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Winter Biking Tips to Keep You Riding Year Round

In the Twin Cities, many people who bike embrace the winter months by continuing to ride year-round. Whether for shorter trips or a longer commute, for an occasional outing or part of your every day routine, riding through the winter can be amazing with a little prep. If you are considering winter biking, here are some tips for rolling with the snow, cold temperatures, and car traffic so you can get out there and enjoy your ride:

Travel slowly when snow and ice are present. Give yourself ample time to get where you’re going. Ride in bare patches of pavement or non-compacted snow when possible. Take turns and curves at a slower speed and allow longer distances for braking. And remember you have the right to ride your bike in a general traffic lane, which may be necessary if bike lanes have not been cleared.

Ride defensively around drivers. People on bikes are less visible in the winter–with fewer people riding and fewer daylight hours–and roads are narrower when not plowed curb-to-curb. Always be prepared for motorists to make a mistake. Follow traffic laws and be as predictable as possible when riding on the road. 

Enjoy the off-street trails. The Twin Cities has over 190 miles of separated bikeways and trails–and even more are planned. These are often great routes for biking year-round. The Park Board and Public Works Department have policies of clearing snow from off-street trails soon after the end of a snowfall. In most cases, this occurs in less than 24 hours.

Stay visible. Riding in the winter months means more darkness. Brighten your ride by using headlights, taillights, and reflective clothing and gear. Legally, bicyclists are required to ride with a white, front headlight and rear, red reflector at night.

Use an old bike in good working condition. An older bike can serve you really well in winter weather. Make sure you have effective brakes and a well-greased chain (wet lube is ideal for snowy conditions). Wider tires with good traction are also essential. Add a pair of fenders to your bicycle to keep street muck from landing on your clothing. New or old, plan to clean salt and sand off your bike throughout the season to avoid rust and breakdowns. 

Dress in layers. Just like other winter activities, bicycling can heat up your body rapidly. Apply layers to your torso and legs and be prepared to strip them away as your body warms. A good rule of thumb is that you should feel chilly when you step outdoors–if you’re cozy before you start riding, you’ll likely be boiling when you stop.

Cover your extremities. When you bike in cold weather, you’ll want to protect your head, neck, hands, and feet from the elements as they’ll likely get chilly first. Consider comfortable stocking caps, scarves, socks, and gloves (which allow dexterity). And goggles don’t just look cool; they’re great eye protection from cold wind and road grit.

Use transit. Bike when it works for you. Then give yourself a warm break by using the bus or train. All Metro Transit buses and trains are equipped with bicycle racks. Bike commuters are also eligible to sign up for Metro Transit’s Guaranteed Ride Home program, which provides free transit rides or cab fare reimbursement for emergencies (like a snow or ice storm).

Embrace winter. Our identity as Minnesotans is shaped by our weather. Snow and cold temperatures add variety and beauty to the Twin Cities and communities across the state. Riding a bicycle in the winter can be exhilarating and practical. It keeps you in good health, it’s good for the environment, it’s cheap, and at times, it’s even the fastest way to get where you need to go. Enjoy the ride!

Have other winter biking tips to share? Tell us about your experience! We’ve love to hear your advice and what you love about riding through the winter. Share your story here

Photo credit: Melissa Wenzel, Saint Paul.