Ever wonder what it’s like to ride your bike in wintery conditions? Snow, ice, snirt. It’s not much different than your every day commute, just a little bit more, um, interesting. Here are some winter riding techniques that will help you master different conditions.
6 Winter Riding Techniques:
Weight on your front wheel
I accomplish this by using a bakfiets, a heavy bike by nature — although I notice a significant difference between loaded and unloaded (with loaded being the preferred, more solid feeling variation). Others switch from a more relaxed, upright “summer” bike to a little bit more aggressive mountain bike stance (that is, leaning forward a bit more). Or, they keep the same bike and adapt their stance according to the terrain, shifting their weight forward to give their front wheel more traction when necessary.
Studded tires help immensely to get better traction, too.
Keep your cadence up
When the snirt gets snirty, channel any mountain biking skills you may have and think of what it’s like to ride in softer sand: get in an easy gear and keep spinning.
E-assist was a surprising benefit for me, here. When fully loaded, our gearing is such that it’s hard to get a nice easy spinning gear at low speeds trying to pedal through something thick. If I engage the e-assist it really gives me just enough juice to keep my cadence up, and it can sometimes help me just push through a sludgy bit quickly before I topple over! Pretty cool.
Use your core
Your core is your friend for staying upright in snirt and other slick conditions. As soon as the snow hit us hard in November, I was astonished at how much more I was using my abdominals. Bonus! They’re a really great tool for balance. In clearer conditions, we can rely on our bike doing all of its beautiful bike-physics-magic, but when the coefficient of friction is skewed and you can’t ride fast to stay upright, you have to contort your body to balance.
You’ll notice the camber on roads even more in loose snow conditions and you’ll curse your high school physics teacher and vectors and wish that the roads were just flat… and then you’ll wish that your city just plowed all marked bike routes… but you’ll get through it by using your abs and any momentum you have to keep rolling. Or, putting your foot down, and walking! (Or, head to the sidewalk like I do a lot, just mind your manners.)
Relax your shoulders
Most people let their shoulders creep up into a tense shrug when they are nervous. Keep telling yourself to drop your shoulders because if you do need to react, your body will cooperate better if you’re as relaxed as possible.
Winter is the time to get zen. You will not be able to stop as fast. You will not be able to manoeuvre as nimbly. And, you reduce your personal windchill factor by slowing down a bit. Winter is not the time to work on Strava segments.
Slough speed before entering a turn. I often take one foot off the pedal, prepared to put it down, if necessary. I also don’t lean into (or bank) my turns as much, if at all, in the winter; I try to keep my body position as perpendicular to the surface under me, as possible.
Snow days will slow you down even more, so give yourself 5-20 minutes more to get where you need to go (depending on how long your journey is). Our 5 km route to school can take 5-10 minutes extra if we have a storm blow through.
Keep a regular route
This tip is in keeping with slowing down, above. Knowing your route helps you to slow down in key areas, it also helps you to learn to trust the various surfaces you will ride over on your route because you are unlikely to face the same conditions throughout. Plus, when it’s dark out or it snows, you know where the sketchy spots are, regardless. I call this “ice memory“!
It’s fun to learn new things
Try it. You might find that you actually really like riding a bike in winter. Admittedly, fresh snow days are gorgeous in the morning but can be rather hellish come afternoon and for a day or two afterwards. But, I try to find the beauty in it because, well, #YOLO. While I may not like all aspects of winter riding, I like riding year round heaps more than not riding my bike all winter. Other than post-snow storm conditions, most days are very similar to summer riding. Fine, you have to wear more specialized (warm) clothes and it feels amazing when the pavement is clear enough to really take that corner, but it’s all so, so much better than sitting in the car.
I hope that this winter riding techniques help you to get out and try riding your bike for the last two months of winter!