While most Reginans may think cycling is primarily a summer activity, the truth is that many choose to ride their bikes all year round. Winter cycling presents different and unique challenges but it is a very viable and efficient mode of transport that many more are choosing to partake in year after year.
Winter cycling has been known to be peaceful and refreshing. If conditions are good, it is nearly just as safe as cycling in the summer months and takes the same or only slightly more time, particularly if you cycle in a wheel rut that is clear to the asphalt. Winter cycling is also admirable among your peers at work or school! You will gain newfound respect!
If you are thinking of commuting by bike in the winter, here are some suggestions and recommendations to better prepare yourself for the ride.
Typical “summer bikes” are usually not adequately equipped to deal with our harsh, Saskatchewan winters. You will need to equip your bike with different gear in order to effectively and safely navigate on roads that may be covered in ice and snow.
Many choose to install carbide-tipped studded tires to their bikes that offer better grip on ice and packed snow. Studded tires are available for purchase and installation at all three of Regina’s bike shops. Note that they sometimes require 40-50 Km of riding on clean asphalt to properly “wearing in”.
Larger, knobbier winter tires are also available. These tires do not grip quite as well as studded tires, especially on ice. However, many cyclists get along fine with these tires.
Some cyclists choose to ride on an entirely different bike for the winter season altogether. “Fat Bikes” are bikes that feature a lower centre of gravity and extra wide, knobby tires that maximize contact (and friction) with the riding surface.
Handling and Adjustments
Just like driving in the winter, common sense should prevail when cycling in the winter: slow down and be careful!
Look ahead and anticipate when you will need to slow down and stop. If your rims or disc brakes are iced up, braking may take much more effort and distance than normal. Keep this in mind and apply your brakes firmly and early.
Approach corners slowly and make turns gingerly, especially on surfaces covered in ice and snow. As there is less friction in these conditions, leaning into curves and turns is not recommended!
Lower your seat slightly so that your centre of gravity is lower, making it is easier to maintain your balance.
As with cycling in all seasons, the key to cycling in comfort is to layer. In the extreme cold of January and February, cyclists are known to wear upwards of 5 layers. On top, you may choose to wear such layers including:
Thin base layer;
Wool or fleece pullover;
Wool or fleece jacket or other winter jacket.
A thin, nylon windbreaker is an essential item to many cyclists as it cuts down on the cold air that penetrates through your clothes. A good windbreaker means your are warm and comfortable for your entire ride. But you don’t want to have too many layers, though. Wearing too much can make you sweat profusely and overheat.
In terms of what pants to wear, many cyclists get along just fine with thermal tights underneath jeans or khaki pants. If it is particularly cold, you may choose to wear thicker snow pants as an added layer.
Test out a potential commuting wardrobe on a cold weekend and add or reduce layers based on the temperature. Wear whatever you feel is most appropriate for your comfort level, as long as you are able to maintain mobility and dexterity.
Cover your face!
Windchill created by your cycling is of particular concern to exposed skin on your face like your eyelids or earlobes. The problem is made much worse if you are cycling into a headwind. On very cold days, make sure you ensure exposed skin is protected. Toques, scarves, and balaclavas help protect from frostbite. Ski goggles are also excellent at protecting the skin around your eyes.
Depending on the thickness of your gloves, regular gloves should suffice for temperatures above approximately -5C. Special considerations should be made for commutes on days when temperatures are below -5C or if winds are strong and windchill is exceptionally low. In these cases, thin liner gloves can be worn under your regular gloves. Another option is to purchase a thicker set of skiing or mountaineering gloves that are rated to -30C or below. As always, wear whatever you are most comfortable with, as long as you have enough dexterity to apply the brakes.
Regular shoes or boots are fine with more manageable temperatures -15C and above. Remember to wear thick, thermal socks to save your toes! For lower temperatures, consider wearing extra socks or purchasing thicker winter boots rated to -30C or below.
Visibility and Where to Cycle
While you may feel intimidated cycling with traffic in the winter, you should encounter no problems as long as you are patient, visible, and follow the rules of the road.
Ride directly in one of the wheel ruts of the lane you are travelling in as these areas provide the best contact with clear asphalt. Many motorists understand the challenges of cycling in the winter and are therefore more courteous. Cycling directly in the wheel rut also makes you more visible to all other road users. While not legally required to, consider also using your front white and rear red lights during the day for added visibility.
Clear roads are essential to safe cycling in the winter. Clearing of Regina’s roads are prioritized based on traffic volumes, with higher volume roadways receiving prioritized attention over smaller, neighbourhood streets. City bus routes and hospital emergency routes also receive higher priority plowing. Consult the City of Regina’s Winter Maintenance Policy for more information. The city’s Priority Snow Clearing Map is also an excellent resource to determine if your route has been plowed.
The Wascana Centre Authority is responsible for clearing of multi-use pathways in Regina’s many urban parks.
To report areas in need of clearing or other problem areas, contact the City of Regina through their online form and/or call their service line at 306-777-7000. To report multi-use pathways that are in need of clearing, contact the Wascana Centre Authority at 306-522-3661 and/or leave a comment on their facebook page.
If you are too cold during your ride, remember to stop in at a local coffee shop, restaurant, or gas station to warm up and potentially grab something warm to drink.
If you are weary of a certain intersection, dismount and navigate through the intersection as a pedestrian.
- More snow means more dirt, gravel, and salt on the streets. Be sure to keep your bike clean and in good working order throughout the winter.