Your Guide to Cycling Safely in Cold Weather

A man riding his bike on the street in autumn.

Your Guide to Cycling Safely in Cold Weather

October 27, 2023 | By The Railyards

Winter is coming, and if you’re planning on getting your bike ride on this season, it’s important to stay prepared, informed, and safe. Though it may not seem like the best time to ride, it’s a great way to warm yourself up in the morning, burn some quick calories, and accomplish something before your workday has begun. With fewer riders on the road, you can speed to anywhere you need to be and steer clear of any traffic that typically occurs during the colder months. Check out some of these tips below so that you can happily and safely cycle this winter.

Take it Easy

Even if you’re an experienced rider, cycling in winter hits differently, so ease your way into it. Overextending yourself poses risks to your health, can be a morale-killer, and make rides harder to get through. If you have a long journey ahead of you, here are some things that can prolong your trip:

  • Take public transportation along the way: Most buses and trains have bike racks, which are great ways to preserve your energy (and warmth).
  • Drive part of the way: If you expect there to be hazards along the way or the trip is way too long to bike, this can help shorten the ride.
  • Alternate riding days: Depending on the weather, some days might be more hazardous or tiresome. Use your best judgment and knowledge of your ride to pick the best days to get out there.

Get the Right Bike

Bikes designed for both road and offroad are typically your best bet, as muddy and wet pavement conditions are likely present.

While riding, ice and dirt can build up quickly, and your suspension systems might feel stiffer in colder weather. For this reason, some people prefer to ride more basic bikes with fewer gears and shocks. Also, bikes with disc and rim brakes are typically better in wet-weather conditions.

Besides this, some people also opt for fenders to help shield them from the snow and dirt sprays. You can also fill a water bottle with warm water for yourself or your bike if you get a build-up of snow or feel your ride getting stiff.

Light the Way (and Yourself)

The sun goes down early and rises late in the mornings, so you must have the proper lighting conditions set up on your bike and person to keep you safe. Reflector jackets and lights are also a must so you can be seen from anywhere. It’s also good to note that batteries drain more quickly in the cold, so fully charge your batteries before each ride and also carry any extra batteries you may need during your ride.

Bike Lights

You should have 2 lights for the front and 2 for the back of your bike to provide backup in case one fails.

Front lights: The brightest light should go on your handlebar, while the other should go on your arm or helmet so you can orient it independently from your handlebar light.

Rear lights: Place a bright flashing light on the back of your bike and the other on your helmet, pack, or clothing. This makes it so the two lights' motion varies slightly, making it easier for drivers (and other riders) to spot you more easily.

How bright are we talking?
It is safest just to assume that there will be no street lights or very few while you’re riding. A minimum brightness for the front handlebar light would be about 500 lumens. You should aim for at least 100 lumens for the back of your bike. Any secondary lights can be less bright as long as they’re visible.

Reflective Clothing

Most clothing that is made for biking (unless it's specifically for off-roading) will have some sort of reflective trim on it. However, the more reflective, the better. If you don’t want to give up your favorite rain jacket, wear a reflective vest or bands over it.

A good rule of thumb is to have at least one reflective element visible from any direction. You can also add reflectors or reflective tape to your clothing or bags to make those more visible.

Tire Pressure

Inflate your tires to the low end of their pressure range. You can usually find the acceptable pressures on the sidewalls of the tires themselves. Riding on tires that are filled to the low range puts more tire surface on the road, increasing your traction. A tire that feels slightly soft will also absorb bumps more efficiently, which can help if you run into potholes or gravelly patches.

Check your tire pressure before EVERY ride: This is typically the most overlooked aspect of maintenance in cycling. Since you might be pumping them to the low end of their pressure limits and because tires lose pressure slowly over time (especially in the cold), it's good to get in the habit of checking them before every ride.

Think about getting a knobbier grip or wide bike tires: When riding over rocky, muddy, or slushier surfaces, the deeper and knobbier your tread is, the better. Wider tires also work to put more surface area on the road, giving you more traction.

Studded bike tires are also a good option if you expect to ride on snowy or icy roads. They work similarly to the chains on car tires, giving you more grip while riding.

Flat Tires: Changing a flat tire on a bike is difficult enough, but it can be even more challenging in the cold. Consider getting puncture-resistant tires or tubes. Tubeless tires contain no inner tubes, which makes getting flats less likely. If you have tubed tires, you can also install a tire liner between the tube and wheel rim to make them sturdier.

Prepare What You Wear

Regardless of what you’re doing, it’s always important to layer up when going out in the cold. Air on the side of feeling a little cooler when starting your ride as you’ll likely warm up throughout the trip. However, if you run cold, store an extra layer in your pack, especially if you want to pause at rest or repair stops, as you’ll cool down fast while off your bike.

Most cyclists opt for a wicking base layer underneath the rest of their clothing. But you should at least wear some tights, a long-sleeve, and a waterproof jacket and pants. None of this needs to be bike-specific clothing, either. Just make sure that you’re comfortable and visible.


Cycling caps or ‘skull caps’ are great for keeping your head and ears warm. You can also pair them with a face mask if you’re going out in frigid weather or a helmet that covers more of your head. Goggles or glasses can also be an excellent addition to protect your eyes.

Bike Gloves

Get some fully waterproof gloves that can keep your hands warm and also ensure that you can safely operate your brakes and handlebars. Keep in mind the grip they have on them as well. You can get them slightly wet to tell how they’ll do in those conditions.

Bike Footwear

Cycling shoes tend to have a tighter fit, making pedaling easier. Some cyclists opt for slightly larger shoes in the winter to allow for thicker socks. Wind and waterproof additions also exist to keep you warmer. When you get off your bike, ensure the shoes have good traction so you don’t slip.

Hand Warmers and Footwarmers

If you’ve ever used these, you know how great they are on colder days. Break a few air-activated warmers out before your ride that can slip inside your gloves or shoes.

Other Safety Tips

Clean Your Bike

If you plan on riding regularly, it’s essential that your bike stays clean and working smoothly. Even with fenders, snow, dirt, and grime can build up fast, especially in winter. Wiping down your chains, drivetrain, brakes, and other parts right after you finish riding or at least once a week will prolong your bike’s efficiency.

Every few weeks, you might opt for doing a deeper clean and lube your chain. Buy a “wet” lube that is made for wet/dirty climates. Dry chains do not perform well in cold conditions.

Store It Safely

Rain and cold temperatures can hurt your bike, so it’s best to store it indoors if possible. If that’s not possible, storing it under carports, building eaves, or anywhere where it’s sheltered from above is preferred. There are also bike covers that you can wrap them in – BBQ covers and tarps can also work in a pinch.

If you drive an electric bike, remember that batteries drain quickly in the cold so make sure to store the battery inside or charge it up before you ride. Some battery packs also come with covers you can wrap them up overnight.

As winter approaches, open roads might seem less appealing due to the chill and potential hazards, but it can be a rewarding experience with the right preparations. Prioritizing safety, from proper lighting to reflective clothing, ensures visibility even on short days. The right equipment, like multi-terrain bikes or studded tires, can make navigating icy or wet roads more manageable. Regular maintenance, from checking tire pressure to deep cleaning, will keep your bike in top shape. Moreover, your personal comfort is most important; layering appropriately and using accessories like hand warmers can make your ride comfortable regardless of the temperature. Happy riding!

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