The days are colder starting in November and snow may or may not be on the ground then too. Here in Greater Sudbury, we've seen snow at Halloween, yet many people who ride bikes are choosing now to continue riding throughout the winter. Some have no choice as it's their main choice of transportation. And with Covid, continuing to cycle in the winter can be a great stress reliever and it can be enjoyable, relaxing, and fun. Getting that extra bit of exercise can help get you through the darkest and coldest days - after all, we're a city of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and snowmobiling. Why not do biking too?
If you're thinking about giving winter riding a shot, here are a few ideas to help make it a good experience when you're riding on our city roads.
If you're thinking about doing some fat bike riding on trails, check out opportunities with the Walden Mountain Bike Club here: https://waldenxc.ca/winter-fatbiking/ or Kivi Park here: https://kivipark.com/activities/. Both places offer fat bike rentals to try out this great sport! Visit your local bike store to chat about options and events they may be running too.
Wear layers and protect your extremities
Wear a few layers that you can unzip/button along the way. Most importantly, protect your hands, ears, and feet. Your core will get warm as you ride, so make sure you have warm gloves or mitts for your hands, boots for your feet and a toque/headband or earmuffs for your head and ears. Protect your eyes either with a pair of ski goggles or sunglasses.
For those of you who are riding even on the coldest of days try buying a pair of handlebar mitts at one of our local bike stores. They'll help guide how best to ensure that you get what you need and that they fit on your handlebars correctly.
Look after your bicycle
Salt accelerates rust on your bicycle, and while the City of Greater Sudbury uses sand on local roads, there's still a lot of salt used on our main arteries. Clean your bike regularly and if you can, rinse it off every day. Make sure your bike is dry before you head out again; you don’t want your parts to ice up!
Many winter riders here will use a "beater" bike in the winter and if you're road riding, you have the choice of riding with fat tires, or skinny tires. Fat tires provide more traction, but skinny tires enable you to cut through snow. Depending on the conditions where you ride, you can also consider studded tires.
Consider installing front and rear fenders/mudguards to protect you from slush and puddles. They will also reduce the amount of salt and water that goes on your drive chain and brake/gear cables.
A few more tips:
- Unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t clean your bike with detergent, and never take a power hose to it.
- Check your brakes regularly and watch for tire wear - there's less braking power in the winter because of the wet conditions. Also watch for winter debris embedded in your tires - pry those out before they become too imbedded to wear down the inner tube.
- Invest in a bike cover if you'll be parking it outside. Or use two garbage bags - one for your rear cassette and derailleur, and one for your seat.
- Lube your chain once a week.
- Check out our local bike shops - they'll give you lots of more great tips for riding in the winter.
Look at your road routes
Drivers of motorized vehicles aren't used to seeing cyclists on the road in Greater Sudbury. While it may take a bit longer, you might want to look at using routes that don't involve major arteries. Be extra vigilant when riding in the winter - conditions will likely be more challenging than in the seasons with no snow, snow banks will obstruct your and motorists' views, and you'll likely not be able to ride as fast as you would when there's no snow on the road.
A note that riding on sidewalks is prohibited here, unless you are riding a bike that has a wheelsize of 50 cm or less (20 inch wheels). That is meant to allow children to bike on sidewalks.
A note also that cycling infrastructure like bike lanes, cycle tracks, trails, and multi-use paths are not maintained by the City of Greater Sudbury during the winter months.
Do the bright thing!
Winter days are shorter and darker. It's important that you can see and be seen on the road. Having a front and rear light is essential, and you can be ticketed under the Highway Traffic Act (see part IV: Equipment) if you don't have them. It’s a good idea to use your lights in dim conditions, even if it is the middle of the day.
- The law requires you to use lights from a half hour before dusk until a half hour after dawn. However, many people choose to use lights at all times to increase their visibility on the road.
- Your front light should be white or amber and your rear light should be red.
- Point your lights slightly down so that they illuminate the road in front of and behind you. If your lights are aimed up they make it hard for other people to see.
- No evidence identifies solid or flashing lights as being better for visibility. However, you should make sure your lights don’t flash rapidly. Lights that flash more than three times per second can trigger seizures in some people with photosensitive epilepsy.
- Even having the cheapest, dimmest lights make you more visible than riding with none at all. You can tell how bright your lights are by the lumens listed on the package. The higher the number the brighter it is, but keep in mind that very bright lights can make it harder for other people to see. If you regularly ride on unlit trails, opt for a light with a higher lumen count, as there may not be any overhead lights or ambient lights from nearby buildings.
- Reflective strips are legally required for your bike: white strips should be placed on your front fork and red strips on your seat stays in the rear.
- Using only a red reflector instead of a light for your rear is legal but a working red light is highly recommended. Reflective material is great for making you more visible, but it isn’t an equal replacement for lights.
Adjust your road riding
There are a few things you can do while riding which can help you stay safe:
- Shift regularly to help clear your chain of snow build up.
- Reduce your tire pressure for increased stability due to more tire contact with the road.
- Take it slow and brake early. It will likely take you longer to get where you're going when there's snow on the road, so leave some extra time.
- Avoid riding over piles of snow. Do a head check and use hand signals to indicate to passing motor vehicles and other riders where you're going.
- Take your water bottle inside so it doesn't freeze! Better yet, take a small thermos and have a sip of warm coffee or tea on your trip.
- Try to avoid swerving and ride in a straight line.
- There are some times when, in the interest of safety, it can be best to leave your bike and take transit. If you get caught in a snowstorm or feel uncomfortable riding in certain conditions, all buses in Greater Sudbury have bike racks that are left on in the winter.