Autumn and Winter Cycling
Preparing For Cooler Temperatures
A necessary consideration in cycling for transportation is whether to continue riding through the autumn and winter. One cycling success metric for “winter cities” is the attractiveness of winter cycling. Many cities worldwide support winter cycling with maintained cycle tracks and weather-protected bike racks. But, the absence of these facilities doesn’t mean cycling in winter can’t happen.
The biggest obstacle to winter cycling is often one’s own attitude, and preparation. Just like any activity in winter, preparation is key.
Have you had to go outside in winter? Either to:
- Get to your car
- Pick up your mail
- Take your waste to the curb for pickup
If the answer to any of these is yes, then you’ve been a participant in an outdoor activity in winter! Cycling in cooler weather is not much different to doing any other activity. The rest of this article explains.
Local wildlife takes time in winter to prepare for hibernation. That doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Many people choose to continue cycling through the winter. As Gil Penalosa from 8-80 Cities has said:
Temperatures can vary from day to day in autumn and winter. The best way to prepare for these changes is to have layers you can add or remove as needed. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself what you would need to wear to take a brisk walk. Check the weather forecast for snow and temperature. You should feel springtime chilly, not shivering, when you start riding. Remember, you’ll warm up when you ride. You might consider wearing a brighter coloured coat if you’re concerned about visibility in poorly lit areas. You might still break a sweat when you ride, and want to adjust your layers. You’ll find water repellant material more comfortable if it starts to snow or rain.
Just as with any other winter activity, you’ll need:
- Hat, and perhaps a scarf.
- Long underwear if your legs start to feel colder than you’re comfortable with.
- Perhaps a sweater
Preparing Your Bicycle
After preparing yourself, it’s a good idea to prepare your bicycle. In winter particularly, the amount of water and salt left on the ground are not kind to bicycles and their components. Generally, it’s the most-used moving parts that need protection from winter elements, particularly moisture. It’s a good idea to be pro-active — preparing your bike in the fall before temperatures freeze in winter.
Check your brake pads or disc calipers for evenness of wear. If you see any ridges forming, or if they look uneven, they might need adjustment or replacement. When applying the brake lever, brake pads should touch the rim at the same time.
Brake and shifter cables should be free of crimps and cracks. If you find any, consider replacing the cable. Slack on the brake line can be adjusting using the barrel adjuster. To avoid problems, consider replacing all cables in the fall before sub-zero temperatures arrive.
Wheels and Tires
Inspect your wheel rims for dents or scrapes. Spin each wheel to check for wobble. If your brake pads rub when spinning your wheel, your wheel might not be true. You can try adjusting the spokes yourself, or take your bike in for service. Check your tires for correct inflation pressure. Check the tread for cracks, cuts, punctures, uneven wear. Replace your tires if you find any.
Consider reducing the pressure in your tire to slightly above the minimum recommendation. This will help increase contact with the ground. The increased contact will also increase friction, so you might find it takes more effort to maintain speed. But, you’ll likely not travel as quickly anyway when there’s snow on the ground. Also consider whether you want to change your tires for ones with knobs or studs for better grip on snow and ice.
Degrease and re-lube your chain using wet lube. Make sure to wipe off your chain with a dry rag when it’s snowing, and try to re-apply lube every month.
Lift the rear wheel or put the bike on a stand and run through the gears. Shifting should be smooth and easy through all gears. Make any adjustments to the derailleurs and cable tension if necessary.
Make sure your lights are working, and keep spare sets of batteries handy. There isn’t as much sunlight in winter, you’ll be using your lights more
Before riding, pick your bike up about 4-5 inches and drop it. Listen for rattles or anything that sounds loose. Double-check the brakes and tire pressure. Make sure your quick-release is tight.
Prepare Your Routes
Be mindful of changes to day-to-day sunrise times. Keep your lights on for 30 minutes after sunrise, and 30 minutes before sunset. Consider keeping your light on for longer if you are riding into the sun, for the courtesy of those approaching from behind you.
Riding in winter is not like riding in summer. Just as with driving, one must adjust to the different conditions. This might mean taking different routes than you’re used to. Recreation Trails in Brampton are not cleared consistently, and might not always be usable. Or, might be cleared several days after a snowfall.
- If you are comfortable with riding in mixed traffic, frequently used streets tend to have less snow.
- Less used roads might feel safer with less traffic but might also have more snow and ice.
- Some non-arterial roads in Brampton have bus routes. These roads are sometimes ideal, as transit routes in Brampton receive snow removal.
- Read about Brampton’s Snow Clearing Operations, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook for updates.
- Consider using Brampton’s Snow Plow Routes map to plan your trip.
Whatever route you choose, expect to ride more slow and cautiously. When cornering, slow down enough so that you don’t have to lean the bike. Give yourself time to slow down. Wet brakes take longer to work, and your wheels can lock easily on slippery pavement. Look ahead for obstacles, and signal your intentions well in advance to avoid having to make any sudden maneuvers.
Above all else…
If you have any questions about being active in winter, or need any help with maintenance, visit your local bike shop for advice and service. Remember that it’s not a competition. Keep a PRESTO card handy to take Brampton Transit instead if you ever don’t feel like riding.
Cycling in winter is a great way to stay active. Just as importantly, it’s an important way to discover, or rekindle, an appreciation of winter. You might be surprised that spending time outside when the thermostat drops below 0 can be pleasant.
Do you continue riding your bicycle through winter? How do you prepare? Let us know in the comments.