Cycling in a Winter Wonderland: Cycling through snowy conditions

There are plenty of good reasons to stay on your bike when the weather gets chilly. For local journeys, you probably could be at your destination by the time you’ve defrosted the car! Public transport may not be running on time, or even at all, and will likely be busier.

Depending on the sort of weather you’re planning to ride in, there are different considerations to take into account:

Time of journey

If your journey is not time specific, consider making it later in the day. In the UK, the snow and ice will likely have at least started to melt, meaning you can pretty much ride whatever bike you want.

If you stick to main roads and set off later, the traffic will have melted most of the snow and ice.

If you stick to main roads and local feeder roads, you should be OK with your regular bike, although take care on shared pavements, cycle tracks, and cycle lanes, which may still be icy. Also, local roads may still have a lot of ice or slush on, so take extra care here.

Clothing

Clothing is going to depend a lot on the length of your ride. If you’re just nipping to the shops, regular winter clothing and some gloves will likely be enough. For longer rides, layers are the name of the game. A typical outfit might be: padded cycling shorts, running/cycling leggings, waterproof overtrousers, cycling jersey/T-Shirt, tracksuit jacket, waterproof/padded jacket. You may also want to wear a balaclava if you think your nose and ears might get cold, an extra pair of socks, or cycling overshoes to keep feet warm, and glove liners to provide an extra layer on your hands. All of the above can be found very cheaply from Decathlon, Go Outdoors, or even eBay/Amazon, you don’t have to break the bank.

Bike choice

As mentioned above, if you choose your route and time of journey wisely, most bikes will fare OK. However, if you intend to go off the beaten path, or need to travel early before the council have been out salting the road, something more substantial will likely be needed. The two main options are to fit your existing bike with Winter tyres, or to use a mountain bike:

Winter tyres have 2 or 4 rows of metal studs embedded in the tread that can grip better on icy surfaces. Mountain bikes have much wider, balloon-y tyres with nubs that dig into snow and mud for better grip.

Winter tyres can be quite pricey and difficult to fit, but do provide excellent grip on icy roads. The main downside is that they’re extremely heavy and have a lot of drag, so on days without ice, you will be much slower and more exhausted. For this reason, they are better fitted to a second bike (or second pair of wheels) if you have one, so they can be swapped on or off at a moment’s notice.

A mountain bike is much more suited to deeper snow and slush. It will not fare well on sheet ice. Mountain bikes also generally have lower gearing, which allows you to slowly and steadily spin the back wheel which provides a more stable ride through slippery conditions.

Disc brakes are also very advantageous if possible as they are much less susceptible to slush coating the braking surface and pads.

Your hardiness will be rewarded with views like this.

Riding Tips

Perhaps most important is the manner of riding. You can still make almost all the journeys you’re used to, but they will likely be a bit slower than usual. Some important tips:

  • Pedal slowly and steadily. Try to keep your rear wheel spinning at a constant rate.
  • Brake at a consistent and slow rate too. Anticipate where you might have to stop (e.g. T junctions) and slow well in advance.
  • Only cross tram tracks at a 90 degree angle. Try to indicate to motorists behind to stay back while you perform this manouvere.
  • Avoid cambered surfaces, or crossing over surfaces with a vertical upstand (i.e. a non-flush kerb). Easy to lose control here.
  • When on main roads, consider claiming the lane as the centre of the lane or the left tyre track will likely be less slippery, and it discourages unsafe overtaking.

Finally, when you get home, try to rinse off as much of the slush as possible. This might have road salt mixed in, which can start to eat away at your components.

Conclusion

Cycling in the snow and ice isn’t that difficult. It can be done with regular winter clothing and your regular bike, if some considerations are taken into account! And of course, there’s no shame in being a fair-weather cyclist and taking the car that day! And if you do choose to do it, you’re likely to be rewarded with magical views.