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Cycling in snow.

Clothing and preparation

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Clothing Technique
Bike Prep Surfaces

In light of the recent adverse weather forecasts (not that I expect it to come to much) I've been asked a few times for tips on how to ride in snow. These are ideas and techniques I have built up over the years.

The main thing to remember with snow riding is it is huge fun and must be repeated as often as possible. Never fear snow, go and play in it.


The first thing to consider is rider comfort. If you get cold then you are going to get uncomfortable and suffer. The other essential is to ensure you do not get too hot because then you will get sweaty, uncomfortable and lose heat through wind chill. Although Lycra and cycling clothing is not essential for day to day riding, it does come into its own in weather such as this.

On my torso I usually wear a “base layer” of a thin long sleeved cycling top. Over this I either wear my winter training jacket (fleece lined, breathable and windproof) or a thin fleece and a thin waterproof top.

On my legs I wear just my normal cycling shorts and a pair of winter leggings. These aren’t waterproof, but they stay warm when wet and do not allow wind chill. This is good, especially if I get soaked from spray from passing cars as it is not uncomfortable or a problem.

If it is actually snowing or very windy I consider a hat. I sometimes also wear my helmet (with a thin hat underneath), although this has the least benefit in rider comfort.

I wear thick gloves, since hands often get cold. If your hands are cold then this can give many problems with bike handling, especially braking and gear changing.

Feet are another problem. To date I haven’t found a good solution for rides over 60 miles. Extra socks are a possibility, but they can then make the shoes tighter reducing blood flow and making the feet cold. Neoprene overshoes are a solution, but I find the worst cold is transmitted in through the metal cleat in the sole of my cycling shoe where it clips into the pedal. This cold is made even worse if my socks become wet. The best solution to that is actually the humble carrier bag or sandwich bag worn between the shoe and sock. This doesn’t stop water running down the leg inside the bag though. Ultimately, if the feet get too cold I have to get off and walk for a minute to warm them up, followed by a change of socks and plastic bags.

The other main item to wear is cycling glasses with clear lenses. In heavy snow or hail your eyes will close instinctively and you cannot see. Cycling glasses aid comfort and visibility, although they can become spattered with dirt and water and so become difficult to see through. They can also steam up at traffic lights, but then clear as soon as you start moving.

Bike Preparation.

If there’s ever a time to ensure your bike is working properly it is now. Check your lights and batteries. Check and adjust your brakes and gears. Make sure everything is cleaned and lubricated, but be aware that some thick oils and chain waxes can thicken in low temperatures and may give you problems.

Tyres are an important choice. In most of the UK weather there is little need to fit “Ice tyres” which have metal studs in them to grip on ice. However tyres with a decent tread are advisable, don’t go out on slick road tyres!

Tyre pressures are also a critical factor. Some people advise lowering tyre pressure as this increases the “footprint” (the amount of tyre in contact with the ground). Personally I prefer to run the tyres at their max pressure. My reason for this is that no rubber tyre will grip on sheet ice, no matter how great the footprint. As I usually use my mountain bike with very chunky tyres in snow I find that the high pressure forces that tread into the snow, even cutting through an icy surface into the snow beneath. I also like to remain fully in control, something which is harder to do if the bike is moving about on a soggy tyre.

Mudguards might help, but they can also fill with snow and clog up. If you have a bike that has tight clearances in the mudguard or around the brakes, you may find you need to stop and clear snow on occasions. This snow accumulation can also happen on the chain and gears, again needing clearing if you start to have mechanical problems.

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