So you’re stuck in traffic on Macleod Trail and the traffic update airs for the 12th time to tell you that yes, traffic is bumper-to-bumper on Macleod Trail. You gaze up at your rear-view mirror and in a sea of cars, you spot a small object moving towards you. It creeps upon you quickly and then passes, leaving a trail of steaming body heat and envy glaring from your eyes.
Maybe it’s time to get back on the bike.
Avenue magazine spoke to a couple of seasoned riders to find out how to bike safely in winter. Here are few things to consider if you want to ditch the car and use your bike for the daily commute, even in winter.
Essential winter bike gear
Tires and traction
Traction in winter is like statutory holidays – you want more and can’t get enough of it.
Seasoned riders fall on the ice from time to time, but the biggest trick to avoid sliding on your bike is to find traction – a lot of it. Wider rims and low pressure tires, studs or wheel chains all help you get that extra traction you need for control.
You may be wondering if you need studded tires for winter riding. Most experts agree it’s a personal choice, but all suggest staying away from the DIY studded tire. If your ride is mainly on pavement or path then there is really no need to use studs. But if you forge through ice and unknown territory daily, studded tires are an excellent choice for added assurance.
Most bike shops sell studded tires. MEC offers a competitive price on all regular priced items. You can find an Schwalbe Snow Stud tire (120 studs) for $65.99 per tire.
Being able to see is important, but being seen by others is even more important. Invest in good set of front and rear lights. It’s a good idea to keep a spare rear light in your backpack or mounted on your bike in case the cold stops the battery from working mid-journey.
Handlebar warmers/Pogies/bar mitts/Moose Mitts
They have a few market names and look rather funny, but they will keep your fingers from becoming stiff or frozen. Bar mitts provide you more movement in your fingers, allowing you to wear a thinner glove. All designs give you easy access to brakes and gears and have a seamless entry and exit. Most bar mitts are made from Neoprene, Cordura or fleece. Most brands cater for flat bars and drop bars.
You can pick a pair up from MEC for $35.
Back-ups in the backpack
If your journey is longer than 30 minutes, you need to think about bringing back-up gear incase of an undesirable incident enroute. Consider packing an extra pair of gloves and socks, an extra toque, a spare tube, some back-up batteries for your lights, a small bottle of water for hydration and a piece of fruit or a mussel bar for energy.
What to wear while riding your bike in winter
Don’t over dress. You need to be comfortable, have agility and most importantly, be covered in sensible weatherproof gear. Layers are essential. Covering your chest and keeping it warm, but not too hot, is the key.
BikeBike‘s Bob Nowak says that if you can wear it on a winter walk, you can wear it on a winter ride. As a seasoned winter rider he only wears layered heavy gear and sticks to wool or Gortex materials.
Whatever you wear, stay away from cotton. Even though it’s freezing, you can still work up a mean sweat from biking and cotton will stay wet on a wet body.
Having frozen eyelashes or teary eyes can be distracting, painful and dangerous. You need to wear eye protection that covers the corners of your eyes from pebble chips. There are some cool looking eyewear-compatible goggles and wrap- or blade-style glasses on the market. Don’t choose a polarized pair – cutting out the glare may detract from you ability to spot icy patches.
Head and Face
The law in Calgary requires anyone under 18 to wear a helmet. Helmet or no helmet, most seasoned riders agree you should wear an insulated, windproof toque (that covers your ears) or headband, balaclava or face warmer. The head and face are very sensitive parts of the body to any temperature change and absolutely should be protected.
Wearing gloves and protecting your hands from the wind and ice is extremely important. Of course, the more weatherproof, the better.
Most hiking boots are waterproof and have a good rubber sole that’s designed for optimum traction. If your bike comes to a sudden stop and need to quickly drop a foot to the ground, you want to make sure your foot doesn’t slide out from underneath you. Booties (store bought or plastic-bag-makeshift booties) are a good alternative if your boots are not waterproof.
How to maintain your bike during winter
The golden rule for The Bike Shop’s Rick Benyei is to keep your bike clean. Clean your bike after every journey – the chemicals and salts from the road cause your bike to rust. You can keep the important parts of the bike clean and lubed with a good degreaser.
If possible, try to store your bike in a room temperature environment or if you can, bring your bike inside 20 minutes before you start your ride. Cold and frigid items don’t feel comfortable between the legs.
Winter riding benefits and safety
Overall, winter bike riding is fun. It’s a great way to get your daily exercise and contribute to environmental sustainability. Winter riding does require you to be 110% more alert. Also, it requires you and other drivers to be extra conscious and courteous of other commuters.
Don’t hesitate or be afraid to control your own space – knowing your road rules as a rider can certainly help with your confidence. Take your time and go slow if you need to.
Plan your commute or journey – five to 10 minutes of listening to the weather report can save you a lot of frustration and avoidable situations.
And finally, if you weren’t a ninja in your past life, you may want to learn the art of stealth, especially when mounting or dismounting your bike – many avoidable, single-bicycle accidents occur when mounting or dismounting a bike.