin a winter ride quicker than freezing hands and feet.
Layering again can be your friend for your feet, wear two pair of thin socks rather than reaching for one pair of thick socks, if you can invest in some winter cycling boots, or overshoes to keep the wind off and (as much as possible) the snow out. Even walking boots and flat pedals work well. Whichever shoes you wear, grippy, knobbed soles are essential, when you inevitably have to walk at some point.
We all like the feel of bars and grips giving us trail feedback, but this time of year it’s time to trade that feedback for warm hands; treat yourself to some winter gloves, look for wind and waterproof options; cold and wet hands don’t equate to a safe or enjoyable ride.
Also, at this time of year those other extremities that keep your glasses in place can become painfully sore when hit with the wind chill. Use a thin skull cap hat or bandana under your helmet to keep your head and ears warm. If you don’t usually wear glasses, now is the time to seriously consider them, the cold air can really affect your eyes and vision too.
The Best Winter Cycling Gear for Cold-Weather Rides
Want to keep pedaling through the cold months ahead? Consider these essentials.
I’m a big fan of the age old saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” As cooler weather starts to roll in, I’ve learned to embrace the change in seasons. With the proper gear and know-how, riding in the cold can be something you look forward to, too.
Winter cycling means being out on shorter, colder, and often wetter days, so FOCUS your preparations to meet these conditions. This collection of the best winter cycling gear will help you navigate the options and dress appropriately. Your friends and family will still look stunned when they hear how cold it was on your ride over the weekend, but instead of remembering the chill, you’ll only remember how nice it was to actually be able to enjoy the miles and time spent outdoors.
The Expert: I’m a cycling photographer and former competitive cyclocross and criterium racer. I’ve been riding bikes through just about every weather condition you can imagine for over 10 years now. Whether it’s bikepacking through the wet Scottish Highlands or training through cold Northeast winters near my home base in Philadelphia, there isn’t much I haven’t ridden in. In the winter, I typically ride outside three to four times per week—about the same as I do in warmer months. Through many years of trial and error in cold climates across the globe, I have acquired a great understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
How to Dress for a Cold-Weather Ride
Riding comfortably in the cold is all about layering. Wearing multiple, lighter layers of clothing is more versatile than one big bulky jacket, because you can add or remove apparel to match conditions. Plus, multiple layers do a much better job of trapping body heat between items yet still let sweat evaporate so you can avoid getting soaked from the inside out.
With proper layering, you can feel confident knowing you won’t freeze no matter how cold it is. Although some people have a greater tolerance for cold weather than others, I’ve found the following advice suits most cyclists:
➥ When temperatures dip into the 60s (°F), grab a long-sleeve jersey or some arm warmers. A mesh base layer or lightweight gilet is a good addition if it’s windy. Bare legs are still okay at these temps.
➥ In the 50-degree range, consider throwing on leg warmers, a light-weight jacket, and light gloves. Increase your comfort further with an insulated gilet, headband, and overshoes.
➥ When the mercury drops below 45 degrees, grab an insulated jacket, shoes covers, and thermal bibs. Put on thicker gloves and a cap.
➥ Below-freezing temperatures call for the big guns. Pair insulated bib tights and a Merino wool base layer with an insulated jacket. Add heavy gloves and shoe covers to complete your kit. Cover any exposed skin.
Winter weather often brings precipitation. Unlike riding through a refreshing summer rain shower, getting soaked in colder weather can be downright miserable. The first line of defense is to try to stop water before it can get you wet. When shopping for your winter kit, be on the lookout for outer layers that have either a durable water repellent (DWR) coating for light precipitation or a waterproof membrane, like Gore-Tex. Another technology I like to incorporate into my clothing arsenal is Merino wool. Unlike most fabrics out there, Merino wool still keeps you warm when it’s wet. Beyond apparel, having a good set of fenders can be a godsend for keeping you and your riding partners considerably drier.
Gear Up Your Body
The first time I went on a winter bike ride in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I put on all of my warmest clothes like I was going to be a sitting couch potato in the snow. I completely forgot that riding my bicycle was going to warm me up, and I was sweating like crazy soon after I started that ride. I quickly learned to have a few layers and items you can add and remove to regulate your temperature depending on how hard you’re riding and how cold it is outside.
Many people like to say you should be uncomfortably cold when you start your ride. While that’s an option, I like to be plenty warm when I start, and stop to take off a layer if I get too hot. This is easy for me since I always have rear rack and storage to hold things like my extra jacket.
Taking from my Michigan winter experiences and a few friends from Canada, I’ll describe the clothing and accessories from head to toe that make your snowy winter bike ride easy and fun. Many of these items are also useful for biking in the rain.
Even though there’s lots of specialized gear mentioned, you can probably go winter bike commuting right now with the warm clothing in your closet. Over time, you can get a few things that will make winter cycling even more comfortable and enjoyable with these recommendations.
First off, it’s always good to wear a helmet, especially in the winter when you’re more likely to slip. Helmets also help with warmth and reducing wind noise.
Cold: If it’s not that cold, my helmet and some behind the head earmuffs or headband over the ears will do the trick. It’s mostly about keeping the wind chill away. Ultrathin beanies (aka skull caps since they’re thin and tight to the head) like this Tough Outfitters hat or this warmer SmartWool 150 beanie are a nice light protection that can be layered on top of with other warmer hats. These also pack really small.
Colder: At colder temps I’ll wear a thicker beanie (aka skullcap or toque) under my helmet, maybe layered with the ultrathin ones underneath. Most helmets can quickly adjust to accommodate the changing sizes. The SmartWool 250 beanie (the one I use) is a solid choice for a merino wool beanie. Other beanies you have lying around will work too, it just might take up too much space under your helmet and won’t pack down as small. Try it out!
Coldest: Keep layering and adding thicker beanies like this fleece one or polyester one that goes down over your ears. Keep reading as well if you want to add a balaclava to the mix.
If you need some extra room in your helmet, you can take off the standard padding inside that’s usually attached with velcro.
While you can always zip your jackets all the way up to mostly protect your neck, I find scarves to be much more comfortable and versatile. I use a few scarves I’ve bought at department stores years ago, and they are still going strong. My favorite ones are made mostly of cashmere or acrylic (a good impersonator of cashmere).
Scarves are also the first layer I take off and stuff in my or rear rack, so may be less important for longer rides.
Another option is a neck scarf, buff, or the bottom section of a balaclava. It’s more inconvenient to take off these circular scarves during your ride, but if it’s really cold you may not need to.
Cold/Colder: Even in warmer weather I like to protect my eyes from wind, dust, and debris with clear glasses in the night and sunglasses in the day (or one pair of photochromatic glasses!). In the winter, this will help prevent your eyes from getting too cold and watering. I also know plenty of people who ride without any eye covering, and I used to be one of them, so this is not a requirement.
Coldest: Once the weather drops significantly below freezing, you’ll want to cover all skin possible. Don’t be afraid to break out the more serious sports gear and don some biking/ski goggles to fully protect yourself.
Cold: Unless it’s well below freezing your face will probably be fine without any protection, but once the temperature starts to drop, you’ll want to keep your nose and mouth warm and avoid the teeth chattering cold.
Colder/Coldest: If it’s really cold, you may need to protect your entire face too with something like a balaclava or facemask (maybe it even doubles as a covid face mask).
Gear Up Your Bicycle
Once you’ve got your mind and body prepared for the winter ride, make sure you have the proper gear for your bicycle to make your winter ride easy and safe.
The sun sets earlier in winter, so make sure you’re using your bike lights when it’s dark and during other conditions of low visibility like snowy or rainy day. I like my locking lights, but you may want some brighter lights depending on where you ride. Make sure your front light isn’t pointed up into people’s eyes!
The Best Winter Bike Tires
There are three things to think about when choosing winter bike tires: tire width, tire tread, and studs. All of these tire factors play different roles in keeping you safe depending on the conditions you ride in.
The most common case for winter city bike commuting is riding on mostly packed/semi-plowed roads. A narrow tire (around 30mm wide, not a super thin 700×23 road bike size) will do better at sinking through the loose layers of top snow and slush to grip the pavement below. Studs will help a lot (see below), and tread will help with grip in the fresh, loose snow on unplowed roads.
The more off-roading and thicker snow you encounter (that your narrow tire can’t sink all the way through to pavement), the more useful a wide or fat tire will be. Extra wide tires come at a price of potentially slowing you down a bit more, so I wouldn’t go the fat tire route unless you really need it.
If you’re ONLY riding in thick, deep, soft snow, a fat tire with deep tread will work well, and studs won’t help much.
What tire pressure should you run on your Fatbike? #shorts
Whatever bike tires you end up with, it’s probably better to drop the pressure just a little bit to add more contact surface area. Experiment with this, since there are a lot of factors at play (tire width, tread, studs mentioned above) and it’s different for every tire and road condition combination.
Start about 10 PSI below max or recommended pressure, and lower or raise depending on how you feel. Slipping? Go lower. Your rim is hitting road bumps? Go higher. You can usually go a little lower in the front tire since there’s less load there and front traction is more important.
This is where the magic happens. If you’re riding through ice and snow instead of mostly plowed roads, you’re gonna want to swap your regular tires for some studded bike tires. These tires have little studs that stick out to grip on the ice and snow. It’s kinda like chains/studs for a car but for bicycles.
You can buy the studs and stud a tire yourself, but I haven’t ever done that and it could be error prone (not to mention a lot of time putting in all the studs!). It’s much easier to buy a studded tire and change out your tires for winter, keeping the summer tires for later. They all recommend to run min pressure when on snow and ice, and max pressure when on plowed roads. I’ve heard of both Nokian/Suomi Schwalbe as go to brands for studded tires, and they make a variety of types:
- Schwalbe Marathon Winter Studded Tire: A hybrid style tire with 4 rows of studs that keeps you safe going straight and while turning. Also good for straight pavement if you’re often on mixed roads. The PLUS version has extra puncture protection, but I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that it’s unnecessary and potentially not as good as the normal version.
- Schwalbe Winter Studded Tire (not marathon): The same hybrid style tire as the marathon winter, but it only has 2 rows of studs, so it won’t be as safe while you’re turning on this one. I wouldn’t recommend this one unless you want to stud the outer rows yourself. If you’re getting a studded tire you should go all in.
- Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro Studded Tire: A more knobby mountain bike style tire with studs in it. This kind of tire will be better in deep or hard packed snow, but in medium snow conditions it won’t cut through and grip the pavement like the Marathon Winter tires. This tire seems more suitable for thicker snow than commuting on mixed snow condition roads (where some roads are plowed).
- Nokian W106 (Suomi Hakkapelitta) Studded Tire (not sure if sold anymore): A mountain bike style tire with 2 rows of studs in it that isn’t as intense as the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro. I’d say it’s better than the Marathon Winter tires if you have more ice/snow to deal with.
Get on that Bike and Ride
If you’ve been bike commuting during the fairweather months, you’ll know why it’s so great to get moving when you go to work, play, or run errands. Winter bike commuting is no different, and with the proper gear for you mind, body, and bike, this can be a fun and safe activity with all the benefits of biking!
Let me know in the Комментарии и мнения владельцев what kind of winter gear you like to use when bike commuting!
Winterize Your Riding Tactics
While the far right of the road might seem like a place to stay out of harm’s way, that’s not necessarily the case in any season. The immediate curb area is where plowed snow, muck and broken glass accumulate. Also, the farther right you are, the harder it is for drivers to spot you in the dark.
Take up the lane: Riding in the middle of the right-hand lane makes you more visible and deters drivers from trying to squeeze by as they pass. (Instead, they’re apt to move a full lane to the left.) You’ll also be keeping your bike farther away from roadside debris. Note: If the road has a bike lane that’s full of snow or other hazards, then ride in the right-hand car lane instead.
Cold Weather MTB: Gear and Setup
Ride relaxed: Locked knees and elbows make it harder to react smoothly. Instead, stay loose and use your legs to absorb any motion created when running over snowy ridges or other road rubble. Be alert and ready to steer around ice, slick leaf-covered surfaces or tire-piercing debris.
Watch out for areas with melted snow because it will likely refreeze overnight. Bridge decks and low spots are also prone to ice formation. If you end up rolling over an icy or slippery patch, then try to coast across without braking or steering.
Clean and Cover Your Bike
Even with fenders, snow and road grit can glom onto bike parts, especially the chain and drivetrain. Minimize muck accumulation to help keep everything working more smoothly. So regular maintenance, a good idea in any season, is essential in the wintertime.
Clean and lube: Wipe down your chain, drivetrain and other bike parts immediately after an especially grimy ride (at least once weekly if you ride regularly). Also do a more thorough clean and lube every few weeks. When you’re done with either a wipedown or full cleaning, lightly recoat your chain and drivetrain with a “wet” lube (one made for wet/dirty climates). You don’t want a dry chain in the wintertime.
Clean your brakes: Always wipe down your brakes after snowy or dirty rides, and make sure the contact surfaces with the wheels are clean.
Shelter for Your Bike
Rain and freezing temps are hard on a bike, so it’s best to store yours indoors if at all possible. The next best place is under a carport, a building eave, a covered porch or garage, sheltered from rain and snow. You can also purchase a bike cover, or improvise one out of a tarp or an old BBQ cover in a pinch. If you do have to leave your bike outside and it gets frozen, thaw the moving parts before riding it. You can speed up the thawing process by bringing your bike into a warm indoor space.
Keep Electric Bike Batteries Warm
E-bike batteries drain more quickly in cold temperatures, so minimize how long the battery is outdoors. While you can’t do anything about the temperature outside when you ride, you can remove the battery each night and store it inside a heated room.
For some batteries, you can buy a separate cover to help keep them warmer during a ride, too. Cover or no cover, assume your range will diminish in winter, and ride conservatively to maximize battery life. That means more time in eco mode and less in turbo mode.
An All-Season Mindset
With thoughtful preparation, you and your bike can roll happily along all year round. Combine that with a sense of adventure and a little perseverance, and who knows? Come summertime, you might even find yourself counting the days until next winter’s riding season.
Remember: Safety is your responsibility. No internet article or video can replace proper instruction and experience—this article is intended solely as supplemental information. Be sure you’re practiced in proper techniques and safety requirements before you engage in any outdoor activity.
Depending on who you are or where you live, riding at night may feel risky or intimidating, especially for members of communities that most often face barriers to safety outside such as deciding when, where and how to venture out, especially at night. Local chapters of cycling organizations like Black Girls Do Bike and People for Bikes can provide additional helpful information about how to cycle safely in your area.