The Beginner's Guide to Winter Biking

Keep cycling through the winter season with these simple tips

Sure, biking might primarily be considered more of a warm-weather sport, but if you happen to particularly enjoy outdoor cycling as part of your regular fitness routine, you definitely don’t have to store your bike away when winter comes along.

It might take a little bit of extra effort and a few more layers of spandex, but riding your bike outside during the wintertime can be just as enjoyable as any other time of year.

The right gear and some simple preparation will keep you riding comfortably all winter long.

Below, My City Bikes, the national public health campaign for beginner cyclists, lays out everything you need to know about biking in the winter.

Layering is key to a successful (and enjoyable) winter ride. These three layers will keep you comfortably warm: base, thermal and wind-proof.

  • Base Layer: moisture-wicking bike jersey or athletic shirt, bike shorts with moisture-wicking tights underneath
  • Thermal Layer: thermal mid-layer in an insulating material like performance fleece
  • Wind Proof Layer: outer lightweight wind- and water-proof layer

Add a beanie (aka. skull cap or skully) under your helmet, full finger gloves and merino wool socks and you're ready to ride. My City Bikes resident gear guru Waylon Grete recommends, “Craft or Castelli for a base layer. Any performance fleece or waffle weave makes a good insulating thermal layer. For a wind-breaker I really like the Altura Night Vision because it’s wind-resistant and waterproof, and it comes in bright colors with reflectors all over it to make sure you’re really visible on your bike.”

Even though you may not feel like you’re sweating as usual, you are. Drink about 16 ounces of water before you head out, and about 10 ounces for every 30 minutes you ride. “A lot of people want an easier guideline to follow,” said Ben Pearce, cyclist and My City Bikes programmer. “Basically you want to take about two or three big gulps of water from your bottle every 10 to 15 minutes you’re out riding to stay hydrated.”

Bike Paths
Bike paths are a great winter option because they're relatively flat and traffic-free. They often go through wooded areas as well, which offers some protection from the wind. “Bike paths are a great option all year,” said LeAnn Thompson, cyclist and My City Bikes User Experience Director. “There are so many rails, trails and bikeways and one of the great things about them is that you know how far they go so you automatically measure your distance. The local My City Bikes apps list area bike paths in the 'Recreation & Touring' sections along with their mileage so you can find one that’s just the length you need.” 

Bikes & Tires
To get a bike just for winter riding go for a “fat bike” which has wide, thick tires with tread that can grip in even snowy conditions. Otherwise a mountain bike can be used, or seasonal tires from a local bike shop can be added to a commuter or road bike to give extra tread. "If you're really committing to biking this winter you'll get a lot out of a fat bike," said Peter Armando, cyclist and My City Bikes programmer. "They're really fun to ride and feel very secure which is ideal for a new rider. But if you're not 100 percent sure how you'll like winter biking, seasonal tires are a really great option because you don't have to get a new bike. You can just take your current bike to your local bike shop and switch out the tires for ones that will go through winter rain, slush and snow better." 

My City Bikes is the public health project benefiting communities across the United States by providing a simple mobile resource that encourage and support beginner cyclists. Whether for fun, fitness or transportation, My City Bikes serves as a definitive guide to each participating community's cycling opportunities. Local bike shops, bike-friendly businesses and municipal governments across the United States are bringing My City Bikes to their home towns to empower individuals to improve their physical and environmental health by simply pedaling a bike.