At the time of writing, it is nearly the middle of March and I’m looking outside at falling snow and wind that is better suited to January.
I can also see at least one cyclist braving the mess to travel the way that he feels is best (for one reason or another). That cyclist is hardly alone: while the numbers of bikes on the road drop off in the winter, they certainly don’t fall to zero and seeing people bundled up and frantically pedaling through the snow, rain, ice, and wind isn’t unheard of. But why do they do it?
Perhaps some of them have little choice in the matter – it’s ride the bike or don’t go at all – but for many other people, cycling still retains and even exceeds its benefits that are derived in the summer, fall and spring. And of course, there are unique challenges to riding in the winter too. So, what are the benefits and the challenges of mounting your bike in the winter?
Benefits of Cycling in the Winter Wonderland
There are a few great benefits you can take advantage of when cycling in the winter.
- You burn more calories. Your body has to work a little harder in the winter to keep you warm while you are exercising, leading to a greater calorie burn. It’s not a massive extra burn, but every little bit counts. If you’re shivering, you burn even more, but obviously, you won’t be shivering much if you’re powering through the snow and slush. The main benefit is that since you will want to get warm, you’ll probably cycle a little harder and that leads to the calorie burn. Again, don’t expect to have a massive increase, but there will be a slight one over biking in the summer. And of course, tied to this is the fact that when you exercise regularly, you can counter some of the weight gains we all have to deal with when it comes to the holiday season.
- Combat the Winter Blues. Winter is tied to all sorts of seasonal mood disorders because of the shorter hours, less daylight, and more isolation. Cycling is a good way to combat this because the exercise releases natural antidepressants in the brain, gets you out and about to reduce isolation, and helps you stay motivated for fitness or wellness goals. Cycling has also been tied to people being happier overall which of course would lend itself well to feeling better in the winter.
- Saves you money. This is likely the reason many people mount their bikes. It’s a lot cheaper to cycle than it is to drive as gas and fuel prices go up in the winter. Being outside in the cold more also conditions you to it so you don’t feel the need to push up the heat at home either.
Many cyclists also report things like being able to explore places they don’t get to see in the summer due to places being too crowded, improving their self-confidence because they did something that many people would shy away from, and being clearer headed or better problem solvers because cycling in the winter carries its own unique challenges! Of course, for things like that, results will vary.
Pitfalls of Cycling in the Winter
If cycling in the winter was all wonderful, more people would be doing it! Cycling in the winter has its own challenges which you should be aware of before you start to ride or else you could run into some serious trouble.
First, it’s very important to have a bike that can stand up to your winter weather. Do you get lots of rain or snow? Do you get more wind? Are the roads extremely well kept or are they really bumpy, lumpy, rocky, and rough?
Cold weather does hit bikes harder than warm weather, so it’s important to choose a bike which is durable and sturdy. Single speed, fixed gear bikes are considered the best for winter because there are fewer moving parts to get damaged by the cold and they are better able to withstand changing temperatures.
It’s also important to make sure you keep your bike clean and well maintained because things like the road salt will seriously damage your bike over the long run, just like it damages cars. And even with the best care, you’ll probably need to replace your tires in the spring because there are so many things which will damage them.
It’s equally important to look at your own self-care when cycling. Many cyclists who don’t know anything about riding in the winter make the mistake of bundling up too much, leading them to be very uncomfortable. Instead, opt for layers that start out keeping you cool so that your body is the one generating the heat.
It’s also important to make sure you wear good gloves and a scarf which is often forgotten and leads to frozen fingers and chins! And mentally prepare yourself for the thaw out when you arrive at your destination because limbs coming back from being numb is never comfortable.
A certain amount of mental preparation is required that you don’t see in the summer because we aren’t generally in love with the idea of spending time in the cold, wind, and wet.
Some General Tips for Winter Riding
You don’t need to spend a lot of extra money or time on making sure you are winter ready for cycling. In fact, just doing a few simple things can make it easier to ride in the winter and less accident prone. Some experts advise the following:
- Let a bit of air out of your tires. Very slightly saggy tires give you some more traction. If you can afford the spiked tires, great, but most people can’t go for that. A slightly saggy, fatter tire will stand you as good stead and costs a lot less money.
- Lower your saddle. A lower center of gravity will make your bike less wobbly which makes it easier to manage when you are riding on the ice.
- Cycle away from the curbs. Curbs covered in snow are hiding things like rocks and garbage which of course will increase the chances of an accident. And watch out for things like black ice!
These things are free to do (or don’t cost much money), but they can make a huge difference in your experience.
Cycling in the winter can be a challenge when you get started. It’s much nicer to stay indoors where it’s warm, drive or take the bus to get where you need to go and try not to go out whenever possible!
But cycling in winter also has some great benefits and as long as you are being careful, you can avoid the potential challenges.
If you’re looking to get fit, combat winter blues, save some money, or just make sure you keep getting fresh air all year round, try cycling in the winter and see what it can do for you!