Wheels on Ice

How to bike safely in the winter months

by Lindsay Ulrich

Though biking in the winter might seem like an activity not for the faint of heart, more and more riders are taking to the roads during the winter months.  Winter cycling is a great way to stay active during the winter months, and is a safe, low-impact transportation option that can lower blood pressure and cholesterol and isn’t tough on your joints. Cycling is also affordable and can offer the quickest commute, especially during rush hour. In order to achieve these benefits though, it’s important to keep safety (and warmth!) in mind. To help, we’ve gathered some beginner tips for cold-weather commuting:

1. Beginners

Start slow.  You won’t be able to bike on every day in the winter. Evaluate the conditions outside day-to-day, and start out on a day that isn’t too cold or slushy. From there you can build up to a daily commute if weather permits, but try biking only once or twice a week to start.  Or, try combining public transportation and biking to gain experience on the road. Check the TTC’s website here for information about bringing your bike on the bus or subway, as there are limitations.

2. Gear

These bicycle side packs are great for carrying your work clothes, groceries, or purse and are less cumbersome than backpacks or messenger bags.

Bike lights are extra important during the winter since the days are shorter.  Clip-on LEDs are good for increasing your visibility for drivers.

3. Maintenance

The salt on the roads during winter can cause excessive corrosion to your bike.  Considering using an inexpensive refurbished bike for the winter months.  Whatever bike you end up using, clean and lubricate your chain and drive chain as much as possible to keep free of salt, dirt, and ice.

Though regular bike tires will get you through the winter, mountain-style tires offer better traction, which will help with the icy patches.

4. Dress the Part

It’s important not to overdress.  As a rider you’ll be working up a sweat so you should wear breathable, thin layers to reduce bulk and maximize a full range of mobility. It’s recommended to start out your commute cool since your body will be heating up as you ride.

Try wearing waterproof gloves, and make sure you’re able to operate the gears and brakes with them on.

While your body may be working up a sweat, it’s still important to keep your feet warm.  While there are more expensive purpose-built cycling footwear, like Lake cycling boots, many winter riders will wear lightweight hiking boots one size too big to make room for thicker socks. Shoe covers like Elite Barrier MTB shoe covers are also popular options.

5. Keep in Mind

Mind the Track
The City of Toronto’s website reminds us that winter biking in Toronto possesses a unique challenge: streetcar tracks.  In the winter these may be hidden by slush or snow, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and be alert for tracks. A useful trick is to look overhead for electric cables.

For more of cold weather cycling, check out the City of Toronto’s page on the topic here.


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