Prepping For Winter Bike Commuting (Part 1 of 3)

For once, I am going to write about seasonal riding before the season really gets into full swing as opposed to procrastinating until after the season is over and my writing becoming useless unless you live in the southern hemisphere.

So let me get this right Serge, you are blind? Yes. And ride a bike? Yes. In the winter? Yes. In Edmonton Alberta? Yes. By choice? Yes. Are you insane? That has yet to be diagnosed or proven.

I admit that the primary intended audience for this post, visually impaired or blind winter bikers, is probably limited to me and one or two other nutters, but also figure that if the tips can help a blind person enjoy biking in the winter then some of the advice should be universally helpful.

Important caveat: everyone’s vision loss is different, as are the winter conditions in the city where you live. As such it is important to be aware of your own vision limitations, how your city handles snow removal, and to trust what you judge your limits to be. That said, here are a few tips that help me get the most out of winter commuting by bike.

Get dressed properly

It sounds pretty obvious, but the one thing that will ruin winter biking most is feeling cold. Everyone has their own tolerance to cold but generally it is best to dress up for 10 minutes after you start biking and start warming up. If you dress for the first moments out the door, you’ll likely be overdressed, and wearing too many layers will leave you feeling sweaty and hot. The general guidelines to follow are wear a moisture wicking layer against your skin to keep you dry, an insulating layer to keep you warm, and an outer shell to block out wind, ideally with venting to allow sweat and moisture to escape. When in doubt, look for merino wool base layers, or winter jogging and cross country skiing clothing which will generally keep you warm and dry enough, and be slim fitting so as not to interfere with pedaling. A snowboarding or skiing helmet that is also rated for bicycle use will keep your head and ears warm and protected. However, you will likely find that keeping your finger tips and toes warm will be your biggest challenge. Gloves, socks and footwear are three places where I would not cheap out. Look for and get the best you can afford.

It’s all about grip

Winter biking is all about keeping your tires and not your butt on the ground. To maintain grip on snow, slush and ice, studded winter tires are essential. I would not consider winter biking without them. This will likely be the most expensive upgrade made for winter biking, but it is also worth every penny. If you can’t trust your tires and grip, you will not have fun.

image of studded bicycle tire with metal studs for added grip in winter
Studded Tires are expensive, but needed

Tires: bigger is better

Similar to grip, in order to maintain traction on loose or deep snow, fat tires will allow your tires to have a larger contact area with the ground and this will cause you to slip out less often. Find out what the fattest tires that can be fitted onto your bike are. What you lose in speed you will gain in traction. Similarly, larger diameter tires will allow you to roll over larger chunks of ice, snow piles, or any other object hiding in the snow. This is likely something you cannot change once you have bought a bike, but I would prefer a 29″ (700c) tire size over 27.5″ (650b) for the winter. To sum up tires, get the biggest and fattest studded-tires that can be fitted to your bike. What you lose in speed and nimbleness you will gain in control and confidence.

That is it for Part 1. I’ll post Part 2 of 3 in a few days.

Stay safe out there.