Wheeling in Winter

Heat Up Your Bike Training on Frozen Terrain

Illustration: Vance Rodewalt

If it’s the start of winter and you come across a cyclist who looks like he just emerged from a funeral, treat him gingerly. He is mourning the loss of summer rides in the fresh air, open highways and the beloved pain of steep training ascents. Instead, he is adjusting to saddle time over the dull hum of an indoor bike trainer arranged in a dingy basement illuminated by dull fluorescent lights and a flatscreen tuned to marathons of House Hunters International. Yet winter doesn’t have to be the end of outdoor cycle training. With a few accommodations, the season can be great for pumping up your cardio on two wheels.


More bikes are being built that can thrive in winter, but your beloved road bike probably isn’t one of them. Park it for the season and shed a quiet tear. Instead, look at buying a cyclocross bike with wider, knobby tires that can overcome highway dustings of snow. If you are a mountain biker or are facing down big dumpings, consider a fat bike. Those gigantic low-pressure tires can crush most drifts and plenty of cross-county ski areas are now laying fat-bike tracks.


If you aren’t careful, winter rust will mercilessly consume your bike. The key is to keep it clean. Wash it often. If your backyard hose is frozen, stop at a car wash (use the gentle setting so you don’t damage components). Or fill up a bucket of warm water in your kitchen sink and scrub the bike’s components down (please exit the kitchen before doing this). Try a wet lube on your components, and, if you must ride a steel frame, try wax, silicone or an anti-corrosion spray such as ACF-50, then pray for mercy from the gods of corrosion.


Ditch the road slicks and invest in winter tires. If you ride on (mostly) bare pavement, knobby tires should help overcome occasional patches of ice and snow. Reduce the air pressure in your tires a bit to improve traction. If you encounter a lot of ice, studded tires may be your best bet. Just buy one studded tire for the front wheel to start. Sometimes that’s all you need.


You know the drill; dress warmly, in layers and avoid cotton. Beyond that, there’s plenty of winter cycling clothing that is pretty great, but mostly unnecessary. Focus on keeping your head, hands and feet warm. Leave the clip-in cycling shoes at home in favour of warm waterproof boots. If ski gloves aren’t warm enough, go for lobster mittens or pogies — ultra-warm handlebar attachments that you slip your hands into. Just be careful not to overdress. Staying warm is easy once your legs start pumping and you want to avoid excessive sweat so you don’t freeze when you stop.


Now that your gear is taken care of, the biggest obstacle to winter cycling may be our fear of the season. Getting outside to enjoy a beautiful winter day is as easy as pulling on mittens and a toque. Forget the blizzards, freezing waits at the bus stop or horrific driving experiences. Overwhelm those memories with positive ones of snowball fights with kids, walks in the snow, ice-skating beside a bonfire or riding a riverside path as steam rises from the water. If you are open to it, winter riding can be magical.