Looking at a scene like this and a lot of people would not dream of riding their bikes.
It’s been pretty cold in downtown Buffalo with gusts of about 40 mph. Riding into the wind was almost impossible with the snow breaking away under the tires irregularly. At one point, trying to balance my way out of disaster, I had a slow motion crash. Regrettably, these ridiculous moments usually play out in front of a crowd of onlookers.
Sound terrifying? Look horrifying? Actually, it was the best part of my day. I hate winter. I hate when it’s so cold your fingers hurt. I hate the biting wind with the snow pellets hitting you in the like a hamster spraying me with machine gun fire. I hate looking stupid when I fall over at .3 miles per hour doing my best impression of a Giant Redwood Tree crashing down in the forest.
It’s all about the set up when you ride in the winter. So here are some tips for would be winter riders in some of the tougher climates from a gal who’s been riding in snow for about 31 years. It’s not necessarily the most pleasant thing in the world to do but it is really satisfying and when you develop some ability it can be super fun.
Right Bike: Everyone who rides throughout the winter has their favorites. The key is balance and tipping the scales in your favor. For instance, my fold-up bike with 20 inch wheels SUCKS in the snow. A smaller wheel it turns out, is very unforgiving in packed layers of super cold snow. Turns like crap. By contrast, the easiest bike to ride is a beach cruiser for two simple facts: 1. They are usually really heavy so everything they do is predictable. 2. They force the rider to ride to sit up rather than hunched over. The more you are over the front wheel, the harder it will be to turn. Some people swear by mountain bikes, I think because with the thick knobby tires they think it gives them better grip on the road. The wheels of mountain bikes are usually around 26 in, thus smaller than road bike wheels, which in my experience makes them less agile in packed snow, however, you are in more of an upright position so that can cancel out the balance issue. I prefer slick tires because they are more likely to cut through to the pavement. More pavement, more stability.
Baby Steps: If you’re nervous about riding in the snow, DON’T START RIDING IN TRAFFIC. Your first rides should be in abandoned parking lots full of rideable snow (6 inches max)-no pavement, large flat spaces with no one around that you can hurt but yourself. Start slow. Add variables like hills, parked cars, turns etc. one at a time and practice each one until you’re completely comfortable. The really important thing in your parking lot sessions is that you get very aware of your balance. The goal should be to do all the steering and propulsion from your seat. If your body is too far forward on the bike, you’re setting yourself up for a difficult ride. See how fast you can turn, exactly what happens. Better to make your over-correction mistakes in a quiet place with no one watching and no cars driving around.
Make the First Ride a Tag-Along: Don’t assume you are an expert when you leave the parking lot. Find someone who has a long track record of riding in snow and beg to follow them. Ask them nicely to ride slowly for you and give you pointers. A big part of successful snow riding is being humble. If you are nervous, it’s because you are imagining worst case scenarios. Instead of fixating on disasters, find someone who knows what they’re doing and ride behind them and LEARN. Chances are, you will learn more in 45 minutes riding behind some OG who’s been doing it for 20 years than you will from watching videos and reading books. The great thing about a ride along is that you are now cementing a positive vision of riding in your head. This, rather than your own disaster movie in your head, will ensure your future success. Then when you’re not riding your bike, maybe you’re driving somewhere, waiting in line, play the memory of that guy riding over and over in your head. Your riding will improve because you’ve trained your mind to do it perfectly.
Make Yourself Comfortable: Maybe you’ve been on Pinterest and seen those guys outfitted for winter on their bikes with their sleek bikey tights and booties and all that. I suppose the fancy $125 dollar tights, the $200 booties etc. work really well. I’ve run across a lot of these guys in the wild and they didn’t seem cold. I myself am too cheap to buy that fancy stuff, maybe you don’t want to invest that kind of money if you’re not sure if you’re going to ride in the winter. Don’t despair! Here are some quick tips:
Everything Layered: This will keep you warm from 45-20 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures below this you really should add a winter jacket, rain pants, and full facial protection including ski goggles with full face mask.
- Skin lotion (acts like blubber on a whale)
- Long underwear shirt
- T-shirt or long sleeved shirt
- Wind-breaking shell jacket
- Ear muffs
- Watch cap
- Skin lotion
- Long underwear pants
- Thin sock, cushy sock, plastic bag (if there is lots of slush on the ground 30-45 degrees)
- Put a layer of about 4 sheets of newspaper in the bottom of your shoe and put a stripe of duct tape across the front of the shoe
- Little cloth gloves that you can get at the dollar store
- Lobster claw gloves that you can buy in bike shops
- Fenders front and back
- Clean and then put furniture polish on
- Don’t ride your nice bike
- Plastic bag for everything inside whatever bag you’re using, even if it is “waterproof”