It is possible to continue to enjoy safe cycling in the winter, provided you make sure you have the right bike, and you get it ready for colder days. In fact, some of the best bike rides of my life have been cycling to work in the near freezing pre-dawn. Here is a complete guide to help you get your bike ready for winter.
Contents of This Post
- Choose the Right Bike for Winter
- Bike Maintenance for Winter Cycling
- Keep Your Bike Clean
- Keep your Chain and Cassette Clean and Lubed
- Bike Lights
- Other Important Parts of Your Bike for Safe Winter Cycling
- Platform Pedals
- Use the Right Tires for Winter Cycling
- Get more tips for winter cycling by choosing a post from the slide show below
Choose the Right Bike for Safe Winter Cycling
If possible, choose the right bike. Don’t use an expensive road bike that you plan to use in criteriums or races. It will just be destroyed. Steel bikes are especially vulnerable to damage from wet conditions. An old bike that you only use in the winter may be a good choice.
The following features are ideal for a winter bike:
- Eyelets for full mudguards;
- Wider tire clearance;
- Anything other than a steel frame;
- The right accessories (see further below in this post).
It is ideal to use an older bike. Fat bikes are also an excellent choice, thanks to their chunky tires and wheels – as you can see in this video. More about tires for fat bikes further on in this post.
Video Showing Winter Cycling with a Fat Bike
Bike Maintenance for Safe Winter Cycling
Service Your Bike
First, be sure to service your bike to make sure it is in perfect shape before you venture out to cycle in the winter. Do it yourself if you can; if not, take it into a bike store. It should cost less than $100, and it might be the best money you spend this winter!
Extras When Servicing Your Bike for Winter Cycling
Consider doing all of the following:
- Repack the wheel and headset bearings.
- Grease your bottom bracket.
- Possibly switch to a full-length housing for your rear brake and derailleurs. Zip ties can be used to attach the housing to the frame. It won’t look great, but it will make for smoother braking and shifting.
Wax Your Bike
Truly dedicated cyclists might want to wax the underside of their bike frame with car wax to resist mud, snow and slush build-up. It sounds extreme, but it only takes a few minutes and is well worth the effort. And bike wax is CHEAP!
Use Aerosol Lube
Also, once a week, take a rust-resistant aerosol lube and spray all drainage holes and the seat post hole. This will prevent water from freezing inside your frame, which will prevent the parts from seizing or starting to rust. Give most of your bike’s moving parts a blast of the same lube. In my experience, a good one is Sunlite Lube.
Keep Your Bike Clean in Winter
At least once a week (but preferably after each ride), give your bike a rinse and wipe-down to remove dirt, salt, and grit. Pay special attention to the chain, gears, brakes, and wheel rims. Then dry it all off carefully. Paper towels work well for this.
Related: How to Clean Your Bike
Keep your Chain and Cassette Clean and Lubed
Keeping your chain and cassette clean and lubed is always essential, but especially in the winter. You will need a good lube to do this. And it’s important to choose the right lube for the weather conditions.
Using Wet Lube in Winter
Wet lubes can be used in all weather conditions, but are really ideal for winter cycling because they are water resistant. This means they will not be washed off when ride through a puddle or a rainstorm. They will also resist corrosion from salt. A single application of wet lube should keep you riding for a hundred miles.
The Downside to Wet Lubes
BUT … be aware that there is a downside to wet lubes. The downside is that they are sticky, so dirt can stick to them. If you don’t do regular maintenance, the oil can turn into a gritty paste that will grind down your chain and cassette. Also, if you really let it go, wet lube can oxidize and end up as thick black gunk.
The solution is easy – regular, light maintenance. You can read all about that in our post that explains the easy way to keep your bike chain degreased and lubed.
Use a Dry Lube If …
Use a dry lube if your weather conditions are cold but very dry.
Dry lubes are wax-based. They are much cleaner because they attract less dirt build-up. This makes them ideal in dry conditions, especially off-road or on gravel. But do be aware that even light rain will wash it off. Also, it does not last as long as wet lube. Expect to get 80 miles or less with a single application.
Of course, cycling in extreme conditions leads to a lot of maintenance work to clean all the moving parts of your bike. A single speed might be a good choice, if your commute does not have serious hills, as there are fewer moving parts to get clogged with mud and snow. Alternatively, consider getting an internal geared hub.
Internal Geared Hubs
If you can afford one, internal geared hubs are great for safe winter cycling. The moving parts of the gears are inside the hub, so they are not impacted by winter’s harsh elements – keeping you safer and saving a lot of back-breaking maintenance. Unless you are super handy, your best bet is usually to consult with your local bike shop about your options.
Whatever bike you use, it is essential that it be properly equipped with appropriate fenders, lights, tires, brakes and pedals.
Bike Lights for Safe Winter Cycling
This should go without saying, but we can’t leave it out … it is absolutely essential to have excellent bike lights in winter! You need a great front light that enables you to see where you are going, and a great rear light. And remember that cold weather is tough on batteries, so either carry spare batteries, or carry a spare light, with batteries.
Our Top Picks for Bike Lights for Winter Cycling Safety
No. 1: Best All-round Handlebar-mounted Commuter Bike Light: CatEye Volt 1200 Headlight. Usually around $150. Please click here to check current best price on Amazon.
|Cyclist commuters who want a compact handlebar bike light that will meet their commuting needs|
Click for prices on Amazon Canada and on Amazon UK!
|1200 lumens. Water resistance not stated||Handlebar-mounted with included rock-solid FlexTight Bracket mount; you can order an optional helmet mount. Micro USB cable included||Rechargeable 3100mAH Li-ion cartridge battery; low battery indicator. Battery life: Dynamic–2 hrs; Med–3.5 hrs; All-Night–10 hrs; Hyper Constant–7 hrs; Flashing–50 hrs|
No. 2: Best Super Bright Bike Light for Helmet: Lumintrail
Best Price on Amazon right now: $29.99
|People who cycle off-road in pitch darkness and want a very bright light that can be moved easily from handlebars to helmet Click for prices on Amazon Canada and on Amazon UK!||1000 lumens. Battery pack is waterproof. Water resistance of light not stated, but I have used it in heavy rain without problems||Ships with excellent helmet and handlebar mounts and battery pouch. Plug-in adaptor charger included||Rechargeable lithium ion battery. Battery life: High-4 hrs; Low-8 hrs; Flashing-8 hrs|
No. 3: Best Bargain Bike Lights Set: Lumintrail Headlight and Tail Light Combo
|People who want a bargain, one-step bike light solution. Set includes good headlight and a mediocre taillight|
Best Price on Amazon right now: $24.45
|1000 lumens on the headlight, while taillight is not super bright; |
IP44 water resistant rating – splashing water from any side
|Mount on handlebars and seat post with included mounts. Micro USB cable included||Rechargeable lithium 3.7V 2600mAh |
battery for front light, low battery warning light; CR2032 batteries for tail light. Battery life: High-2 hrs; Med-4 hrs; Low-8 hrs
|People who have a bike commute under 1.5 hours and don’t want to blind other people Click for prices on Amazon Canada and on Amazon UK!||350 lumens; IP67 - fully waterproof in 3 feet of water for 30 mins||Handlebar mount included. Micro USB cable included||Rechargeable lithium ion battery; accurate battery life indicator. Battery life: high-90 mins|
No. 5: Best Budget, Bright Bike Light: Serfas E-Lume 450 bike light
Best Price on Amazon right now: $65.83
|People who want a budget priced, high quality handlebar-mounted light Click for prices on Amazon Canada and on Amazon UK!||450 lumens; |
IP44 water resistant rating – splashing water from any side
|Handlebar mount included. Micro USB cable included||USB rechargeable 2200mAh LG 18650 lithium ion battery, battery indicator. Battery life: High-150 mins; Med-210 mins; Low-420 mins|
No. 6: Best Bike Taillight: Serfas Thunderbolt Taillight
Best Price on Amazon right now: Price not available
|People who want a versatile, very bright taillight Click for prices on Amazon Canada and on Amazon UK!||35 lumens of pure red light; water resistance rating not stated, but I have used it in heavy rain without problems||Easily mount anywhere on the rear of the bike with silicon bands. Micro USB cable included||Rechargeable lithium polymer|
battery. Battery life: High-1.75 hrs; Low-7 hrs; High blink-3 hrs; Low blink-9.5 hrs
No. 7: Best Super Bright Handlebar Light: Cygolite Metro 850
Usually around $49. Please click here to check current best price on Amazon.
|People who want a very bright light on their handlebars but want to spend less than $100 Click for prices on Amazon Canada and on Amazon UK!||850 lumens; water resistant||Handlebar mounted; Locktite quick-release, tool-free handlebar mount included||Rechargeable built-in Li-ion battery; low battery indicator. Battery life: High-1.5 hrs; Med-3.5 hrs; Low-10 hrs; Steady Pulse-4 hrs; Daylighting-14 hrs; Walking-100 hrs|
MonkeyLectric Monkey Lights Review – Best Bike Lights for Cycling Safety
Other Important Parts of Your Bike for Safe Winter Cycling
It is essential to have good brakes for winter cycling. Of course, check your brake pads, and consider using winter-specific brake pads. Remember that gritty conditions will wear your brakes out faster in winter.
If you have cantilever or V-brakes, then curved winter-specific pads will improve braking and mud-shedding in wet and muddy weather.
Disc brakes are ideal for winter cycling. Choose sintered pads over organic ones, as these will give better performance and durability in wet weather.
Sintered brakes pads are also called metallic brake pads. They are made with a very high proportion of metallic fillers such as copper, steel, and iron. They are designed for use in extreme conditions.
Bottom line though is to have good brakes and maintain them well.
Fenders are essential for winter cycling – no one wants water or ice squirting up their back! Fenders keep slushy road spray off both you and your bike. More importantly, it will keep spray off the cyclists behind you. Ideally they should be full wraparound. However, they should not be too close-fitting, as they can clog up with mud, slush, ice, and snow.
Did you know you can get clip-on fenders? Clip-on fenders attach to your downtube or seat post. They are a better option for riding in heavy snow. This is because snow and slush can get clogged in close-fitting fenders
Because boots are best for winter cycling, get some platform pedals with aggressive treads for good grip in all conditions. A solid connection between your boots and pedals will go a long way towards keeping you safe as you cycle in winter.
Use the Right Tires for Winter Cycling
Punctures are more likely in winter because debris can be washed onto wet roads. Plus, tires are more likely to slip in rainy or snowy conditions. For those reasons, it is important to think about your tires for winter cycling.
In general, inflate your tires a less than you would in summer to improve traction. Fit the widest tires you can on your bike. And switch to tires with a heavier tread, or else choose studs.
Winter Specific Bike Tires
Winter-specific bike tires are usually heavier and have a higher rolling resistance. This makes them more durable and less likely to puncture. The best ones we have ever used at the Michigan Power All Season tires.
Winter Tires for Mountain Bikes
In moderate conditions, use regular knobby tires and inflate them to a lower PSI to provide good traction. In snowy or icy conditions, choose studded winter tires and a wide tread pattern to increase grip.
Winter Tires for Cyclocross and Hybrid Bikes
These bikes are great for winter cycling. Because they have plenty of tire clearance, you can use big 700C tires and fenders.
In moderate conditions , a large volume treaded 700C tire (700 x 30+) at a lower pressure provides good grip.
Choose studded 700C tires for snowy or icy cycling conditions.
Winter Tires for Road Bikes
First, let’s be clear that these are not the first choice for winter cycling, especially in more severe weather that includes snow or ice. The tires will be too slick for adequate traction.
You can probably keep using your road bike in winter if your weather conditions are not much worse than rain with occasional frost. Even then, get as wide a tire as you can possibly fit (700 x 30 or more).
If you are using a road bike for any kind of winter cycling, at the very least get high-performance winter tires.
Winter Tires for Fat Bikes
These are ideal for winter cycling. They have a lot of tire clearance, and are somewhat like a mountain bike wearing snowshoes. They are designed to accommodate 4 to 5-inch tires and 100mm+ rims, which makes them perfect for riding in snowy and icy conditions. The generous tire size provides plenty of traction, so you can roll at a very low tire pressure.
Fat bikes often have hydraulic disc brakes, front suspension, and XC geometry. If you add studded tires to a fat bike like this, you will be set for a stable bike ride even in extreme conditions.
Consider investing in carbide-studded tires. On the one hand, no matter what you do, you will still be on skinny tires compared to cars. But some cyclists swear by studded tires. Studded tires may have between 100 and 300 studs, depending on price.
If you can only afford one studded tire, make it the FRONT one, as this one is the key to staying upright in slippery conditions. You can also consider low-pressure knobby tires. Some seasoned winter riders use hardened steel spikes and a wide tread pattern.
Aluminum rims are better, as steel rims ice-up more quickly and don’t brake as well as aluminum.
We hope this post will help you to cycle safely and comfortably all through winter. Ride safely and stay warm!
Get more tips for winter cycling by choosing a post from the slide show below
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