Folding Bike Blog

Winter Essentials: A Guide to Cold Weather Cycling

While most people don’t think of winter as the ideal time for cycling, it can provide some of the best riding of the year. It does take some extra preparation and the right gear, so here are a few tips for cycling in winter.

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Clothing
The obvious consideration when cycling in winter is staying warm. Layers are best in cold weather and a few layers of the right material shouldn’t be too bulky, leaving you with full range of motion for cycling.

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Start with a relatively thin base layer that will hug tight to your skin. It’s goal is to keep you dry, and synthetic materials or merino wool are the best for this. Avoid cotton which tends to absorb sweat and hold it next to your skin. Next is an insulation layer. This should be a bit looser to trap air near your body. This could be a long sleeve jersey, or a thicker fleece depending on how cold it is. Finally, you want a wind breaking layer on the outside.

Accessories
Luckily cycling is a very aerobic activity and your body generates a lot of heat while doing it. The difficult bits to keep warm are the fingers, toes, and any exposed skin.

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A good pair of gloves are crucial, and on the coldest days I recommend a lobster claw style which keeps 2 fingers together for warmth. Unlike mittens, the design still allows you to easily pull your brake levers.

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Too keep your feet warm, wool socks are best. If you use platform pedals, a normal winter boot is an option. If you ride in cycling shoes, there are a variety of shoe covers available that block the wind and provide additional insulation.They look like large socks that go over the shoe, with an opening on the bottom for your pedal cleat. Smaller toe covers are an option as well, but they provide less protection and are generally meant for those cold but not freezing rides.

Head/Face/Neck
There’s a lot of exposed skin in this area, and you’ll need to cover it up if you plan to have a pleasant ride in cold weather.

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A thin fleece hat can usually fit nicely under a helmet and provide coverage to the ears as well. For the neck I recommend a gaitor which can also be pulled up to cover the face and nose. On the coldest of days, or if there is precipitation, goggles can make all the difference in the world. Riding through very cold air can make your eyes water and reduce visibility. Ski goggles are perfect to prevent this.

Tires
Cold temperatures alone shouldn’t affect your bike but if you’re dealing with ice and snow, the proper tire can make the difference between keeping traction and going rubber side up. While slick tires are the most efficient on smooth pavement, they’re less than ideal when winter hits. A tire with tread depth will certainly help with snow, and if you’re regularly dealing with ice, nothing beats metal studded tires. They’re an investment but they usually last several years since they’re only needed for a few months every season.

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If you’re riding on road and there’s wet or slushy snow, a narrower tire can cut through it better and maintain contact with the pavement. If you’re off road or in deep fluffy snow, you’ll want a wide tire to roll over the snow with very deep treads to dig in and create traction.

A Few Things to Remember

  • Hydrate. When you’re cold and not sweating as much as you would in warm weather, it’s easy to forget to hydrate. Be sure to bring water on your rides even in winter.
  • Keep your bike clean and lubricated. Moisture, road salt, and dirt are abundant on roadways in winter and they wreak havoc on bike parts. Be sure to regularly clean and lube.
  • Light it up. It gets dark early in winter so don’t forget your bike lights. If you’re commuting regularly in the cold, carry an extra set of batteries or charge your lights more often. Cold weather can affect electronics and battery life.
  • Have fun. Remember running around outside on those snowy days as a kid? Sledding until sunset then coming in for hot cocoa? Winter cycling is like that, but even more fun. Have the cocoa ready.

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4 Comments

  1. Stephen
    Posted January 21, 2015 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Nice blog. It’s time to step up my winter cycling. I’ve got a 2013 FIT that I love, but don’t ride much in the winter. Time to change that! Thanks.

  2. Posted January 22, 2015 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Glad we could inspire you Stephen! Dress properly and you’ll have a lot of fun out there. If there’s snow in your area, I might recommend a knobbier tire than the stock FIT tire.

  3. Stef
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    We shouldn’t let the wind, rain and cold that winter brings put as off our bike training schedule. The modern cycle clothing are perhaps the best solution to stay warm regardless of the weather outside. Nowadays, they’re quickly gaining popularity among astute cyclists.

  4. Paul
    Posted February 4, 2015 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Just about to head back into Japan on my old Paratrooper for a late winter/early spring tour via the Sea of Japan side. It is renowned for the occasional blizzard or two, hope it is just cold winds , no rain maybe sleet. Will keep you posted. Good article , now to work out how to keep boots dry for 8-10 hour days on the road.

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Warm Winter Ride for the Holidays

While I was home for the holidays in Western Massachusetts, the weather was unseasonably warm for New England (unlike now, as I type this it’s 0° F) and I had the opportunity to do some riding on the local trails.

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Most of the trails I found myself on were fairly wide single track. Well maintained and fast rolling with very few rocky sections. The occasional downed log provided some interesting obstacles. It was perfect for a leisurely ride after over eating around the holidays.

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The trail ran parallel to train tracks for a few miles and I stopped for a photo op when I found myself under an old railroad bridge.

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The single track turned to double track as I began to follow the power lines. This route is frequented by ATVs and dirt bikes, so a much wider trail is worn into the countryside. It was a bit sandy and quite steep in sections, but I appreciated the workout.

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The streams weren’t frozen this December, and they provided for some nice views along the way.

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It was just getting dark on my way back home, and when I got there I couldn’t resist a test photo of my new Sugoi Zap reflective jacket. In natural light this jacket is black, but embedded in the fabric are highly reflective glass beads. The flash really brought them alive, and they react similarly when a car’s headlights shine on them.

It was nice to be home and away from the city, and having a folding bike from Montague allowed me to bring a full size mountain bike home in my car trunk. I was there for a few days, so I brought my road bike too, folded in the back seat.

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Gear Roundup: World Tour on Montague Bikes

Brothers Alexandre and Gregory have been touring the world on two Montague folding bikes. You can read about their journey here (22 countries and over 10,000 km so far). Below is another guest post with an overview of the gear they’re using on tour.

We left France with two X50s and we have now an X50 and a Paratrooper Pro. They have slightly different setups so I’ll describe them both.

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Carrying Bags and Panniers

We left France in summer and then followed the sun for a year, from France to Australia. When it started to get cold, we headed south. This way we just needed a 3 season tent, light sleeping bags and summer clothes. A single 70 liter backpack would contain everything we needed, and we would just attach some water to the top of the bag. The idea was to be able to fold the bikes quickly, carry the backpack easily and be able to hitchike, or catch a train or bus (which we did many times). We attached the tents at the front with bungee cords. One problem with this setup : all the weight was at the back, the center of gravity was high and when climbing a very steep road, we had to lean forward to keep the front wheel on the ground.

To put a normal backpack on a traditional rear rack we used 2 bamboo pieces to widen the top. Light and easy to replace.

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For New Zealand in winter we then bought front bags and Axiom Low Rider racks which are made especially for suspension forks. We had 4 season tents, bigger sleeping bags, warm clothes, and more food and water to carry for the additional camping we did.

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These racks are not designed to support much weight (max 20 pounds I think) and frequently break if you overload them. They are aluminium, which is also makes it difficult to find someone to weld and fix them. Anyway, we managed to fix them ourselves with metal collars and plumbing joints. All good. You do have to remove them to fold the bikes and fit everything in the bike bag.

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The back rack on the X50 is just a normal one with a quick release on the seat post. Aluminum again, which was a mistake with all the abuse we put it through. A leg broke but we were able to fix it with metal collars.

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The one on the Paratrooper Pro is a bit different because of the disc brakes. I couldn’t find a quick release one so it’s attached underneath the seat post with 2 bolts. The bike can still fold with it attached so it’s not a problem, and it’s stronger as well.

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Saddles We started with extra soft ones, then changed to leather Brooks saddles which I really liked. After my X50 got stolen in San Francisco and Montague sent me a Paratrooper Pro, I kept the original saddle and I’m happy with it. It’s quite firm and comfy. Anyway you have to try them to find the one that suits you best.

Bike computers  When you travel long distance with a lot of wild camping, you don’t have the luxury to charge your smartphone or GPS so we have normal bike computers. We like the Sigma BC1009. I have a CatEye which is quite nice too.

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Kick stands We’ve tried plenty. They all broke. We gave up. We’ve met other touring cyclists who had the same problems. Not many kickstands are designed for the weight of a fully loaded touring bike. The original of the Paratrooper Pro is still here, but I use it only when the bike is lightly loaded.

Gears We have 3×9 on each bike. We upgraded the X50s to Shimano LX because they come with 18 speeds initially. Riding with all the weight of touring often requires a wider gear range. The Paratrooper Pro already has 27, and provides good gear ratios.

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Like many touring cyclists we use Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires which last around 5000-8000 miles. They are good of course but very pricey. We will try other brands next time. I’m sure they are not alone on the market and if we could save some dollars, that would be nice.

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Along the way you inevitably break something and it’s always good to have some metal collars (hose clamps), cable ties, duct tape, various bolts, washers, nuts and of course tools with you.

We had no problem with the bikes themselves. They fold well, and have no cracks or geometry problems. The folding system itself seems to be indestructible.

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