Cycling in the winter may seem precarious and even dangerous, but with proper precautions, it can be rewarding, fun, and a simple way to get around town.
“The most important items for winter bicycles are good tires, fenders, and lights,” said Eric Grant, an Alberta Avenue resident and year-round cyclist. “Keeping the chain oiled and making sure the brakes are working well are the most important maintenance issues.”
Grant said although it’s possible to ride safely on ice and snow without specialty tires, “I really like having studded tires, because it allows me to stop quickly with more confidence.” He suggests going slow at first and avoiding major roads if possible.
Warm and visible clothing is also important. “A brightly coloured and reflective outer shell is a good idea for staying visible. The best way to stay warm is lots of layers.” He uses fleece and wool.
Most bicycle shops carry the necessary gear for winter cycling, including BikeWorks, a fully equipped and volunteer-run workshop. To help people save money, BikeWorks also offers programs on preparing for winter biking, such as a tire studding course.
“We have all the tools (including specialty bicycle tools) needed to repair and maintain your bicycle, and mechanics to teach you how to do it,” said Molly Turnbull, project coordinator with the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society (EBC). They have an expansive selection of new and used parts and bicycles available for purchase.
Turnbull said bicycle maintenance is crucial.
“Winter cycling is notorious for being hard on your bike. So that your components don’t wear quickly, it’d be best if you regularly cleaned your drivetrain [the parts that push or pull your bike] at the very least,” explained Turnbull.
She suggested installing fenders and extensions to your fenders so slush from the front tire isn’t thrown into the drivetrain. “Taking care of your bike can save you a lot of money in the long run. Prepare to spend $20-$50 for cleaning and lubricating your drivetrain.”
Turnbull also advised wiping down a steel-framed bike if there are any chips in the paint.
Road safety is especially important.
Coreen Shewfelt, BikeWorks’ manager, said, “Don’t be afraid to take the whole lane to stay safe!”
But if the road is especially slick, such as when there is freezing rain, try to stay out of car lanes and stick to separated infrastructure, or even the sidewalk if there are no other options.
“When it comes to icy conditions, try to avoid braking and turning at the same time, as well as taking inclines at an oblique angle. If you see an icy spot or curve coming up, slow down before the path becomes treacherous,” explained Shewfelt. If you feel yourself slip, resist the urge to use the brakes. Keep pedalling, because you can often recover before you fall.
Because of the longer nights, “lights are also essential for winter cyclists, and adding reflective material to bikes or clothing isn’t a bad idea either,” said Shewfelt.
While it is important keep feet and hands warm, beginners tend to overdress. “If your ride is long enough to break a sweat, you will fare better if you feel a bit brisk when you start, before you start moving,” said Shewfelt.
So, why ride your bicycle in the winter?
“You accomplish something, you get the blood pumping, and you’re more engaged in the beauty of winter,” said Turnbull.
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Featured Image: Bicycle maintenance is crucial during the winter. | Molly Turnbull