Many people shy away from riding their bike once fall fades and the real cold of winter rears its ugly head. If you live in a cold winter state, we’re here to tell you that you don’t have to look at winter this way. Believe it or not, riding your bike in winter can actually be more fun than in the warmer months.
There’s something uniquely fulfulling about conquering the elements when you’re outdoors, and winter biking is no exception. You’ll feel accomplished by getting outside and being active when almost everyone else is huddled inside. Plus, you’re getting all the benefits of being outdoors and staying active in the process.
Whether you’re winter biking to commute to work, for fitness or just for fun, this is the gear you need to stay comfortable and combat whatever winter throws at you.
1. Head Coverage
Keeping your head warm is critical in regulating your body temperature when you’re out in the cold. To stay warm, you have a couple different options. The easiest option, if your helmet is large enough, is to layer a balaclava or thin winter hat under it as your base layer. This will allow you to stay protected, but also retain heat.
If your helmet isn’t large enough for this, or you simply don’t like the feel, you can also opt for a winter sports helmet. You can find ski and snowboard helmets at most sporting goods stores. These helmets will protect your head just as well as your bike helmet and have more insulation built in.
There’s nothing worse than cold hands when you’re outside. Once your hands are cold, they’re difficult to warm up and don’t function as well. This can be a big problem when you’re biking. Not only are you relying on your hands and fingers for shifting, you need them to maneuver and steer.
There are plenty of cold-weather glove options designed specifically for biking. These gloves will generally combine grip, warmth and maneuverability. This could be critical if you’re doing aggressive riding. However, if you’re riding casually, any winter glove that gives you the above features will work just fine.
Similar to your hands, your feet are body extremities that easily get cold if you’re not dressed properly. The first thing you’ll want to think about is a proper sock. Thicker isn’t always better and material plays a big role here. If the temps are extremely low, look for a merino wool socks, which can be found in varying thicknesses. Merino will wick sweat without allowing your feet to stay wet - which is the quickest way to go from warm to very cold and miserable.
If you’re biking with cycling-specific shoes, you’ll likely have to go with a fairly thin sock. If this is the case, you can purchase a pair of waterproof shoe covers/booties. These will ensure your feet never get wet, and will help even more with the cold. If you’re not using biking shoes, you have much more flexibility with the type of shoe or boot you use.
Your jacket may be the piece of winter biking gear that requires the most consideration. Your jacket has the capability to regulate your overall body temperature more than any other piece of clothing. If you go too warm or too cold with your choice, it can lead to an uncomfortable day.
Think about the type of riding you’ll be doing when selecting a jacket. If you’re doing more leisurely riding, you’ll want a thicker jacket with more insulation to keep you warm. If you’ll be doing more aggressive riding that you may work up a sweat on, go with something lighter that is breathable and will wick away sweat.
Either way, you want something that will keep you warm, has bright or reflective materials to keep you safe and allows you to move freely.
There are several options available for winter biking pants. Many road bikers will opt for winter biking tights. These can be a great option for their flexibility and overall comfort. However, many riders don’t like the feel and look of these biking tights.
There are also a number of biking pants on the market that are looser fitting, waterproof and plenty warm. These pants have great stretch and offer a ton of winter comfort. If you’re looking for something in a pinch, we’ve also used ski or snowboard pants as well since they’re warm and waterproof. If you go with this option, just make sure they’re not too baggy and allow for a full range of motion when cycling.
6. Eye Protection
Protecting your eyes is always critical when biking. Whether you’re guarding against the sun, rain, snow or tree branches along a trail, you want to make sure your eyes are covered. When riding in a snowy area, the sun can be much brighter than it is in the warmer months, especially as the sun reflects off the snow.
You can use sport-style sunglasses like you use in warmer months, but be aware that these sunglasses are much more prone to fogging and other frustrations in the colder months. You can treat your lenses with anti-fog or a light layer of dish soap to prevent this - airing lenses out in the cold air typically solves the problem as well. Or, if you’re in extreme winter conditions, ski and snowboard goggles are a viable option.
7. Winter Tires
It’s no secret that traction will be a much larger challenge in the winter. You’ll want to make sure that you have an aggressive tread on your bike, or grab a pair of tires made specifically for winter. Another trick is to run your tires on slightly lower pressure than you typically would. This will increase the surface area of your tire on the terrain, and increase your grip.
If you’re really serious about winter biking, you may want to look into a fat tire bike, which will give you great grip. Fat tire bikes are also great for rough terrain in warmer months, as the large tire skips over ruts, bumps, tree roots and more.
When you’re riding in winter, it’s usually not all perfect white snow. You’ll likely encounter some slush, dirt and warmer temps that leave the riding, your bike and you as the rider a bit dirty and wet. Fenders are a valuable safeguard in this respect, as they will catch a lot of the mud and water that comes up from your tires.
Fenders can be fitted on almost any bike. If you don’t have mounts on your bike, or simply don’t want something so permanent, there are plenty of cheap, temporary fenders on the market that are easy to take on and off.
9. Spare Tubes and Tire Changing Equipment
No matter what kind of biking you’re doing, you should always be prepared for a flat. It happens often, and if you’re not prepared it can leave you with a long walk home or to your car. If you have the right items on hand, it’s a simple 15-minute fix and you’re back to riding.
Make sure to carry two spare tubes on you at all times, along with a tire lever, which will make it much easier to separate the tire and tube.
10. Tools and Spare Parts
Similar to carrying spare tubes, always have a set of tools and common parts like an extra chain link. A quality multi-tool that's made for biking doesn't take up much room and is very lightweight. It also packs a punch in terms of functionality.
Look for a multi-tool that has a phillips and flat head screwdriver, hex wrenches (3 to 6 mm) and Torx wrenches (specifically a T-25).