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History: WinterRidingTips

Preview of version: 9

On November 4th, 2006, OCBC hosted our second annual Winter Cycling Symposium. We have five presenters, and they had a lot of excellent advice - some for winter cycling, some for commuting, and some for winter commuting. We have collected some of the most interesting tips here - if you're considering riding your bike this winter and need technical help or just a little moral support, have a look!


Opinions on clothing differed, and your choice in clothing will depend on what sort of rider you are. Here is a collection of thoughts:


  • Being cold will never be a problem. A cyclist generates a lot of heat, and it's much easier to be overdressed than underdressed. If you're new to winter cycling, this is an important point - you probably already have the equipment you need.
  • One of our panelists has a philosophy of never sweating in the winter months. This usually means being cold for the first mile, then comfortable for the rest of the ride.
  • Another panelist prefers to wear an extra layer for the first mile, then remove it. This makes the beginning of the ride easier to take, but requires stopping to remove the extra layer and having somewhere to store it.
  • Jim's favorite way to ride in weather that is cold but dry is in a wool sweater with a cotton t-shirt over it. He says it keeps warmth in in still air but allows enough ventilation on the bike. Be advised, though, that it makes you look fat.
  • One panelist carries clothing for all weather in his panniers. He can be ready for anything, but his bike always weighs 40 pounds. This is one way to go.
  • Some people just don't get cold - one of our panelists doesn't wear any special footwear, doesn't wear decent gloves, and wears only a headband all winter. If this sounds like you, you really don't have any excuse for not riding in the cold!


  • Your feet may get cold, and this is an important thing to deal with. It's not something that should prevent you from riding, but it might if you don't take the necessary steps. Some people never get cold feet, but if you do, you may need to buy some high-end socks and possibly boots.
  • Some panelists like to use waterproof shoe covers over non-waterproof footwear. This doesn't add very much to warmth, but provides a windbreaking effect. If your shoes are warm enough already, this may be enough.
  • One panelist suggests having a winter helmet - if you take all of the pads out it should fit over whatever head garment you prefer, although this will make it almost useless for wearing without a hat or headband.
  • Another panelist suggests covering the vents on a helmet with tape or a cover. Modern helmets are design to have excellent ventilation, which you probably won't want when it's below freezing.
  • Several panelists suggested wearing a headband or thin hat instead of a heavy winter cap, and one showed off a hat with longer flaps to cover ears, which are the part most likely to get cold.
  • Most agreed that when it's very cold, a balaclava (external link) is nice to have (most modern balaclavas have one large hole for the eyes, rather than two small ones).
  • One innovative solution to a cold face is a face shield. Cut out the middle section of a 3-liter bottle and tape one edge of it to your helmet, letting the rest cover your face. It's fairly easy to see through and keeps you very warm.


  • Several of our panelists use tights in the winter months. Several use waterproof/windproof overpants. The two choices both keep the rider warm, but the tights require more work at the destination. Tights are also a bit better suited to riding than two pairs of pants, so this is a tradeoff.


  • Several panelists expressed their happiness with mittens. If you have cold fingers, you will never be happy on days below freezing without them!

Your Bike

  • Most people (including our panelists) don't want to ride an expensive bike in the winter and ruin their pricey parts. You should be riding a bike that you enjoy, but this is not the time for your $100 rear derailleur.
  • All of our panelists agreed that you must have fenders. Fenders are not an "accessory" for winter riding. You can make fenders out of PET 2-liter bottles, and you can use old take-off metal fenders (available at the co-op). The best idea by far, though, is to spend $27 on a pair of new fenders. They will work better and be easier to set up.
  • One panelist much prefers a singlespeed for winter riding. He appreciates not having to maintain derailleurs and doesn't mind getting there a bit more slowly.
  • Studded tires are nice on ice. It doesn't come up in Cleveland much, but if you're worried, go and and get some. The ones that are good enough to be worth buying are about $100 a pair, but they last.


Visibility is a major issue in winter, largely because you will definitely be riding in the dark. If you commute, at least one way will be in the dark. If you ride after work, it will almost certainly be after dark.


  • All of the panelists agreed that it's best to have multiple front and rear lights.
  • One panelist mentioned that the out-of-phase effect of two lights will better capture the attention of motorists.
  • If one battery fails and you don't have a replace, you can ride home safely with your second light.

Reflective vests

  • Several panelists are fans of reflective vests. However, vests aren't very high up on the fashion scale. The sacrifice may be more worth making in the winter when it's dark during rush hour.


Locking up is a little bit different in the winter than the summer. Our panelists had a few tips:
  • Leave your lock at your destination, even in winter.
  • If you cover your lock with a plastic bag, it won't be able to get filled with water and freeze - a good lock shouldn't freeze on its own, but ice inside will still keep it from working.
  • Graphite powder in the lock may prevent freezing as well.


  • One of our panelists does maintenance on his bike twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday. This is probably the best idea.
  • Another maintains his bike every two weeks - this will usually be enough.
  • One panelist just wipes the water off after riding on wet days, lubes the chain when it needs it, and otherwise doesn't do anything different from summer maintenence. If you do less, your parts may not last as long, but you can always get new parts.
  • One panelist mentioned that paying close attention to keeping cables lubed can keep them from freezing in the winter.
  • You may want to use a thicker oil on the chain to encourage it to stay around a bit longer in wet weather. A chainsaw bar and chain lube will work fine for this; drip a drop on each link along a horizontal section of chain, then move the chain after it settles in. The next ride after you apply the lube will pretty much always be messy.


Riding in the winter isn't very hard - the bike still works fine and it's really not all that cold. But sometimes it seems hard, so we have a few tips to keep you riding on those days when it really doesn't seem like fun.
  • If you don't want to ride in the winter because you're worried about ruining parts on your bike, think about the money you'll save. If you commute all winter, you can afford to buy a $100 drivetrain (or a $400 bike!) with the money you'll save on gas alone. If you just ride for pleasure, you might still be saving a $20/month health club membership (how else can you get exercise in January?), or maybe some medical bills. You can find a way to make the money back, but you'll never find a way to buy a wonderful 30-degree Sunday afternoon ride through a snowstorm.
  • Speaking of snowstorms, don't miss them. As long as traffic is light, they're some of the most fun riding of the year. They're not that bad in traffic, either.
  • If you have a speedometer on your bike, you'll probably want to take it off before Thanksgiving. Just pretend the battery died or something. If you know how fast you've been going all summer, you probably won't want to see how slowly you're going in the winter.
  • The tip above about wearing an extra layer for the first mile is one that makes the shock of the cold easier to take - if you put the extra layer on ten minutes before you leave, you'll probably even be too hot. That will make you want to get outside!
  • Ride a bike you like! It will be easier to get out there and ride if you are going to enjoy it. People like to ride cheap bikes in the winter so they won't ruin something nice, but you have to ride something nice enough to have fun. Compromise.
  • If you ride to work, your coworkers will think you're crazy and probably annoy you to no end. The panel didn't have a solution for this issue, but in case you're a coworker reading this: really, we're fine.

Well, one for now. But it's good!


Legend: v=view, c=compare, d=diff
Date UserIpComment Version Action
Mon 13 of Dec., 2010 21:25 UTC JSheehan76.243.181.210 EBW 36
Mon 13 of Dec., 2010 21:03 UTC JSheehan76.243.181.210   35  v  c  d  
Fri 10 of Dec., 2010 20:53 UTC JSheehan75.10.153.119   34  v  c  d  
Fri 10 of Dec., 2010 20:40 UTC JSheehan75.10.153.119   33  v  c  d  
Fri 10 of Dec., 2010 20:29 UTC JSheehan75.10.153.119   32  v  c  d  
Fri 10 of Dec., 2010 20:19 UTC JSheehan75.10.153.119   31  v  c  d  
Fri 10 of Dec., 2010 19:59 UTC JSheehan75.10.153.119 ralph's coffee stop 30  v  c  d  
Fri 10 of Dec., 2010 19:46 UTC JSheehan75.10.153.119 Planet Bike Superflash 29  v  c  d  
Fri 10 of Dec., 2010 19:37 UTC JSheehan75.10.153.119   28  v  c  d  
Fri 10 of Dec., 2010 19:14 UTC JSheehan75.10.153.119 27  v  c  d  
Tue 07 of Dec., 2010 21:56 UTC JSheehan76.241.102.180   26  v  c  d  
Mon 23 of March, 2009 13:04 UTC JSheehan68.166.182.41   25  v  c  d  
Mon 23 of March, 2009 12:48 UTC JSheehan68.166.182.41   24  v  c  d  
Tue 28 of Oct., 2008 20:55 UTC JSheehan76.241.109.156 2008 23  v  c  d  
Thu 17 of Jan., 2008 06:28 UTC JSheehan24.14.94.146 pit zips 22  v  c  d  
Thu 29 of Nov., 2007 01:51 UTC pgarver76.241.108.75   21  v  c  d  
Mon 19 of Feb., 2007 20:26 UTC JSheehan70.229.194.16 links 20  v  c  d  
Mon 19 of Feb., 2007 20:22 UTC JSheehan70.229.194.16 links 19  v  c  d  
Mon 19 of Feb., 2007 19:58 UTC JSheehan70.229.194.16 chain maint. 18  v  c  d  
Mon 19 of Feb., 2007 19:43 UTC JSheehan70.229.194.16 studs 17  v  c  d  
Mon 19 of Feb., 2007 18:44 UTC JSheehan70.229.194.16   16  v  c  d  
Fri 02 of Feb., 2007 18:30 UTC JSheehan70.227.79.139 fixed copy problem, chili headline 15  v  c  d  
Tue 30 of Jan., 2007 00:56 UTC JSheehan66.72.201.50   14  v  c  d  
Mon 29 of Jan., 2007 21:28 UTC JSheehan66.72.201.50   13  v  c  d  
Mon 29 of Jan., 2007 21:25 UTC JSheehan66.72.201.50   12  v  c  d  
Mon 11 of Dec., 2006 21:47 UTC JSheehan66.72.161.64   11  v  c  d  
Tue 28 of Nov., 2006 21:31 UTC JSheehan68.254.149.24 feet stuff 10  v  c  d  
Sat 11 of Nov., 2006 20:43 UTC pgarver70.227.78.46   9  v  c  d  
Sat 11 of Nov., 2006 20:11 UTC pgarver70.227.78.46   8  v  c  d  
Sat 11 of Nov., 2006 20:09 UTC pgarver70.227.78.46   7  v  c  d  
Sat 11 of Nov., 2006 19:56 UTC pgarver70.227.78.46   6  v  c  d  
Thu 09 of Nov., 2006 01:46 UTC pgarver70.227.78.237   5  v  c  d  
Thu 09 of Nov., 2006 01:45 UTC pgarver70.227.78.237   4  v  c  d  
Thu 09 of Nov., 2006 01:38 UTC pgarver70.227.78.237   3  v  c  d  
Thu 09 of Nov., 2006 00:41 UTC pgarver70.227.78.237   2  v  c  d  
Wed 08 of Nov., 2006 23:30 UTC pgarver70.227.78.237   1  v  c  d