7 Tips for Cold Weather Riding

Don't let cold weather keep you off the bike! From clothes, to safety, to bike maintenance, these winter riding tips will make cycling year round a whole lot easier.

7 Tips for Cold Weather Riding

Written by
Bruce Lin

Published on

Posted in
Guides

When the weather gets cold, cyclists across the land prepare for hibernation (or Zwift) — but not you. Whether you’re commuting, training for the next season, or just having fun, there’s no reason to let cold winter weather stop you from getting on your bike. With the right gear, preparation, and mindset, anyone can conquer the cold and ride year-round. Just follow these seven tips to stay safer, get fitter, and ride happier. 

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1. Cold weather cycling gear

This first tip should be obvious, but you need to dress for cold conditions. Famed polar explorer Ranulph Fiennes once said, “There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.” The key is layering. Multiple layers allow you to easily customize your kit to suit different conditions. 

Also, Cycling-specific winter clothing has a lot of advantages over general snow sports gear. It’s cut for pedaling, and it’s often much thinner and lighter too. It wicks away moisture to keep you dry and warm and uses wind-blocking materials to reduce wind chill. 

Winter cycling clothing essentialsRiding Mt. Evans in November with a neck gaiter, thermal jersey, wind vest, thermal gloves, and thermal tights.

Recommended winter cycling gear:

  • Thermal headband or skull cap
  • Neck gaiter/Buff
  • Thermal gloves
  • Thermal baselayer or jersey
  • Lightweight winter jacket/shell
  • Wind vest
  • Arm warmers
  • Thermal tights or knee warmers
  • Thermal socks
  • Toe caps/shoe covers

By adding some of this gear to your cycling wardrobe, you can mix and match pieces with your summer riding gear (i.e., your normal shorts/bibs and jersey) so you’ll be comfortable riding in 30-60° F weather. For example, on a brisk 55° day, I’ll just add a headband, vest, arm warmers, and knee warmers to my kit. When riding in freezing temps, I’ll put on every layer available. 

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How cold is too cold to ride? 

There’s no definite answer to this. It’s only too cold when you’re no longer comfortable riding. This can vary depending on your gear or preferences. I stop road riding below 30° F and stop mountain biking below 15° F because I don’t like wearing the extra gear needed to handle such cold temperatures. If you decide to venture out into below-freezing temperatures, watch out for frostbite, which can easily happen due to windchill. Exposed skin on your face is extremely vulnerable, so consider adding a balaclava and goggles to your kit when it gets under 20° F

2. Stay visible on the road

Hi vis winter cycling shoe covers

Staying visible to motorists is always a good idea, but it’s especially important during the cold months when there is less light, and drivers aren’t expecting to see cyclists. This is why a lot of cold weather cycling gear comes in high-visibility color options. You don’t need to go full neon, but adding one or two high-vis pieces to your kit will help your silhouette stand out against a white and gray winter backdrop. 

Consider adding a set of blinking lights to your bike as well. I recommend a Garmin Varia RTL515 radar if you want the ultimate tool for improving visibility and situational awareness. It combines a rear tail light with a radar that will warn you about cars approaching from behind. 

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You may also need to adjust your riding tactics in certain situations. If a bike lane is obstructed by snow, ice, or debris, it’s best to take the main lane of the road so you stay visible and don’t get squeezed by cars. The sun will be lower in the morning and afternoon, which can blind motorists. If you’re between the sun and a driver, assume you’re invisible and ride defensively.  

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3. Winterize and maintain your bike

During the winter months, you’re more likely to encounter debris that can cause punctures. Snow and ice can also force you to take bad lines that lead to flats. Consider swapping to puncture-resistant tires so a flat doesn’t ruin your ride.    

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Keeping your drivetrain clean and lubricated is the key to a happy bike. Wipe down and re-lube your chain regularly, especially if it’s been through a wet ride. Giving your drivetrain a regular deep clean with a degreaser and a brush will keep your shifting crisp and help it last longer. If you encounter rain, snow, or mud, consider switching to a wet lube that will last longer and survive harsher riding conditions. 

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For wet and cold rides, a basic clip-on fender can make a huge difference. It will keep spray off your body, so you stay cleaner and warmer. It’s easy to remove whenever you get a stretch of good weather. 

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4. Be prepared for mechanicals

No rider enjoys being trapped out in the cold, trying to fix a bike with improvised tools, or worse, thumbing a ride home. That’s why it’s important to carry a repair kit with plenty of tools and spares. 

Bike repair kit essentials:

  • Spare tube(s)
  • Tires plugs (for tubeless tires)
  • Tire levers
  • CO2 inflator or hand pump
  • Multitool

Punctures are the most common mechanical, so at a bare minimum, carry everything you need to fix a flat tire. A good multitool can handle nearly everything else. 

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5. Ride with friends

Tips for winter cyclingWinter riding is easier when you can share it with others. If you’re able to convince your buddies to kit up and go outside with you, it can transform a tough solo slog into a fun and memorable adventure. But not every rider has a gaggle of like-minded cycling geeks ready to suffer in the cold. If that’s the case, turn to the virtual world. Search social media for winter group rides, and you are sure to find local riders who are just as crazy as you. 

Also, you don’t necessarily need to ride with people in person. Strava is actually one of the best winter riding tools. You can join Strava clubs and cycling challenges that will keep you stoked to ride all year round. Seeing other riders put up miles and getting kudos for chilly rides is great motivation.  

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6. Adjust your riding expectations

Riding in the cold is difficult, and you often need to adjust your expectations to match. This can mean reconsidering your performance goals or staying adaptable when things don’t go to plan. Don’t feel down about cutting a ride short or rerouting it due to road, trail, or weather conditions. In fact, short routes or routes with easy bail points might be the best bet. This way, you never find yourself freezing cold and out of energy far from home. Focus on base miles instead of maximal efforts. Allow more time for your winter commutes. Conservative planning will help you stay safer, happier, and more consistent. 

7. Consider riding on an indoor trainer

Sometimes, no matter how tough you are, or how well you prepare, it just gets too cold and miserable to ride outdoors. On days like this, it’s nice to have the option to ride on an indoor trainer. You might hate the idea of riding a stationary bike, but it can help you maintain your fitness and provide a nice change of pace. When the weather gets bikeable again, you’ll be fit and stoked to go back outside.   

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