Do you live in a cold weather part of the world but love cycling and can’t imagine not being able to do it all year? Then, this is the article for you!
I live in Winnipeg, MB in Canada, where each year the temperatures get into the -40s for weeks on end. But for the past five years I’ve kept cycling year round, both indoors and outside!
There are three keys to being able to enjoy cycling throughout the winter that we’ll guide you through in this article:
- Get the right clothing to be able to cycle outside.
- Get the right bikes to ride outside when possible.
- Get the right indoor training setup to ride in your house when the outside gets too cold.
WINTER CYCLING CLOTHING
In this article, we outlined how to dress for running in the winter. The same principles from that article apply to cycling in the winter: dress to be slightly chilly when you start the ride and let the ride warm you up, use a merino wool base layer for warmth and a wind shell on the outside, and keep your hands, feet, and head warm because they’ll get the coldest.
There are, however, a couple of extra considerations for your winter cycling clothing due to the additional wind you experience on the bike, combined with the fact that you don’t get quite as warm riding as you will while running in the winter:
Dress a little warmer than the clothing guidelines for winter running. While running, I generally like to use the rule of thumb that you want to dress as if you’re just standing around outside and it’s 15 degrees Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer. With winter cycling, that number is more like 7 degrees Celsius (13 Fahrenheit) warmer.
Whatever you do, keep wind off your toes. Because the pressure of pedalling reduces the blood flow circulating to your toes, your tootsies will get a little extra cold in the winter if you don’t cover them up.
You can never be too warm in your hands when riding outside, but getting too cold can happen quickly. I’ve actually let my hands get so cold once that I felt like I was going to throw up.
Overdress your hands and feet!
Get a good pair of large cycling sunglasses that have a fair amount of air space between the frame and your face so they don’t fog up. For extreme cold weather riding, you can use a pair of ski goggles with anti-fog spray inside
- Keep wind off your neck and face with a windproof balaclava that has a small amount of insulation on the inside
WINTER CYCLING BIKES
Winter riding is hard on bikes. REALLY hard! For this reason, I don’t recommend using your favorite carbon fiber racing bike during the winter. There are several bikes you should consider for your winter riding, depending on what type of riding you’re doing and what conditions you’re riding in.
Slightly cold weather riding
If temperatures are around freezing, in good conditions, you can certainly use your normal bike as long as the conditions aren’t too wet.
Once the weather gets snowy, rainy, or slushy, there will be a huge amount of dirt that gets kicked up from the road and into your bike. If this happens, you have a couple options:
- Option 1: Get a winter beater. Pick a bike that you don’t mind if the chain gets all rusty, and it won’t break your bank account to have to replace the gears and a bunch of additional parts every few years. For this winter beater, I use a $500 single speed commuter bike because it’s tremendously easy to work on, the parts are cheap, and there aren’t that many parts that can break in the first place.
- Option 2: Use your normal bike and remove all the high-end parts (race chain, groupset, handlebar and cockpit). Unless you’re willing to wipe down your bike thoroughly after every single ride, I wouldn’t recommend this option. If it’s the only bike you have and this is the route you want to take, you can certainly do it if the conditions aren’t that bad and you’re willing to do some extra work to maintain your bike.
Slightly snowy winter riding
If you’re in an area of the world that gets snow and you want to keep riding throughout the winter, you certainly can! I actually found it warmer to cycle to work throughout the winter than it was to drive to work because I could stay warm the entire time from pedalling, and I could lock up my bike right next to my office, meaning I don’t have to walk many blocks through the cold.
However, if you’re going to ride in wet and snowy or even freezing conditions, you’re going to have to change the bike you ride and how you set it up.
- Get a mountain bike, or at the very least, swap to thicker knobby tires for traction. If you’re in an area with snow and ice, I’d recommend some studded tires. NOTE: still be careful and slow down on all turns.
- Do not use your normal bike! Rain, slush, and sleet will kick up more debris into your bike, which can be cleaned off, but snow is often accompanied by road salt or sand that cities spray down for traction, both of which can ruin a bike.
- If you’ve purchased a winter beater bike that’s made of steel, buy yourself some frame saver and spray it all around and inside your bike to keep it from rusting away to nothing.
"Winter Warrior" Winter-Riding
If you want to train year-round and get in some good long rides with friends, definitely think about getting a fat tire bike!
Fat tire riding has saved me hundreds of hours of indoor bike training because the fat tires that are 4-6” wide allow you to ride as easily on snow and ice as you could on normal roads. Fat tire bikes are a blast and I can’t recommend them enough.
That said, fat tire bikes can’t really be used for a lot of riding throughout the entire year. So unless you are in a climate that gets a really long winter and you’re committed to riding outside all winter, don’t bother purchasing a fat tire bike.
INDOOR TRAINING SETUP
At the beginning of the winter in 2018, I decided to try out Zwift, the indoor training app, which allows you to bike and run inside a virtual world with and against athletes from all around the world in real time.
The Zwift app, paired with a smart bike trainer, makes you feel like you’re riding outside because as you ride around the virtual world, the smart bike trainer changes the resistance so it feels like you’re riding up and down hills.
The very first ride I did on Zwift in 2018 got me hooked! That ride was supposed to be 45 minutes long and I spent 75 minutes riding around, having a blast. I highly recommend getting a Zwift setup if you’re forced to ride inside this winter.
To get set up riding on Zwift you’ll need the following:
- Your bike! Any bike you want to use will work.
- A smart bike trainer.
- An electronic device to stream the Zwift world. This can be a smartphone, a tablet, an Apple TV (my personal favorite), or a gaming computer.
- A display in front of your bike to show the virtual Zwift world. This can be your smartphone or tablet, but it can also be a computer monitor or a TV.
Zwift offers competitive group races, casual rides (check out our Team Trainiac group ride, open to everyone at 5:10pm Central Time every week), a library or workouts to choose from, and even full training plans for cycling or running.
Before getting a proper indoor training setup built, I would struggle to ride three hours each week throughout the winter. Now that I’ve gone so far into the Zwift world that I’ve built a life-size Zwift setup with a 10’ wide screen and an overhead projector, I’ve done as much as ten hours of cycling in Zwift in a week. It truly makes the winter go by so much quicker.
Cycling in the winter isn’t nearly as pleasant as frolicking through mountains while getting a killer arm and lower thigh tan and stopping for cappuccinos along the way, but if you want to keep riding your bike throughout the winter hopefully these tips help!