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How-To Tips For Biking In The Winter

winter cycling tips

Are you interested in Winter Biking?  If so, please keep reading! 

We have interviewed four avid bikers – Luke Tudor (Saint John, NB) Becci Taylor (hometown is Woodstock, NB, but original hometown Manchester, England),  Chris Richter (Halifax, NS), Linda Boisvenue (Ottawa, ON) about how to make winter cycling enjoyable with the right preparation

Interview with Luke Tudor, Saint John, NB

How to get a bike ready for winter?

I have a bike that I keep studded tires on year ‘round.  Every Fall I: pump up the tires, lube the chain, and check the brakes/gears.  

Folks who don’t have a dedicated winter bike only need to check that their bike is working well by riding it a few times in the Fall.  Lubricating the chain once a month is a good practice but always wipe away all the excess lube.

On mild Winter days with clear roads, no extra equipment or preparation is required.  Saint John Winter weather is often quite comfortable for cycling!

How to commute to work on your bike during the Winter through the snow, ice, and slush? 

It’s not much different than riding in the Summer, other than dressing a little warmer.  If it’s a short trip, I dress as if I were going for a Winter walk.  If it’s a longer trip I wear one less layer or remove a layer after the first ten minutes. Cycling generates plenty of heat!

My biggest recommendation for bicycle commuting at any time of the year is an extremely bright taillight.  Good daytime visibility models cost $40-$80 and increase cyclist safety more than any other purchase!  A headlight is a good idea too.  I set both lights to a flashing mode during the day, and to a solid beam after dark. 

For riding in the depths of Winter it helps to have some specific equipment.  My top three pieces of winter equipment are: ski goggles, bar mitts, and studded tires. 

Ski goggles fit around bike helmets, protecting from the elements and the freezing temperatures. Bar mitts cover part of the handlebars, keeping gloved hands warmer. Studded tires can seem expensive but they last many seasons and greatly reduce the risk of losing control on slippery roads. -Luke Tudor-

Interview with Becci Taylor, Woodstock, NB

What kind of bike do you use during the Winter?

For me, I don’t think one bike fits all situations, and that’s why having a: fat bike, ski bike, trail bike, are all things most of us have 

I’m not a road rider, I much prefer to ride trails away from traffic.  For me, biking is more about the tranquility a trail brings.  No noise, no hustle and bustle of everyday life, just me, my bike, and the trees.

How should we dress for Winter Cycling?

The only issue I have in Winter is keeping warm.  I’m pretty sure my English blood is not made for -30 Canadian weather!  To try and combat my cold side, having the right equipment really helps.  I’m yet to sweat while Winter riding, but I believe some riders do, so its all about the layers.  For me, my hands and feet are the first to go cold, so I cannot stress enough – merino should be any bikers go to!  I love my merino beanie that goes under my helmet, and even double up on the socks to keep those toes toasty!

How can we stay safe on the Winter groomed trails?

Be mindful of trail conditions.  Groomed trails take so much time to create and maintain and the last thing a groomer wants is to see tire tracks in their freshly groomed trails.  It’s an art form of sorts.  Its not just about pulling a sled on them.  It’s the process, berms, width, allowing the snow to pack down, and being patient. Watch out for updates on their social media sites, or just connect with your local trail builders to make sure they are safe to use!

Tell us about you cycling adventure in Hillsborough (White Rock Recreational Area) on January 26. 2022?

We were invited by Dale and Melissa to attend their fat biking at Hillsborough, trying out some of their amazing new fat bikes, The Flurry. The bike didn’t disappoint, and I was able to tackle some gnarly trails, obviously fell off once or twice, but what an amazing experience.  Sometimes in summer, we take the trails for granted, and don’t really see what’s in front of us, but with fat biking, you have no choice.  The snow is all around, and trails you thought you knew, you really don’t.  Dale said to me, with fat biking, there is no break, no coast down the trail…. And he wasn’t wrong!  If you haven’t tried it, I would recommend anyone thinking of trying it, to reach out to Dale, who is the owner of Quest Carbon Cycles in Hillsborough. -Becci Taylor-

Interview with Chris Richter, Halifax, NS

Getting the bike ready for the Winter:

 Big thing I tend to do is to swap out for studded tires (learned the hard way that black ice will take you down hard and fast, with no time to react or brace).  Then full fenders, and of course, lots of lights – front and rear.


Lots of layers, no big secrets here.  Wooly socks and good warm gloves (some people prefer mitts but I like the gloves better).  If I’m going with my cycling shoes, then toe caps or shoe covers, otherwise the toes start to freeze.  Neck gaiter and a warm helmet liner to keep the melon warm.

Then, just gauge the weather. If the snow or ice is starting to encroach and force me into traffic, I opt out.  Our bike lanes and paths here are limited (improving all the time but still lots of hostile sections where one must ride in traffic). My commute to work heads into the Windsor Street exchange and for anyone familiar, it can be a death defying, white knuckle ride.  If you sprinkle some ice/snow in there, well, those are odds I normally don’t gamble on.  One day, hopefully, there will be a lane or means to safely ride through but I don’t chance it if there are sloppy road conditions.

Cycling in Winter – Halifax Cycling Coalition (cyclehalifax.ca)

Favourite season to ride

 Any time I can get out. I suppose the Fall is tough to beat out here, usually perfect conditions and with the leaves turning can make for a beautiful afternoon. There are a number of great cycling routes right here in Halifax and surrounding area. My wife and I love the Harvest Moon trail in the Valley, especially Grand Pre to Kentville and back. That is one of our favourites (with a stop for lunch and beer at the Port Pub or Wayfarers in Port Williams), can’t be beat!  My favourite way to spend a Saturday afternoon. -Chris Richter-

Interview with Linda Boisvenue, Ottawa, ON

How should I dress for winter cycling?

The National Capital of Canada; Ottawa, is definitely a region that serves up a variety of weather all within a day and then some! Fluctuating temperatures of -5 to -30 degrees Celsius overnight is not uncommon. This inconsistency makes it more complex, having to constantly alter clothing and layering choices.

The Commuting or Recreational way

There are two styles of Winter Cycling that will have the biggest influence; Cycling from Point A to B near amenities versus a Remote location.

Keep In Mind…  (K.I.M. Check-List)

WHERE am I going; open areas, along the water, or within the forest/trails?

WINDS – check the forecast; ‘Feels Like’ low temperature with Wind speeds.

WHAT type of riding and effort; flat, winding trails, hill climbing? A to B, Quick out & back, or making it a day?

WHO – will you be riding with? Predict the unpredictable; stops, repairs, need to refuel.

WHEN will you be out; Sunrise>Sunset? Plan for weather & temperature changes.

The Number One factor for comfort and function, is the ART OF LAYERING. Knowing how to regulate your body temperature. From top to bottom here we go… 

  • Ski helmet ; option to open vents or take off the ear muffs if too warm.
  • Goggles that protect eye chill (it’s real! ) and tears that freeze!
  • Balaclava for full face coverage, or a buff with fleece lined cap for warmer days.
  • Vented jacket that offers heat escaping panels or underarm zippers. *#1 for me is the Endura Windchill Jacket II
  • Merino wool is amazing and worth it’s weight in gold!  Long sleeve base; different thickness/temperature options
  • Base: Start with a wicking base layer; Gore undershirt (base bra: seamless polyester).
  • My Bottom… my biggest challenge! Start with fleece lined SUGOI MidZero Wind Boxer. Next layer is fleece lined thermal Castelli long pant/bib (riding comfort and lower back warmth), Final outer layer: CRAFT wind-blocking pants with full side zippers. EVEN COLDER or having a tough day acclimatizing… I add duck down insulation shorts that can be thrown over everything.
  • Feet & Hands – merino wool blend socks, 45NRTH boots, wicking liner gloves with (water & windproof) outer glove.  -10 or colder: electric heated socks & gloves (bring spare batteries!)
  • Bar Mitts / aka Pogies – an attractive option that blocks the wind and also enables the use of thinner gloves.
  • Snow deep to the knee days… Gaiters will prevent snow from entering your boots and keep the bottom of your pants dry.

The key to winter cycling… keep moving, keep dry, keep your core temperature regulated. Windproof shells are essential to keep the warmth in & the wind out! 

PREPAREDNESS!  Bring spare mitts, socks & foil survival blanket (cut to size) to save the extremities. Frostbite awareness… don’t push through the pain. Stop & Swap! Bring an extra vest or shell jacket to throw over to keep your core warm during longer stops.

Pushing the pace or Realize you’re over-dressed? 

Your body will work extra hard (sweating/trying to cool itself). How exhausting and counter-productive to any efforts… know when to stop and take off a layer. 

TIP!  Start your ride cool if you can manage (or wear a light vest to take off after 10 minutes riding).

Start your ride dry… Try not to stay indoors fully dressed where you will start sweating, this is the culprit to being chilled. Get dressed>get out!   

REMEMBER : Just say NO…  to Cotton! When this gets wet it keeps the cold.

Clothing choices really is personal, everyone runs different (hot/cold/oh man I’m freezing).

With the K.I.M. check-list, and some personal experimenting, you will find what works best for YOU!

Where to bike in the Capital Region (Ottawa, Ontario) during the winter?

The challenge in Ottawa and the Region is not where can we bike, but where you wish to adventure out to! We are extremely fortunate. During winter, part of the Capital Pathway transforms into a network of over 100 kilometers of multi-use winter trails. This makes it ideal to avoid the road, salt, traffic… all you need is a fat bike with wider tires. For road only commuters, bike lanes are cleared, so using a hybrid bike with wider/preferably studded tires, would suffice.

What experience are you looking for? 

A quick local ride (neighbourhood forests are plentiful!), hitting some higher intensity with hill climbing, or heading to a remote forest venture… we have it all!  Ottawa (OC Transpo) also offers Bikes on Buses | the Rack & Roll Program, which combines biking and transit with ease.

With Gatineau Park as our playground just across the river, over 40 kilometres of technical trails or easy rolling is available with a Park Winter pass. The Ottawa Public Library (OPL), offers free 1 week passes to try it out. Gatineau Park offers one of the largest networks of trails in North America.

A Personal Favourite… Larose Forest; over 27km for single track, winding flat and inclines with some fun berms and cliffside jaunts over ‘bridges’– go get ‘em! Lots of fun taking it at whatever pace suits you.

Eastern Ottawa… generally, the 30km multi-use Ski Heritage East Trail and for Western Ottawa… the 16km Kichi Sibi Winter Trail (formerly SJAM) gives you the longest straight stretch with the Ottawa River Parkway views! If you’re looking for a reliable steady ride with opportunities to take in the view while riding, this is it!

The Greenbelt – National Capital Commission (ncc-ccn.gc.ca) offers up an abundance of fat biking trails for a fun, relaxed or endurance tempo, all in how you wish to approach it.

Other Fan Favourites: South March Highlands-Kanata Lakes, The Britannia Winter Trail, The Rideau Winter Trail (along the Rideau River), The Ottawa West Winter Trail (8km), Jack Pine Trail Network (West Hunt Club and Moodie Drive), Limerick Forest (Leeds & Grenville), Centre de plein air du Lac-Leamy (City of Gatineau).

With winter cycling there’s no right or wrong, in fact, every cyclist I come across has the biggest grin… if you can see it beneath the balaclava. If not, just look for the gleam in the joyful eyes behind big goggles as we salute the hard-core winter athletes we are!  -Linda Boisvenue-

Here are some helpful links about biking during the winter in Atlantic Canada

Winter biking and fat biking in New Brunswick (tourismnewbrunswick.ca)

Rad Winter Riding and Fat Biking Spots in New Brunswick / #ExploreNB / Tourism New Brunswick

Fat Biking | Tourism PEI

️Winter Bike Week 2022️ – Halifax Cycling Coalition (cyclehalifax.ca)

Fat bikers scale Clarenville mountainside as winter cycling craze grows | CBC News

Have a great and safe cycling season 2022!