How to Ride your Bike Through Ice and Snow: Pro Tips for Cycling in Winter


Wintry conditions can prove daunting for bike commuters. Icy roads and heavy snowfalls appear to make cycling impossible – or at least highly miserable!

But with the right preparations and techniques, confidently riding through frost, snow and sleet remains achievable without resorting back to four wheels or public transport.

This winter cycling guide provides masses of tips and practical steps for keeping you rolling whatever the weather throws down. Let’s refuse to hang up wheels just because the mercury drops!

Key PointTakeaway
Overcoming PreconceptionsAddress myths: it’s too dangerous, nowhere to ride, bike can’t cope, and it’ll be miserable.
Winter Proof ClothingUse layered clothing (baselayers, mid-layers, and hard shells) and guard extremities (head, hands, feet).
Adjust Bike SetupMount winter tires, adjust suspension settings, fit mudguards, and lower saddle height.
Master Riding TechniquesReduce speed, scan surfaces, signal early, brake smoothly, and practice unweighting during slides.
Winter Route SelectionPrioritize gritted roads, avoid hills/rural lanes, ride park paths, and follow vehicle tire tracks.
Additional Winter UpgradesConsider single-speed conversion, spare contact points, frame protection, and bar grips.
Dealing with IceLower tire pressures, stay centered, push weight over front, scout surfaces, and use both brakes in moderation.
Winter Riding SafetyUse studded tires, install winter cyclocross tires, add fenders/mudguards, and seek out winter road tires.
Common Winter QueriesCovers extremity protection, why bikes feel slow in snow, dealing with glare ice, motorist behavior in ice, and post-ride cleaning.
General TipsLayer effectively, select ploughed routes, fit winter tires, modulate inputs, and scan ahead.

Overcome Winter Riding Barriers

Before exploring how to adapt your bike and body for sub-zero success, we should address the main preconceptions that deter cold weather riding:

1. It’s Too Dangerous

Icy tarmac undoubtedly brings risks. But with the appropriate tyres, pressures and riding responses you can mitigate slipping substantially while maintaining control.

Lower speeds also transform high consequence crashes into low speed topples you can easily run out. So don’t let perceived danger deter getting out when the roads start sparkling.

2. There’s Nowhere To Ride

While many summer routes do become impractical under heavy snow, roads quickly reopen once the bulk is ploughed or gritted open.

Simplifying your criteria to seeking merely ploughed tarmac opens up ample mileages perfectly capable of riding across winter.

3, My Bike Can’t Cope

While slick tyres struggle for grip, average hybrid or mountain bikes kitted correctly handle frozen terrain perfectly fine.

Wheel swaps also enable sticking studs or aggressive winter rubber to master sheets of ice with stability and control.

So provided your summer steed isn’t a pure skinny tyred race bike, fitting appropriate rubber makes winter riding very achievable.

4. It’ll All Be Too Miserable

Facing icy blasts and hammering downpours sounds about as far from fun as possible. But waterproof layers reliably lock warmth in while protecting you from the worst of winter’s soakings.

You can also generate an incredible amount of riding heat when pushing through snow barriers. Before long you’re welcoming the cooling air against flushed cheeks!

So with the right clothing winter bike trips quickly swing from looking miserable pre-ride to delivering satisfying and exhilarating post-ride joy.

Let’s explore exactly how to achieve that using the right gear, bike setup and riding techniques for every scenario.

Pick Winter Proof Clothing

The first rule of comfortable cold weather cycling is appropriate outfits layered effectively. Different garments serve specific purposes:

Baselayer Tops & Leggings

Worn next to skin, form fitting technical fabrics prevent chilling while wicking away heavy sweat. Merino wool or synthetic activewear fabrics provide the best cold weather base performance.

Insulating Mid Layers

Adding loftier insulation atop base layers traps rising body heat to lock in warmth. Look to technical fleece or soft shell fabrics here for easy movement.

Outer Hard Shells

Waterproof and wind cheating outer layers prevent chilling penetration while still enabling venting excess heat and sweat. Pick jackets and tights using rated membranes like GoreTex.

Change Mid Rides

Carry additional mid layer options to handle temperature shifts without overheating or cooling excessively from sweat soakings.

This layering approach effectively controls micro-climates against your skin during high aerobic winter riding. Shed or add items quickly if heating up or cooling down on an extended trip.

Guard Extremities Vigilantly

Protecting exposed head, hands and feet also proves vital when riding in snow and icy winds:

Head & Face Cover

Hats or balaclavas worn under your helmet insulate vulnerable ears while guarding noses and cheeks against biting chill. Choosing fabrics matching base or mid layers boosts thermal performance.

Neck gaiters or face buffs also prevent icy air penetrating coat zip gaps to chill chest and neck areas when riding leaning forwards.

Winter Cycling Gloves

Your hands grip controls and bear weight through them, so quality cold weather bike gloves add essential insulating and wind cheating.

Water resistant fabrics provide elemental protection during precipitation while gel padding saves numbing road vibrations when riding snowy back roads.

Winter Cycling Shoes & Sock Layers

Feet cooling rapidly reduces comfort while promoting circulation loss and numbness. So robust insulated winter cycling shoes pay back their cost in warmth and safety.

If sticking to summer shoes, wearing multiple pairs of socks using different fabrics boosts insulation. A waterproof outer layer also keeps slush kick off at bay.

Guard hands, head and feet vigilantly once the winter chill arrives. Don’t let dressing these extremities as an afterthought come back to bite you.

Adjust your Bike Setup For Snow & Ice

With your body shielded against the cold, ensuring your bike remains stable and responsive on frozen terrain makes up the next key preparation step:

Mount Winter Tyres

Switching rubber from summer slicks to winter tread with adaptive studs delivers a remarkable grip transformation over ice and through snow.

While multiple width options exist, 30-45c tyres run around 30psi provide the best squirming and bite across slippery surfaces. Rigid studs add extra anchoring and braking capability too.

Suspension Settings

If riding a mountain bike or hybrid with front suspension, reduce fork pressure by 20-30 psi while boosting rebound damping setting.

This prevents fork bobbing while enabling wheels to track and float better across uneven frozen ground. Keep the rear supple to enable skidding if the front loses grip.

Fit Mudguards

Full length mudguards prevent spray soaking wheels and brake pads while adding shielding from biting side winds. Get front guards especially close to tyres stopping snow kick up compacting into icy discs hampering brakes or jamming frames.

Lower Saddle Height

Drop saddle height by 0.5 to 1 inch compared to summer riding height and tilt minimally downwards.

This centres gravity better when riding on slippery surfaces while allowing easier dismounts. Being able to easily plant feet without toppling benefits confidence and security exponentially.

Adapting pressures, protection and touch points transforms bike stability and control once the roads turn white.

Master Winter Riding Techniques

With optimised clothing and bike prep complete, adapting your road skills and technique proves the final piece cracking winter code. Follow these key pointers:

Reduce Road Speeds

However grippy your winter tires, doubling or tripling braking distances remains essential on compacted snow or hidden ice patches. Don’t push pace beyond easily shedding 30% velocity when needed.

Scan Surfaces Further Ahead

Frequently alternate between your normal sightline and the road 10-20 yards ahead. This provides more reaction time to gradual traction changes from tarmac to ice. Constantly looking for differences down the road enables early speed scrubbing.

Signal Turning Earlier

Give extra indication space before cornering or changing road position in case your wheels suddenly lose purchase requiring recovery time. Constantly assume the traction rug could be pulled from under you despite grip feeling solid currently.

Brake Smoothly and Lightly

Gentle lever feathering provides progressive bite without locking wheels. Consider compressionless brake housing and quality pads too for maximising modulation range on dubious surfaces.

Unweight During Slides

If wheels do slip sideways, instantly shift butt backwards off the saddle while ‘pushing’ bars away and dropping heels. This stops your weight driving the skid while enabling muscling the bike back under control using its mass.

Follow those cautionary techniques religiously to prevent sudden surprises turning into crashes when riding snowbound roads. Respect conditions by riding well within handling limits despite the urge to sprint like normal tarmac days.

Practice controlled slides and emergency stops on protected ground first too. Instinctive slides responses require honing before relying on them to kick during incidents.

Winter Riding Route Selection

Beyond smoothing your inputs, smart winter route selection further reduces risks hitting ice patches or heavy snow blockers:

Prioritise Gritted Roads

Review primary salting routes in your region and utilise them in commute planning. Main traffic thoroughfares receive top priority clearance so stick to them before diverting.

Avoid Hills and Rural Lanes

Steep inclines or minor country lanes often remain untreated throughout winter. Their frozen surfaces represent unnecessary risk for minimal time benefit. Replan routes around them.

Ride Park Paths

Well drained walking and bridle paths packed by foot traffic offer reliable winter riding lines avoiding snowbound roads when conditions worsen. Just take care around slushy gates or pinch points.

Follow Vehicle Tyre Tracks

If roads remain snow covered, utilise the compressed ride line of previous cars and trucks. Their tyre treads slice through fresh snow leaving a clear imprint to follow. Just watch for ice build up on wheel space edges.

Route pragmatically all winter based on available traction over straight line speed. Avoid unnecessary corners, hills and side roads to complete commutes incident free.

Additional Winter Upgrades

For regular snow riders, several easy upgrades provide bonus winter performance:

Convert Bike to Single Speed

Removing complex derailleurs eliminates mechanical failures and impromptu degreasing while still providing gearing range through smarter cog choices.

Add Spare Contact Points

Carry additional brake pads, cleats or platform pedals if supply situations risk leaving you stranded unable to ride or walk home effectively on packed snow and ice.

Mount Frame Protection

Apply thick vinyl wrap or helicopter tape to chainstay underside and fork/downtube areas. This saves expensive paintwork damage from road grit trapped beneath snowfalls.

Upgrade Bar Grips

Fit softer winter specific lock on grips for improved comfort and feeling during extended sub zero rides. Bar mitts also add excellent insulation if struggling with persistent hand numbing.

Invest where it makes a positive difference over just spending for spending’s sake. Avoid winter aversions needlessly curtailing saddle adventures.

Additional Winter Upgrades For Biking Safety

Numerous affordable upgrades further boost safety and stability actually riding on snow and ice:

Stud Your Tyres For Extra Grip

Fitting studded tyres or adding temporary snow spikes provides literal gripping points cutting through slippery surfaces. Leading studded tyre options include:

  • Schwalbe Winter Marathon Plus
  • Continental Top Contact Winter II
  • Maxxis Minion studded
  • 45NRTH Xerxes/Gravdal 90

For occasional snow days, temporary tire stud kits from Summit or LOFA also supply removable studs without a full winter wheel swap.

Studs provide remarkable extra front wheel and rear wheel traction but still respect slippery conditions by lowering pressures and reducing speeds.

Install Winter Cyclocross Tyres

If a full knobbly tread seems excessive day to day, cyclocross tyres like the Challenge Chicane or Panaracer Comet provide intermediate snow grip without the road buzz of off-road treads.

Their blockier shoulder and intermediate centre ridge patterning adds stability cornering and braking gently in slush or over hidden ice patches. Well worth considering for regular winter city and suburban riders prone to the odd snowfall.

Add Front & Rear Fenders/Mudguards

Full coverage mudguards prevent chilling spray soaking feet and brake pads while shielding bike frames from grit abrasions.

Quality designs won’t rub or rattle even with a covering of compressing snow between guard and tyre. Check for adequate vertical clearance and solid strut mounts before purchase.

Seek Out Winter Road Tyres

When riding primarily cleared roads, winter optimised road tyres deliver confident grip without adding excessive rubber bulk hampering acceleration.

The Continental Winter Contact TS830 and Schwalbe G-One All Season represent ideal options for regular tarmac riders prone to the odd frosting or brief snowfall.

Their winter tread compounds supply extra bite down to minus temperatures while floating better across slushy sections. Worth considering for supplying extra grip insurance without resorting to full off-road treads.

Mastering Actually Riding On Sheets Of Ice

Smooth sheer ice remains most bike riders’ ultimate winter nemesis. Mastering traction control when minimal rubber ever contacts the road at any one time requires ninja like reactions and feather balance.

Follow these techniques lifting skills riding the iciest sections encountered on winter roads:

Lower Tyre Pressures

Partially deflating tyres to 20-25 psi increases contact patch grip by allowing more compliant tyre distortion over bumps.

Use wider volume mountain bike style rubber too for maximising imprint area. Just ensure leaving sufficient pressure to prevent rim strikes when bouncing through rutted ice sections.

Stay Centred Not Fighting Leans

Rather than wrestling the bars to correct severe lean angles, keep loose grip allowing the bike to naturally stabilise beneath you. Avoid body english exacerbating imbalance.

Push Weight Over Front

Subtly transfer more torso mass over your hands without straining locked arms. This adds compressive load securing the front wheel preventing terminal washout even as the back end drifts.

Scout Surfaces Well Ahead

Frequently alternate between watching your front wheel and scanning for traction changes 10-20 yards ahead. Actively look for differences down the road enabling early speed checking well before you reach them.

Use Both Brakes In Moderation

Limit initial braking to the front but use ample back brake too once at manageable speeds. Too much front bite promotes washout so blend lever inputs balancing deceleration evenly.

Follow those steps and icy roads hold far fewer fear factors. Just remember to leave extra space, signal turns more promptly and brake earlier over any suspicious looking sections!

Key Winter Riding Tips Summarised: How to Bike in the Winter

Let’s wrap up with a final snappy summary of succeeding on two wheels when snow or ice strikes:

  • Layer effectively keeping extremities especially guarded
  • Seek out ploughed tarmac wherever possible
  • Walk bike routes first checking for hidden ice
  • Fit winter tyres or add studs for essential grip
  • Modulate braking and steering inputs smoothly
  • Scan for traction changes further ahead

Follow those key pointers riding through the worst of winter stays frustration free and fun. Don’t hang up wheels just because your breath starts fogging!

Have your own favourite winter riding tricks we’ve missed? Pop them in the comments below to share with equally hardy cyclists.

Now let’s shake off that snow and get rolling wherever the black ice dares roam!

Answering Common Winter Riding Queries

Still harbouring some unresolved winter warriors doubts? Our cyclist experts address frequent icy quandaries below:

How Do I Stop Frost Nipping My Extremities When It’s Extra Cold Outside?

Layering matters! Ensure no gaps exist between jacket cuffs and winter cycling gloves. Seal off wrists fully.

Waterproof shoe covers also prevent chilling penetration numbing toes. If hands or feet start cooling rapidly it becomes incredibly difficult to rewarm them fully mid-ride.

So ensuring full seals around wrists, ankles and neck before setting off remains essential to maintaining circulation protecting extremities across hours in the saddle.

Why Does My Bike Feel So Slow Riding Through Deep Snow?

Wheels require extra energy actually riding on and compacting fresh snow underneath before finding traction to generate momentum.

Doubling pressure through contacting tyre areas burns quad power without delivering drive. Compared to rolling across dry tarmac it feels like riding through glue!

But once up to speed bikes ride more easily atop compressed snow trails. Heavy initial acceleration requires extra energy pushing through winter wonderlands over grippy clear roads.

Is Trying To Stay Upright On Glare Ice A Lost Cause?

While totally ice proof winter riding remains impossible, studs and spikes supply remarkable extra security.

They provide literal biting edges and braking points cutting through slippery surfaces that would otherwise offer zero ride traction.

Fitness brand LOFA Supply an ingenious temporary winter stud system without needing to commit to full studded winter tyres. For occasional snow days pick up their simple removable stud kit protecting against rogue ice patches.

Why Do Motorists Take Longer To Slow In Icy Conditions?

Cars and trucks weighing tons rather than pounds rely more on tyre traction and brakes than balance reactions. So once grip starts deteriorating their ability to rapidly shed speed declines exponentially.

While bikes can stay upright and change position fast even through slides, heavy vehicles require far longer stopping distances on compromised surfaces.

So give cars and lorries plenty more passing room whenever roads appear slick with ice or fresh snowfalls to account for their lengthened braking lag.

How Do I Clean My Bike Properly After Gritty, Muddy Rides?

Winter’s wet and grit quickly penetrates moving parts accelerating drivetrain wear. Hose bikes before mud fully dries, finger brush the mechs, wipe stanchions clean and detail lubricate.

Make post-ride cleaning non-negotiable when roads turn salty. Letting corrosive grime cement on frames or gears multiplies long term damage and brings functioning to a premature halt.

Get your winter servicing routine locked just as tight as your cold weather riding technique and bike longevity won’t suffer however cruddy the riding conditions get.

How can I prepare my road bike for cycling in snow and ice?

A: You can equip your road bike with knobbly tires which provide better traction on slippery surfaces. Additionally, consider installing disc brakes for improved stopping power in winter conditions.

What are some tips for riding in the snow?

A: When cycling in the snow, it’s important to keep your weight back to prevent the front wheel from sliding out. Also, ride in a higher gear to maintain momentum and reduce the risk of slipping.

Should I use flat pedals or clipless pedals when cycling in winter?

A: It’s recommended to use flat pedals in winter to allow for quick and easy foot placement in case of slipping. This provides more control and stability when riding in treacherous conditions.

How can I cope with riding on ice?

A: When riding on ice, keep your centre of gravity low and stay relaxed to maintain control. Avoid sudden movements and apply gentle, even pressure on the pedals and handlebars to minimise the risk of slipping.

What equipment should I have when cycling in snow and ice?

A: Always ensure you have front and rear lights for visibility, as well as winter gloves to keep your hands warm. It’s also advisable to carry essentials such as a small tool kit and a spare inner tube in case of emergencies.

Should I adjust my riding style when cycling in winter?

A: Yes, when cycling in winter, remember it’s going to take longer to brake and manoeuvre. Ride at a slightly slower pace and be extra cautious, even if you don’t normally have to do so in other seasons.

What should I do if my bike skids on ice?

A: If your bike skids on ice, try to keep your head up and focus on steering in the direction of the skid. Avoid applying the front brake abruptly, as this can lead to further loss of control. Instead, gently apply the rear brake to regain stability.

Can I ride my bike in the snow even if the roads are uniformly covered in ice?

A: It’s not advisable to ride on roads that are uniformly covered in ice, as this poses a high risk of accidents. It’s safer to wait until the conditions improve and the ice begins to melt before venturing out on your bike.

Is it safe to ride on icy roads with a marathon winter tire?

A: While marathon winter tires provide better grip and traction on icy roads, it’s important to exercise caution. Even with specialised tires, riding on icy roads can still be treacherous, so proceed with care and always be prepared to adjust your riding style accordingly.

How should I navigate kerbs when cycling in snowy conditions?

A: When navigating kerbs in snowy conditions, approach them at a slower speed and attempt to ride parallel to the kerb to minimise the risk of losing traction. Additionally, try to avoid sharp turns or sudden movements to maintain stability and control.

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