Learning To Bicycle In The Winter

Schwalbe Marathon Winter bicycle tire

Schwalbe Marathon Winter bicycle tire

A few weeks ago, Pocatello, Idaho experienced a fairly heavy snowfall of about 6 inches or so.  This was followed by temperatures ranging from -10 F to 15 F for several days after.  None of the snow melted for an entire week, which made all the roads turn into snowy chocolate mousse (see this icebike.org page for a better description of this).  I had recently purchased some better studded snow tires for my mountain bike in an attempt to improve my winter cycling experience.  However, this turned out to be only one part of the formula for making it from point A to point B on snowy roads.  The other part of the formula being practice, practice, practice.  :-)

The Monday morning after the heavy snowfall weekend, I set out on my mountain bike shod with studded tires.  Wobbling and slipping around in the thick, partially-packed snow for a few feet made me quickly re-think my decision.  I wussed out, put my bike away, and began sweeping the snow off my car, feeling defeated.

The next few days of that week were terribly cold with morning temperatures regularly hovering around -10 F.  After looking at the bus routes on the Pocatello Regional Transit web site, I found that there was a very convenient route within 5 minutes walking distance of both my house and my workplace.  So I rode the bus the rest of the week.  Driving your car to work is just wasteful, inconvenient, and bad for the environment.  It’s also expensive if you work for Idaho State University, which charges employees a hefty fee for parking.  :-(

Merrily Cycling Through The Snow!

Merrily Cycling Through The Snow!

A week later, temperatures were back up to normal levels, and so my buddy, Travis, and I decided to practice our winter cycling around town that weekend.  Travis is a lot more confident riding on snow and ice than I am, so I was really interested in taking note of his techniques.  I was secretly hoping to see him wipe out, which might make me feel less like a goof.  :-)  Cycling to Travis’ house by myself was a bit nerve wracking, but after a while I was getting the hang of it.  Travis joined me at his place and we headed out to Sacajawea Park near the West Bench area of Pocatello.  This park trail had plenty of snow on it in several places which proved to be a pretty big challenge.  This ride, and Travis’ coaching, taught me several things about bicycling on snow:

  1. You aren’t going to wipe out unless you do something stupid like turning sharply.  Your body automatically corrects your balance as you slip around on uneven snow, chocolate mousse, etc.
  2. Cycling in fresh snow is a piece of cake.  It is much easier than riding on trodden snow, which is the tricky part.
  3. Keep your gear low and spin.  Take your time, there’s no rush.
  4. Keep your hand off the front brake.  Use your rear brake, especially while descending a hill.  Your front wheel needs to remain moving and as straight as possible.
  5. Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires are worth the $60/tire.  They bite into ice better than cheaper tires and they will last for several winters, whereas the studs on cheaper tires get very dull after only one winter.

After about 15 miles of riding around town in all kinds of different consistencies of snow, I was actually feeling good about riding in snow and enjoying myself.  The next Monday, I got up, hopped on my bike, and cycled through the chocolate mousse with glee!  I actually purposely plowed through some thicker snow just to put a little excitement into my ride since, by then, there was plenty of bare pavement to ride on.

Winter cycling isn’t for everyone.  But if you’re looking for an alternate winter transportation method and some serious fun, buy a good pair of studded snow tires, get out there and give it a shot!  But, beware, it really does take some practice to get over your initial nerves, or at least it did for me!  It’s a lot like learning how to swim for the first time.  But after you get past your fears, you gain a lot of confidence and you get a feel for it.  Several sources online claim that winter cycling improves your overall cycling stability and confidence on all kinds of terrain, and I can definitely see the truth in this.

Here are some useful and interesting winter cycling links!

5 comments to Learning To Bicycle In The Winter

  • Toes

    Dude, the quality of your blog posts is terrifying.

    This is better written than a lot of professional stuff I’ve read. You should seriously be writing for a magazine or something!


  • Hehe, thanks :-) I suppose I could write for a magazine, but this site is more personal and I can write whatever I feel like. And my friends can leave heart-warming comments <3

  • Jeff Selfa

    Hopefully a helpful note: in temps below 20F, as the temp drops I have found it increasingly harsh on my lungs. It helps me to slow my effort to the point where I’m not breathing hard, which seems to allow the air in my body to warm up by the time it reaches my lungs. How much I slow down is relative to how cold it is. I’ve been looking at special breather masks to remedy this issue.

  • Oh, yeah, my windpipe gets painful sometimes in those temps. It seems like it is worse on Monday, when I haven’t ridden for a few days, but after a few rides it doesn’t get as irritated. My friend, Travis, wears a balaclava and he says this helps quite a bit.

  • Great article. I love cycling in the snow although it does take a bit of extra preparation

    I’ve tended to find on packed snow the technique is to take the straightest lines possible and try to turn as gently as possible. Do you not find that the studded tyres squirm on the roads?

    Warm Winter Cycling Clothing is a must- particularly gloves and headwear. A snood/ buff is always a brilliant addition to a winter waredrobe.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>