Winter on Two Wheels: Your Guide to Cold Weather Bike Commuting

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Icicles & Bicycles: 10 Steps to Winter Weather Commuting

By Liz McLaughlin, BikePGH volunteer

Now that Pittsburgh winter is officially upon us, you may be wondering how to stay on two wheels during the coldest and snowiest months. Here are 10 things that will keep you pedaling through the winter weather!

1. Clothing

The most important thing you can do to stay warm, dry, and comfortable on the bike during cold weather is appropriate clothing! Consider layering so you can easily adjust for fast-changing temperatures and activity levels (a casual commute requires different gear than racing miles)! Thermal, silk, and SmartWool base layers will wick sweat and keep you warm. Winter gloves are a must and you can find great options made for skiing and snowboarding. Boots or overshoes will keep your feet warm and dry. Wear a cap or headband that fits under your helmet and a scarf or balaclava to keep your neck and face warm. Clear glasses or goggles will prevent tearing eyes from the cold and wind. Waterproof or windproof jackets and pants can keep the chill out in very cold temps, but can also make you sweat—a jacket with armpit zippers can help.

2. Lights

With increased hours of darkness, you may be commuting more frequently in the dark. In winter, overcast days can also affect others’ ability to see you. Make sure you have bright lights on your front and rear that are fully charged or carry fresh batteries with you.

3. Tires

Switch your tires to a set with more tread for better grip in slick conditions. You can even purchase studded winter tires for ultimate grip on the road. And don’t forget your puncture kit, extra tubes/patches, and a pump or CO2 cartridges in case you need to fix a flat.

4. Fenders

Fenders and mudguards will help keep you, your bike, and your feet free from the worst of the wet, slush, rain, and snow that can accumulate on the roads.

5. Maintenance

Remember to keep your drivetrain clean and well-lubed during the winter months. A wet lube made specifically for rain and snowy conditions will keep your bike’s drivetrain in optimal condition and protected from the wet and salt on the road. You may have to clean and lube your chain more frequently during the winter months. If you can bring your bike into your house, basement, or another above-freezing place to thaw after use, it will help keep your components in good shape and ensure your bike is ready to go when you are.

6. Fuel

Although the weather is colder and you may ride slower in inclement weather, you are still exercising, so remember water and food for your ride. Some foods can become hard in cold weather (like bars), so keep them in your pocket or choose a softer energy source like gels. Fill your water bottle with hot or warm water to delay the freezing effect or purchase a thermos that fits in your bike cage. Needing to refuel is also a great excuse for a cafe stop on longer rides.

7. Winter bike

Winter weather can be hard on a bike’s components because of salt and wet road conditions, so you may consider owning a bike specifically for winter riding, equipped with cheaper parts, wider tires, and lower gears for getting around in snow and riding slowly in treacherous conditions. Mountain bikes, hybrids, and cyclocross bikes are good options. If a dedicated winter bike isn’t an option, simply winterise your day-to-day bike each season.

8. Have a plan

Know how to get where you are going and have an alternate route in case the roads you intended to take are impassable. Keep your phone or GPS on you to assist your travels. The BikePGH map can give you alternate safe traveling routes too!

9. Be multimodal

Just because you are on a bike, doesn’t mean you can’t walk or take the bus! Sometimes a road can be slick or icy and walking your bike until you get to a roadway with better conditions is the way to go. If the weather takes a turn for the worse or you don’t feel safe on the road, load your bike onto public transit.

10. Have fun!

This part is easy to do when you ride a bike in Pittsburgh, no matter the weather.

Want more tips and tricks? Check out our other posts about winter riding:


This article was authored by Liz McLaughlin, a Bike Pittsburgh volunteer. Interested in writing for the BikePGH blog? Head over to our call for creatives and email volunteer@bikepgh.org.

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