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These Winter Cycling Tips Will Make Your Cold-Weather Rides Better

Keep rolling right into spring.

by Robert Annis and Jessica Coulon
siddeeq shabaz riding the tarmac sl6 in philadelphia
Henry Hung

You don’t need to hang up your bike at the first sign of frigid temperatures. Winter cycling offers plenty of benefits, including keeping your fitness up and your efficiency rolling. It could also help you beat the winter blues, considering research shows exercising in nature can improve mental health, including combating a depressive mood and reducing anxiety. Plus, riding around (safely) in the snow can be incredibly fun.

To keep your motivation up and the enjoyment factor elevated when it comes to winter cycling, here are 10 things you should—and shouldn’t—do while riding this season.


Do: Layer Your Clothing

winter cycling gear
Trevor Raab

When it comes to winter cycling clothing, Chris Mayhew, an associate coach at JBV Coaching, starts with a warm base layer.

“Your body is making all the decisions about what to do based on core temps, so make sure your core is toasty,” Mayhew says. From there, you can add multiple layers that you can put on or take off as you get warmer or the ride gets longer. “Really, you can get through about anything with a good base layer and jacket.”

Realize you’re going to be cold, at least at first, says Kevin Whited, frequent winter commuter and transportation development coordinator for the city of Carmel, Indiana.

“You shouldn’t be warm when you get outside, ready to ride,” Whited says. “If you are, you have too much clothing on. You should always be slightly cold before you get on and begin riding.”


Don’t: Buy a New Bike (Unless You Need One)

winter cycling
Trevor Raab

Fat bikes are awesome, but you don’t necessarily need four-inch tires to have a blast in the snow. Winter cycling can be rough on bikes, though. Rather than risking your primary ride, opt for that long-ignored mountain bike gathering dust in your rafters, if you have one.

For more stability on the snow, run the lowest tire pressure you can without getting a pinch flat. Depending on your weight, you might be able to ride 15 psi or lower. (Be sure to experiment with tire pressure in the fall, so you’re not changing flats in the middle of winter.) Also, try running the widest tires that you can fit on your bike. If you want a bit more traction in icy conditions, consider investing in a pair of studded tires.


Do: Wash Your Bike Often

winter cycling
Trevor Raab

Riding in the slush and snow will kick a lot of salty, dirty water onto your bike’s parts, which can cause corrosion and damage over time. Be sure to wash your bike, or at the very least wipe it down or rinse it, as soon as you finish each ride.

One of the first rules every cyclist learns is to never use WD-40 on a bike—but spraying it on the frame before a ride will help repel ice and grime that your tires have kicked up, says Fred Iversen of Shamrock Cycles.

After the postride cleaning, spray it on your bike chain to get rid of excess moisture. Use a thick lube such as NixFrixShun, he says, to keep everything running smoothly on your next frozen ride.

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Don’t: Ignore Your Extremities

winter cycling
Trevor Raab

Your hands and feet typically get cold first, as your body focuses on keeping your core warm. Keeping your extremities toasty is key to an enjoyable winter ride, which is why it’s smart to wear a pair of warm cycling gloves.

Air-activated heat packs are cheap and add much-needed warmth to the insides of your gloves and shoes. Buy a box and keep them in your car or backpack—and be sure to keep a couple extra handy for riding buddies who didn’t plan ahead. Some of these hand warmers last up to 10 hours, so you can reuse the same pair heading home as you did on your morning commute.

In sub-freezing temperatures, winter cycling boots, like the Lake MXZ 303, can be the difference between a temporarily tolerable and a reasonably comfortable ride.


Do: Pack Extra Gear

winter cycling
Trevor Raab

Whited always carries two pairs of gloves—one heavier and one lighter—to handle temperature shifts. A pair of lighter gloves can offer a bit more finger dexterity as well, making flat tire changes faster and easier.

An extra pair of wool socks stashed in a re-sealable plastic bag can be a godsend if you accidentally put your feet in a puddle or an icy stream on the trail.


Don’t: Be Afraid to Check Other Sporting Equipment

winter cycling
Getty Images

There’s no reason to buy a lot of new bike gear if you already like to hit the slopes. Ski gloves will keep you warm on the bike, though you may not have the same amount of dexterity. Ski helmets can also keep your dome warmer than multi-vented bike helmets, but beware of going out too hard and overheating.

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Do: Insulate Your Liquids

winter cycling
Westend61//Getty Images

You might not feel warm on winter rides, but you’re still sweating and need to hydrate. Get warm from the inside out by bringing hot broth or coffee along to slug when you cross into shivering territory. A double-insulated coffee mug or flask from Stanley or HydroFlask will keep your liquids hot—and in turn, keep you warm—even in freezing conditions. If you’re riding with a traditional water bottle, keep it in your back jersey pocket so it won’t freeze, Mayhew suggests.


Don’t: Ride Without Fenders

winter cycling
Jon Shireman//Getty Images

Fenders keep slushy road spray off you and your bike, and more importantly, off the people you ride with, Mayhew says. He suggests attaching a pair of SKS Race Blades or a similar product to your bike. Or use our handy guide on how to choose and install fenders on your bike.


Do: Make Sure You’re Seen

winter cycling
Trevor Raab

Daylight is scarce during winter months, putting a damper on road safety. Always keep at least one small, rechargeable bike light on your front handlebar in case you spend too much time at the midride coffee stop. And consider investing in a light-blaring taillight to announce your presence to the world on the road. It also helps to wear reflective clothing.

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Don’t: Neglect Your Skin

winter cycling
Robert Niedring//Getty Images

Even though it’s winter, it’s still important to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, such as your face, when riding during the day. This is especially true when there’s snow on the ground, as snow can reflect nearly 90 percent of UV radiation. Your skin can seriously dry out on those frigid winter rides, too, and applying a protectant such as sunscreen, moisturizer, or even Vaseline can help your skin retain moisture. Also, don’t forget the lip balm.

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Robert Annis

After spending nearly a decade as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, Robert Annis finally broke free of the shackles of gainful employment and now freelances full time, specializing in cycling and outdoor-travel journalism. Over the years, Robert's byline has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including OutsideNational Geographic Traveler, Afar, BicyclingMen's Journal, Popular Mechanics, Lonely Planet, the Chicago Tribune, and

Headshot of Jessica Coulon
Service and News Editor

When she’s not out riding her mountain bike, Jessica is an editor for Popular Mechanics. She was previously an editor for Bicycling magazine. 

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