A Guide to Winter Biking

Zipping past immobile cars stuck in traffic, never having to wait at a bus stop for a ride that may or may not show up on time, arriving at school each morning energized by a bout of morning exercise—I discovered the joys of commuting by bike last year. I’m not the only one: a 2009 survey conducted by the City of Toronto shows that 16% of people in Toronto commute to school or work on bike, and more recent stats indicate that this number is on the rise.

One benefit of the mild winter we’ve been having is that I, along with most other bike commuters, have been able to continue developing killer leg muscles and running on my own schedule well into February. But with temperatures about to drop over the next couple weeks and with more flurries forecasted, there’s no need to stash the bike just yet. Here are some tips on how to continue biking as the weather gets more wintery.

Dressing for the weather

  • The most intimidating thing about winter biking is the cold—the wind feels even sharper when you’re flying down the road on your bike, so a wind-deterrent jacket is essential.
  • Toques and headbands work well under helmets. You may need to invest in an adjustable helmet that leaves room for a few more layers.
  • Hands get the coldest while cycling, so a pair of warm and windproof gloves that still allow you to shift gears and brake is key. For those who take their winter biking very seriously, bike pogies are a great find. These large mitts that fit over your hands, handlebars, shifters and brake levers are available at MEC or any outdoors or cycling store.
  • Even though you’re not trekking through the snow, your feet will still be exposed to slush and sand. Bulky winter boots don’t allow for much movement, so if I’m biking for a long distance, I opt for regular running shoes with heavy socks and good-old plastic bags to keep my feet warm and dry. MEC also offers some waterproof bike booties.
  • The cold isn’t the only factor to take into consideration when assembling your bike gear—often, visibility is poor in the winter. Glasses or goggles can keep the snow and wind out of your eyes. It’s also important to wear reflective gear so other drivers can see you.

 Winterizing your bike

  • If you’ve invested in an expensive bike for your summer commute, you may want to consider getting a secondhand bike for winter riding. Salty roads and slushy snow can take a toll on your bike over time.
  • Winter riding requires a lot of maintenance. If you’re like me and neglect maintenance during the summer months, winter is a good time to get into the habit! Once a week, rinse off all the salt and grit that has accumulated with warm water and touch up the chain and any other moving parts with a rust-resistant lubricating oil.
  • Heavy-duty winter tires are probably the most essential investment if you want to bike regularly in the winter. You can get tires with knobs or spikes from Canadian Tire or any cycling store—these increase traction and prevent wipeouts on icy roads.

Biking Safely

  • Sharing the road with bigger and faster-moving cars is scary under the best conditions. Ride defensively: this becomes even more important when both bikers and drivers have to deal with icy patches, poor visibility, and roads narrowed by ploughed snow.
  • Plan your route carefully, depending on what kind of conditions you’re comfortable biking in. While less busy roads are the safest bet in the summer, they are often not cleared as well in the winter. But be extra careful if you’re driving in busy traffic—don’t make sudden, unexpected stops or turns, and never assume that drivers can see you.
  • Luckily, Toronto vowed to amp up their bike lane maintenance this winter. Check out the Toronto cycling map to locate bike lanes on the way to your work or school.
Photo courtesy of Rafal Buch via

Tania is the managing editor for the spring issue of On the Danforth. She loves London Fogs, short stories, and art museums. Follow her on instagram (@taniarenee) for occasional photos of things that catch her eye while biking around Toronto.


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