As a longtime cyclist and winter rider, I know that riding in the winter sucks. Riding in the city in the winter is even worse: the bike lanes often get used for snow dumping, or they’re filled with slush and ice, cars are even less inclined to notice cyclists, and visibility is poor. Between Cory Hilliard, a New York City bike messenger and racer, and myself, we’ve amassed a series of tips that will make your ride a lot less painful, possibly even enjoyable. You know you've always wanted to ride NYC like a bike messenger. Here's your chance!
1. Layer up
"Wear lots of layers,” Hilliard suggests. "Wear several layers on top, several on bottom. I have a balaclava face mask and cover my whole face. That’s huge.”
You may look five sizes bigger, but you’ll be grateful for that base layer when you’re three hours in. A good tip? Think about if you’ll be warm enough to stop and change a flat. What might be enough when you’re pedaling and your heart rate is up, may not be enough for hanging out. You want to be prepared for unplanned stops.
Keeping your face covered can make a ride seem much warmer. Ditto with adding a warm hat under your helmet and wearing good gloves–you want them to be both warm and dexterous. And don’t forget glasses—it may not be sunny, but eyes still need protection. Freezing eyeballs? Not awesome. Road salt getting in your eyes? Even less awesome.
2. Get flat, for your pedals, that is
Hilliard recommends ditching clip-in pedals for flat pedals when temperatures are truly dangerously low. That way, you can wear your burly winter boots.
"I use flat pedals so I can wear boots,” says Hilliard about cycling in cold weather. "I’m not even trying to wear cycling shoes."
If you can’t stand the idea of not having clip-in pedals, consider winter cycling shoes, or, at the very least, a pair of shoe covers to help block wind and weather.
3. Get charged
If you’re riding with an iPhone in below freezing temperatures, know that the battery may quit on you at any time. Keep it warm by wearing close to your body. Also be sure to bring an external charger, just in case.
4. Be seen
Drivers aren’t expecting to see riders in the snowy conditions, so whether you’re riding to your mountain bike trails or actually doing a road ride, wearing plenty of high visibility gear and flashing lights is key.
5. Get beefy
If you're riding on the road, consider swapping to beefier tires. If studded tires sound like too much (though they can be great on a mountain bike), it's still smart to invest in a burlier tire that's less likely to go flat from rolling over sharp bits of salt and gravel. Even a cyclocross tire will deliver better grip on random patches of ice and snow.
"I just have big, cheap tires for my work bike, and use mountain tires for city riding when it’s really bad,” says Hilliard.
6. Have repair gear handy
This is not the weather you want to forget a tube or a patch kit in. And warning: Patch kits are sketchy in negative temperatures because the glue is less inclined to dry. So having a tube, with a patch kit as a backup, is a smart move. Pack CO2s for fast tire inflation, but bring a mini-pump as well, just in case.
7. File a ‘flight plan’
Plan your pedal, and pedal your plan. And be sure to share the details with a friend or family member when you head out for your ride. You never know what can happen, and it’s smart to make sure someone will come looking for you if you’re running hours behind.
8. Try a fat bike
They're made for sand and snow, they're wicked fun, and they make riding in winter an adventure instead of a chore! If you want to try before you buy, there are plenty of rental options in NYC. Try out Revolution Bicycling or Cycle Haven for decent prices on rentals.