Cycling is fun and convenient even when temperatures dip below zero. Our winters include many mild days and cycling is a great way to stay active all year long. With a little planning and preparation, you can join thousands of other Calgarians who have embraced winter cycling as a great way to get around.
Planning your winter cycling route
The route you take during fair weather may not be the best route in winter. For example, many bike lanes and sections of pathway are cleared within 48 hours of a snowfall ending, while the downtown cycle tracks are cleared within 24 hours. The following maps will help you plan your winter route. We suggest testing the route following a snowfall to find out how long it takes.
Winter bike maintenance
Your bike will work best if you maintain it regularly throughout the winter. Snow, dirt and slush can damage the moving parts of your bicycle over time. If you wipe down your bike using hot water or a bicycle specific cleaning solution, you will wash away any dirt or grime before it has a chance to settle in. If it is particularly wet and slushy out, clean your bike more often.
Keep bike parts moving with a bike grease or other type of lubricant. Dry lubricants will keep dirt and grime from building up. Oil-based lubricants will keep your bike functioning but they attract and accumulate dirt, so cleaning your bike more often is required. Apply bike grease/lubricant all moving parts:
- pivots in the derailleur
- brake levers, posts and pivots
- gear shifters
- cable housing ends
Bikes function best when protected from freeze-thaw conditions. Whenever possible, bring your bike into a warm area, wipe it down and let it dry completely before you ride it again.
Other bicycle maintenance tips
- Consider taking a bike maintenance course provided through your favourite bike shop. If they don’t provide them, ask for a referral.
- Get a professional winter tune-up at the beginning and end of the winter cycling season at any local bike shop. Schedule well in advance to get your preferred date and time.
Winter cycling clothing
Dress in layers so you can adjust as needed for the morning cold, warmer afternoons and any sudden shifts in temperature.
- This layer is against your skin.
- Select items that will wick moisture to keep your skin dry.
- Shirts and leggings made of merino wool are a good option.
- Wool or a similar material sock will keep your feet warm and dry. Keep an extra pair or two at work so you can double up as needed.
- Select items that are breathable and warm.
- A fleece or wool sweater and a light down jacket or vest will keep your upper body warm.
- A pair of comfortable pants over your first-layer leggings will work for your lower body.
- Wear a jacket that will block the wind.
- A pair of shell pants that repel snow and slush will keep your second-layer pants dry.
- Mittens with two finger sections keep your hands warm while allowing you to brake and shift gears with ease. Leather gloves or mittens over a thin fleece glove cut the wind.
- Wear a thin toque or headband under your helmet, if you wear one.
- A neck warmer or scarf will take care of your neck/face. Scarves are particularly good for pulling up over your nose and mouth for warmth and to make breathing easier on your lungs.
- Prevent watering eyes and freezing eyelashes with a pair of sunglasses or glasses with clear lenses. Ski goggles work very well for the extra warmth and visibility they provide.
- Any flat-footed winter boot, fleece-lined rain boot, hiking boot or neoprene cycling bootie will help repel snow to keep your feet dry.
Winter cycling equipment
Your bike will experience some wear and tear while cycling in the winter, but with proper maintenance and care it will take you anywhere all season long.
- Regular tires do work, but can be challenging on ice or in deep snow.
- Mountain bike or knobby tires offer more stability in winter conditions.
- Studded bike tires are best for slippery icy surfaces. Install one on the front of your bike, or on both front and back for best performance. Studded tires can be purchased at a local bike shop or online.
Fenders attached to the front and back of your bike will keep dirt, mud, snow, slush and water off of you. Consider using clip or strap-on fenders that sit closer to tire. They prevent snow and slush from building up as typically happens with traditional bike fenders.
Lights help you see and be seen by others. Keep in mind that your bicycle light(s) may make it difficult for other pathway and roadway users to see. Please be considerate of others when installing and positioning your lights.
- The Alberta Traffic Act requires all bicycles to have a white headlight and a red tail light when cycling on roads before sunrise and after sunset.
- Consider selecting a bike light that has a higher number of lumens (the amount of light emitted), to help you see obstacles ahead. These lights are typically more expensive but they can be adjusted depending on how much light you need. Lower lumen lights will help others see you, but won’t illuminate upcoming obstacles.
- Many bike lights are rechargeable and can be plugged into a USB outlet when the battery runs out.
- Panniers attach easily to a back bike rack. Waterproof options are available.
- Backpacks, baskets and other types of bags also work to carry your extra necessities for the day.
Consider carrying the following items with you in the event of an emergency:
- Spare warm layers, such as a light down jacket and extra pair of mittens/gloves.
- Tools to help you remove your tire in case you get a flat:
- Extra tire tube
- Small bike tire pump
- Bicycle multi-tool.
- Extra bike lights.
- Bike lock.
- Money in case you need to switch your ride to transit or take a cab.
- Cell phone to call for help or let anyone expecting you that you’ll be late.
- When riding your bike in the winter you may want to ride with a friend or co-worker. You may also want to tell someone when you leave and when you arrive safely at your destination.