Nick, the Education & Technical Assistance Program Manager for Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota has been winter riding for nine years. He shares the stuff he wish he'd known before he started winter riding.
I’ve been biking through Minnesota winters for 9 years now and it was a bit of trial and error for awhile.
Ok, I admit it, it still is a trial and error but I encourage you to bike in the winter anyway. Here are some things I wished people had told me before I first set out on winter biking:
1. A snowboarding helmet is a lot less hassle than the alternatives, keeps your hair in better shape, and is the perfect fit for goggles if you decide to ride when it’s really cold. Just don’t wear it when it’s above freezing unless you want to sweat. Bonus: It’s multi-purpose.
2. You can’t be too visible. Many cyclists stop at front and rear lights. Big mistake. Think profile here. Front bright light to see (don’t aim this in other peoples faces!). Front blinky light to be seen. Hi-vis clothing or vest. Backpack with light and reflector. Reflective stickers and Front/ Rear lights on helmet. Disco spoke lights. Bonus: Light on your pant leg strap- it moves! I have a friend who wraps his bike frame in battery powered Xmas tree lights. I draw the line there, but it’s functional and festive…
3. The day of (and after) snowfall can be the most fun to ride in. No freeze thaw cycles yet. Cars are moving very slow- usually slower than you. There’s no better feeling of freedom than riding with beautiful white flakes around you.
4. Your winter bike should not be a nice bike and probably not steel. If your winter bike is really cheap, that’s great. Get another one when it rusts out. But, be warned that salt, cold, and moisture will take their toll on your bike parts and your frame quicker than you think.
5. You don’t need to spend a fortune on a winter bike specific wardrobe. Bike specific gear is usually better but head to your local outdoor (farm) work retailer for cheaper options in pants, jackets, gloves, boots, and more. People who work for hours outside need good gear, too. There’s nothing wrong with buying an $80 pair of winter cycling gloves, but if you need to stretch your budget for other pieces this strategy helps.
6. Bike lanes (and shoulders) tend to disappear in winter. I do my share of grumbling when my bike lanes don’t get cleaned properly, but it’s a challenge for communities to keep every stretch of facility clear. Studded tires help but even then taking the lane is much safer when snow, ice and ruts could throw you out in front of traffic.
7.Don’t feel confident moving over to the left? Choose a different route or better yet, take a Smart Cycling Class from BikeMN. We’ll help boost your confidence and usually offer a couple winter specific classes as well. Go to our website for class dates and times at www.bikemn.org.