Winter Bicycling 101
By Pamela Moore, Transportation Options Program Director, and Jennifer Harmening Thiede, Communications and Member Engagement Manager
Winter can be a particularly challenging time for all of us in Minnesota to get where we need to go. Traveling by bike is no exception. Still, if you think you’re seeing more people biking year-round, you’re right: data from Bike Walk Twin Cities monthly counts confirm winter bicycling is on the rise in the Twin Cities. This winter, we expect some of those cold-weather bicyclists will be participants in our Transportation Options program.
Through Transportation Options, Transit for Livable Communities has been connecting people with the knowledge and resources essential to getting around via bicycling, walking, transit, bike sharing, and car sharing. In late November, with the cold and snowy season on its way, we invited Transportation Options participants and volunteer consultants for a mini-workshop on winter bicycling basics to ensure anyone interested would be well prepared.
Bill Dooley, a year-round bicyclist and active member of the Minneapolis bicycling community, led the hour-long workshop with a focus on safety, proper gear, and advice for navigating through snow and ice. Here are some of his key tips for safe and enjoyable winter bicycling:
1. Dress for success. Sure, it’s winter in Minnesota, but when you’re bicycling, it is surprisingly easy to get overdressed and overheated. You don’t need a down jacket. Instead, Bill’s go-to layers include:
- Wool sweater from thrift store
- Two pairs of sox (with the thickest layer on the outside)
- Long john pants and top
- Balaclava/face mask
- Light weight wind-resistant jacket
- Wool pants or wind pants
- Neck gaiter (to keep wind from going down into jacket)
- Insulated hiking boots (and wider bike pedals as needed)
- Bucket bike helmet (to keep your head safe and warm)
- Lobster gloves
- Road ID wrist band in case of emergency
2. Prepare your bike. Bill uses an old bike for winter rides. He wipes the chain and cleans the rest of the bike once a week. Swapping in studded tires can be helpful for snowy conditions. Fat tire bikes are also growing in popularity, although the expense doesn’t work for every household budget. With short winter days, though, lights are essential. Bill rides with two front lights and two back lights. Between trips, he keeps them in a clear plastic zippered toiletries kit in his bike bag. (This way they are easy to find and you can see if you left a light turned on.)
Bill rides his bike year-round in almost any weather. Lights are essential.
3. Adjust your route. Bill recommends riding on slightly busier roads in the winter as the riding conditions are better. Don’t be afraid to take the lane. This time of year, bicyclists will need to ride farther left to stay out of messy, slippery areas. During winter months, Bill’s routes of choice also include well-maintained bicycle boulevards and off-street trails such as the Midtown Greenway.
4. Take it slow. Bill has noticed many drivers are courteous to people pedaling through the winter. Still, slippery black ice and snow pose risks for all road users. He recommends bicycling slowly to be safe. Brake early, especially when riding downhill and approaching intersections.
5. Combine options in bad weather conditions. Bill rides his bike almost every day of the year, including days when the temperature is well below zero. On days when it is snowing and roads are very slippery, however, he puts his bike on the bus or train. Taking transit or combining multimodal options is a great alternative when road or weather conditions are beyond your comfort level.
All Metro Transit bus and trains are equipped with bike racks, making it easy to combine multimodal options and get where you need to go in any season.
Special thanks to Bill Dooley for leading our Winter Bicycling 101 workshop and sharing your experience with participants and volunteers in the Transportation Options program!