3 questions about winter biking answered

Two experienced winter cyclists share basic tips to help you use active transportation year-round.

When the temperature drops and snow falls, you might think cycling season is over. With some preparation, however, you can use this inexpensive, active transportation year-round to positively impact the climate, our communities and your own health. 

Simon Otto, assistant professor has been commuting to work by bike since 2010, adding full-time winter commuting in 2013.  He also rides for recreation with a cycling group and friends. 

Erin Pollock, assistant teaching professor, is also an avid cyclist. She has made the 10km round trip work commute year-round since 2014. She also uses her bike to commute within her neighbourhood. 

Otto and Pollock, of the School of Public Health, answered some winter cycling questions from their personal experience and a public health perspective to help you extend your cycling season into the winter months. 

1. Do I need a fat bike?  

Not necessarily. 

Otto says there is no one-size-fits-all bike for all winter conditions. Different types have pros and cons. 

“My main winter commuter is a hybrid city/mountain bike with skinny (700C x 32mm) tires with studs, however this bike cannot handle any volume of snow. A fat bike is best for that,” he said.  

Otto cautioned that a fat bike is much slower and harder to ride for regular commuting but finds that he can rely on his commuter bike about 80 per cent of the winter.

This is especially true if your commute is via tended city bike paths and lanes. 

2. What kind of specialized equipment do I need? 

“With the freeze-thaw cycles and freezing rain that has become the norm for Edmonton winters, the biggest necessity for me is studded tires,” said Otto. He added that there are ways of DIY-ing your own but, in his experience, they are heavy and hard to ride on. Purchasing studded tires is a worthwhile investment.

Both Otto and Pollock recommend pogies for warmth—essentially, mitts that mount on your bike and cover the handlebars, brake levers, shifters and your hands. 

3. How should I dress for winter cycling? 

“Whatever you would wear to walk, wear to bike,” advised Pollock. “Since you’re on the move dressing for 10 degrees Celsius warmer than the actual outdoor temperature, means you won’t overheat.” 

Pollock said not having technical clothing shouldn’t deter you from winter cycling. You can comfortably ride with just a few extra items, that also keep safety in mind. 

A bike helmet is a must but won’t fit overtop a toque. “Ski toques are specially designed to fit under a ski helmet. They’re thin, fleece lined and have ear flaps.” 

She also recommended goggles if you wear glasses to keep them from fogging, and to keep blowing snow and sleet off your face. 

Lastly, because it tends to be dark at commute times, Pollock said to take visibility into consideration; motorists may not expect cyclists on the road.  

Both Otto and Pollock use the City of Edmonton’s bike lanes and said that the City is doing an increasingly good job of maintaining the network, keeping it clear from snow in the winter. 

Using Edmonton Open Data, The Centre for Healthy Communities has produced a winter biking map showing popular cycling routes in the City. 

Data is collected from user submissions of road and trail conditions at winterbiking.ca


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