Richard Z's picture

Winter Riding Tips

Now that we've almost made it through the winter it's maybe a good time to collect tips for next year' novice winter riders.

Equipment -- what do you need? Studs or no? Disc vs cantilever brakes? Favorite wet/cold lube? Any tps to keep the bike going through winter?

Attire -- any must haves?

Where to ride -- any stretches of pathway or road that were consistently awful to use and your alternative route?

Any lessons learned?

Overall experience with snow clearing on city streets, bike lanes, pathways?

Any articles you read, sites discovered, that dealt with winter riding? Statistics?


RichieRich's picture

Boy Scout Motto

Boy Scout Motto: Be prepared.

Best advice: protect your "boys" from the cold.
On Cold weather: Cold is manageable w/ right clothing selection.

On Snow: better a 30% longer bike commute than 2hrs in a cage.

On etiquette: don't be a dick. :)

SpeedyJ's picture

Good Stuff

Stuff that worked for me -

Belt Drive - no chain, no lube, no rust, no chainring tattoos, no problems.

Wool - on the days that my wool was dirty I just felt clammy in synthetics (good stuff too - Helly, Patagonia, etc...). Icebreaker is awsome, it can be worn day after day without stinking and even survived a few hot washes. It's expensive, but when a $90 top is worn over a 150 days a year and the $40 synthetic is only worn 5 times it seems like good value to me.

Winter Shoes - I've always had cold feet, even at -10C I've been close to tears thawing my feet out with summer sshoes/winter booties. This year I sprang for Shimano MW80s and wore booties over them, nice and warm, even past -26C. They still look new (100+ days) thanks to the booties.

Internal Hub - I was affraid that it may freeze up in the cold, but it's been great (SRAM dual drive). I can't wait to try the new Alfine 11spd.

Fenders - Either you have them, or you and your bike are filthy.....or you take the bus.


Scott's picture


Sounds all good but its greek to me. Pictures are good. Know what to look for when I see it that way. :) Curious about this ride of yours too. Love to see it.


SpeedyJ's picture


I have a Spot Highline:

The bike is built for the kind of riding that we get in Calgary (IMHO). I've added a rack, a Selle Italia saddle, and flat bars (the big bars were comfy, but a pain to get through doorways), lights and Schwalbe studded tires.

I spent a lot of time overthinking what bike I wanted for the winter commute and this one ticked all the boxes -

1. Belt drive - I'd heard good things and haven't been disappointed.
2. Internal hub - the only way to get gears on a belt drive bike. Gears were needed for Chariot duty.
3. Cost - I didn't mind spending real money, but it's not a race bike.
4. Tire clearance - I can run 38c studs AND fenders, this would have been a tight fit on the closest bike that I could find, the Trek Soho.
5. Disk brakes - Relativly low maintenance and power for pulling the Chariot.
6. Cool company, when I emailed Spot about the posiblity of getting a 7spd hub on the bike they didn't eamail me back, they CALLED me the next day. Cool bikes, cool company and great service.


Scott's picture

That really is..

That really is a sexy bike. Looks comfy. Like the moustache bars. Did yours come with those? You preferred the flats though. Not a bad idea... gets you upright and takes some weight off the front end of the bike which is nothing but trouble in winter riding.

SpeedyJ's picture

Flat Bars

The moustache bars are great, but with two exceptions -

Thay are a pain to get though doorways, and I have a few awkward ones that I have to go through in my daily routine.

Hand position when standing - they place your hands a bit to close to your quads when you stand up.

Niether one was a biggie, but I had some flat bars and a shorter stem laying around from my old XC bike, so it didn't cost anything to try it out.

Oh, yah, my pogies fit the flat bar better.

Scott's picture

I will buy the bars

If your willing to sell the moustache bars I might take them off your hands if you still have them? Was going to buy a pair soon to go on a project fixie Im building.

Let me know.

[email protected]

SpeedyJ's picture


Sorry Scott, I'm a bit of a hoarder when it comes to bike parts, plus I may try them out again.

I'm sure that Sean has lots of good stuff at BikeBike.

Scott's picture


me too. I was going to buy some from him actually. Will stick to that plan.

Thanks mate

2wheeler's picture

Belt Drive

Any problems with the belt drive skipping when you hammer? or does the belt slip off if the snow builds up around it?

SpeedyJ's picture


No issues at all with the belt. Nothing even close to sliping or skiping.

The teeth on the chainring are all cut out, so the crud just pushes through. Cleaning is a breeze since it doesn't require a degreasing, I just use a brush and soapy water.

Believe it or not, so far it lives up to the hype.

The only real disadventage will be cost, a new chain for a bike like this is $10, a belt is $60+. Chain rings and cogs are worse. So far, so good though, as there is no sign of wear. The blue coating hasn't worn off the inside of the belt yet.

What sold me on the belts was seeing them used on a seismic Mulcher, if you haven't seen one, it's basically a snowblower, but for trees. The cutting head on these machines operate at a very high rpm and get pushed through trees, dirt, rocks and anything else you might find in the bush, all at temps down to -40C. Surprisingly enough, the cutting head is not hydraulic, but mechanical, it's driven by a scaled up Gates Carbon belt drive.

BCDon's picture

Gates Belt on Harleys as well

Gates Belt Drives are used on Harley Davidson Motorcycles as well. As you've mentioned, perhaps a bit heavier duty than the one on your bike but the same technology nonetheless.

I suspect that you'll get better mileage out of the belt drive than you would a chain drive. I would be surprised to see any wear on the chain rings or cog - no metal wearing against them and no changing on and off.

I think the bike has a lot going for it with the belt drive, internal gearing (although I'd want the new Alphina 11 speed), hydraulic disk brakes, fenders (I can't believe I said that! :)), brazeons for racks. The only thing I'd want to play with is the bars as I've ridden drop bars for sooooo long I really like them.

SpeedyJ's picture


I keep saying that I want the Alfine 11spd hub, but every time I price it out I decide against it.

The hub retails for around $530, plus shifter ($80), plus belt cog ($115), plus spokes ($20+/-), plus rim ($50-$80).

That's $800 and I still have to build the wheel.

I'm with you on drop bars, but on days like today, it's nice to have your weight a little further back with a little bit more leverge for the soft spots and ruts. When the weather gets better I'll switch back to my single speed CX.

critninja's picture

Bryant is nice

Alfine 8-speed belt drive with plenty of room for fenders.

We also just got a Brodie ONCE Alfine 11-speed (non-belt) in - sooo sweet!

Too bad Brodie is sold out of every size except 53cm.

SpeedyJ's picture


How much is the whole Brodie with that hub?

2wheeler's picture



2wheeler's picture

in store

Do you have one in store for a test ride?

2wheeler's picture


do you have a half pipe and some drops in store?

BCDon's picture

That's not what breaks

Normally I'd agree that associating anything with Harley would be a knock against it but it isn't the belt drive which fosters the impression that "90% of the Harley's ever built are on the road, the other 10% made it back home" :).

They are indeed an antiquated throwback, overpriced and continue to sell because of an assumed lifestyle but hey, you've got to give them credit for a great marketing team.

Julie Gregg's picture

I'm giving a thumbs up on the

I'm giving a thumbs up on the mention of wool. It is my saving grace in the cold. Especially for my feet. Wool hiking socks did it for me after years of cold toes. I use a wool pull over on top of a wicking layer for my upper body.

pinkrobe's picture

Lessons Learned

The biggest thing I've learned is that your choices for winter riding are personal. Not that they're secret, but that they're you-specific. For some, that means fixed gear on slicks. For others it means studs on a mountain bike with a 3x9 drivetrain, flat pedals and full fenders. There is no specific right or wrong, it's whatever works for you.

That said, there are some things I like for winter riding:
Singlespeed - Almost zero maintenance, little to adjust, running a high enough gear reduces rear wheel spin on ice
Studded Tires - Not much use in snow, but given that my ride to work often consists of polished hardpack that I can barely stand on, the studded tires allow me to stop, turn, etc. much the same as if I was on dry pavement. Have saved me from many a fall and potential injury.
Brakes - Hydraulic disc brakes, front and rear, won't ice up and provide predictable response down to -40C.
Pogies - Pretty much the only reason I can ride in winter below -20C.
Lights - Front: 600 lumens minimum [white, NON-flashing], not so much so that I can see where I'm going, but more so that other road users think I'm a small car with one headlight out. Rear: two lights, both red, both flashing, one high, one low.

SpeedyJ's picture


As mentioned earlier brakes with DOT fluid (Hayes, Avid, etc) are less effected by temprature then mineral oil systems (Shimano). In general I really like my Shimano discs, but I wouldn't choose them for winter riding, they work, but even at -5 to -10C they start to stiffin up as the fluid gets thicker.

critninja's picture

drum brakes

kick ass. they are never affected by weather, ever. Rain? Check. Snow? Check. -30? Check.

Drum brakes are not the be all and end all but they do work well, except for skidding - tough to lock them up - kinda like anti-lock.

One often overlooked or completely forgotten about brake system is the lowly coaster brake. Nor for everyone but always works in all conditions.

bclark's picture

never a problem

I'll bit on the comment about Shimano brakes for winter riding. I've been running Deore hydraulic discs for the past two winters. My coldest ride in was -36C according to my CTV @ Work icon. I had absolutely no problem with the brakes. Okay, the lever action was a bit stiffer but there was no power loss from what I could tell. My ride is about 1 hour each direction. The bike is stored inside (room temp.) between rides. I can't say if things would be different if I parked it outside. Maybe I'll try next winter...or I could just pull the brakes off and leave them in my deep freeze for a few days. Unfortunately the whole bike won't fit (ahhh, I can only imagine the comments about the bike in the deep freeze!).

SpeedyJ's picture

Fair Enough

The Shimanos do work...they just don't feel as good in the cold. My experience with the Shimanos in the cold is from trail riding, where I'm more pickier about lever feel then when I'm commuting.

bclark's picture

I've never tried anything else

My past experience has been with Canti's for winter commuting...after that any disk brake would probably seem stellar! I still think the bike in the freezer would be hilarious!

DarrenB's picture

Clothing choices et al.

I'm new to winter biking and a big challenge for me was to get the clothing right, particularly in Calgary's ever-changing winter weather. It is easy to over-dress, which leads to excessive perspiration, soggy clothes, and becoming terribly cold. I kept a little log of what worked and what didn't under various conditions (I am too forgetful otherwise), and that helped tremendously. Bottom line: dress just enough for the weather, but carry some extra clothes and expect the worse. Oh yeah, and for the guys, pack one extra sock just in case it gets REALLY cold.

I agree with pinkrobe above that gear is a totally personalized choice. For me, I LOVED having pannier bags -- less sweating on my back and better heat regulation and they add some weight to the back tire to increase traction. It was also nice to have the extra room to carry extra clothes for when the weather inevitably changed.

And I know there is still debate on this, but GET STUDDED TIRES, especially for days like today.

winterrider's picture

Cycling shorts

I ride year round in cycling shorts. In the winter I have a special pair with padding down the hip for my inevitable falls, but otherwise they are still just standard cycling shorts.

The reason I mention this, is that the seat area padding in cycling shorts ensures that your crotch never gets cold. Obviously I have to add in some long johns under the cycling shorts on cold days (-15), and fleece pants underneath on really cold days (-20 to -25) and multiple items down to -35.

But I have never had a problem with cold between the legs.

I highly recommend either cycling shorts, or cycling underpants (basically cycling shorts you wear under regular clothes).

mercator's picture

Drivetrain maintainance

Winter is hard on the chain and cogs. Especially when the temps are near freezing, you get a lot of gunk on the drivetrain. At the end of the day, I usually fill a waterbottle with hot water and sluice the cassette down while spinning the pedals. This will wash most of the salt and sand out of there and reduce wear.

I lube my chain a lot more often in the winter too, using a low cost home brew mix of mineral spirits and mobil-1 (3:1) seems to work pretty well.

finn1911's picture

Don't leave your poor winter

Don't leave your poor winter bike outside all winter like i had to this year. My little tank held up, but it needs some serious love this spring. So many rusty bits now :(

Thankfully I've now secured indoor parking at my office and my bikes are now living in luxury. Hopefully next year will be better.

RichieRich's picture

Winter tip

Winter ain't over, ever, in Calgary. At least until the next winter starts.

gyrospanner's picture

It often snows

at least every month in Calgary.

No crap! There is a long standing bet on the trading floor at work about whether or not that happens in every month of a calendar year.....

If you don't like that fact, move south!

ps I never go camping on the long weekend in May!

Richard Z's picture

Winter Riding Tips

Not even Fall yet, but people seem to be thinking about it. It being winter. And others may be thinking about riding in it for the first time. More suggestions? Or questions?

philosohpie's picture

Biking Year Round

Personally, I'm a bit excited about winter and winter riding; I'm surprised there wasn't anything from me on this thread from last year. I had a fantastic fixed-gear cyclocross bike that I installed fenders and 'strap-on' pedals to. I had some 45c tires that were perfect for snow, but I couldn't use fenders with them because of the clearances. Now I have some 35c CX tires that are great for anything but snow. After a good winter commute, placing my bike in the garage at work - for all to see as they came and went - was something I took a vague sense of pride in; It was a testament of sorts. In the summer, you can go faster, but there tends to be more congestion, as well as bizarre and confounding sorts of obstacles on the pathways. I'm looking forward to the tranquility and unimpeded commutes that make winter riding so different.

RichieRich's picture

Darker and Cooler

I can see how you're getting excited - it's a change from the same-old same-old that summer brings. The changing season means less congestion and the fun of riding by lights on dark paths. The random behavior of the ninja-pedestrians I can do without. Myself I love throwing in some single track in the early early darkness of morning as I whiz either over Nosehill or through SilverSprings/bowmont area, and all the eyeball reflections from whatever friendlies are in the grass and trees. But really you hit the nail on the head with the comment of "tranquility and unimpeded commutes". Hurray and ditto for that!

gyrospanner's picture

First Tracks down the hill in Bowmont Park

Yeap that's great! I like it when the path is frozen just right so that when your tires sound like firecrackers as they break the ice under a thin layer of snow....

But my brain is still in summer mode (HEY! it was +30 yesterday, for the first and possibly last day of summer this year).

I'm forecasting at least another 6 or 8 weeks of decent riding weather!!!!

ryker's picture


I *love* Gore-Tex liners that I wear over my socks. I still ride clipless in the snow so I don't change shoes for the winter and the liners make a big difference.

mikewarren's picture


must-have: wool, wind-proofs

pretty-awesome-to-have: winter shoes, hoodie wool shirt

Down to -12 or so I use bib shorts, 200-weight icebreaker wool shirt + pants, tight softshell pants, windproof thick cycling jacket, wool gloves (sometimes with shells), a toque and wool socks inside winder bike shoes. If it's colder, I add bigger gloves and a 320-weight hoodie icebreaker. If it's really cold (-20 or more) I add goretex pants and maybe another jacket and maybe booties.

I also take a puffy jacket if I'm doing a "real" ride (as in: outside the city).

Scott's picture

Ah winter

Not a fan but in truth... I prefer winter riding to rain riding.

My gear is pretty much what you see here from -45 to about -15 then I strip layers down but its pretty much the same. The riding jacket is thin, just a windbreaker. Fleece under that, sports shirt that wicks sweat under that and nothing more. Because its layered and there is an air pocket between layers I stay toasty. The boots are snowmobile boots and I wear the ski pants over my work pants (jeans or whatever) and have yet to have an issue with it. I still havent used studs and have no issue there either.

Things I suggest...

-Get fatty tires and let the air out so they are soft or get studs and do the same.
-Wear layers so you can strip down if the weather warms (and it will)
-Wear your layers with air pockets between them to trap warm air around your body. Tight clothes dont do well unless they are designed specifically for that purpose.
-Pogies on my handlebars made a huge difference for my hands this past winter
-Saddle bags kept weight distribution low and allowed a place to strip gear and place it when needed.
-Take your time
-dont bother riding on a fresh dump of snow over 3" unless your confident your route is paved. Normally its middle of the day before they get to it so avoid the worst ride ever
-the day after a melt is a brutal day to ride due to all the ice ruts in the morning
-take the lane and keep it. Be lit up like a christmas tree if you do
-I grabbed a lined snowboard helmet later in the season last year for the really cold weather and use goggles too. Works very well.
-be very hydrated the day before and keep a high dose of Vitamin D in your system (4000 IU's daily is perfect for me) ~ Your body produces over 30,000 IU's in under an hour when outside in the sun at the beach as a reference for you. People who live around the equator never get colds and we rarely do in summer as well. There is a reason for that. VITAMIN D!
-You WILL feel lethargic at times in winter. Blood cells are smaller and blood flow is restricted to a degree. Take it easy and enjoy the slower pace of winter riding. Its actually a joy!

Thats about it I think

Photo's below. I have removed the big rack on my KHS and moved it to another ride. I will be however replacing it soon with a basket on the front from BikeBike that is a similar heavy duty looking thing.

Winter bike Pose
KHS Urban X

Tyrone's picture

Thanks Scott. Super helpful

Thanks Scott. Super helpful post (both of them) Just want to make sure I have all the essentials before the snow flies (Helps to find a little at a time)

Scott's picture

Im a big proponent

Im a big proponent of finding things cheaply or adapting via what you have. All of the gear you see there except bike, pogies and helmet all were purchased via Value Village at one time or another. I have enough gear to replace what you see almost 3x and all of it for under $200 easily. You just have to visit the store often and know what to look for I think. I also have a snowboard jacket for those really really windy and -40 days which I throw on and good gawd it works perfectly over top of the above. Not mentioned is a neo-prene face mask I have had for a very long time that is my ultra fave piece of gear. My chin and cheeks always suffer most.

I think the one biggest bit of advice... layer and layer loose. Even when camping, its critical to have a barrier of air between you and the elements that gets trapped and heated. Wear loose clothing so air gets trapped in there and warmed up. It really does work.

RichieRich's picture

Michelin Man!

I bet underneath all those clothes you're a skinny 90lb soaking wet!

Lots of debates on the studded tires... I never was accepting of them until I tried them ~2winters back and now I am sold on them... the hardcore Nokian Hakapolita expensive carbide studded ones. That said their necessity depends on where/how you tend to ride.

Biking shoes... I have winter clip-in riding shoes a size too large and layer up the socks underneath plus an extra insole and when below -15C I throw on the battery-powered socks.

I find keeping the legs warm the key to a good ride so I tend to have an extra layer there (saves the toes too) and same with the arms/fingers (use arm-warmers or old long socks w/ the toes cut off). Often I have 2 LESS layers on my chest since I generate too much heat there. Balaclava use depends on temps: I have both a light and mid weight one. Important to keep the neck and ears protected but not so much you can't hear anything.

Now if only my Geoman warranty replacement battery for my MagicShine LED light would show up.

Scott's picture


"I bet underneath all those clothes you're a skinny 90lb soaking wet!"

Ah, the good old days when I was 13. Nothing ached and I could run a zillion miles, eat a dozen burgers and do it again. lol. Nope, 185lbs during those pics. Down to 172 now.

Hey... would be great to see gear pictures of you guys just like the ones I posted. They really are indespensible in learning new tricks because regardless of all that writing you guys do listing your gear... I have no idea what those things are so a picture is worth more to understand.

RichieRich's picture

skinny dude

after a season of big rides (160km Penticton Gran Fondo) I'm at my skinniest in a few years... you don't want or need to see that trust me. More ribs than Tony Roma's!! :)

Been going through some of my bike clothing and thinking of winter gear. Don't think any photos of me exist all kitted out in the winter woolies, but will work on assembling a couple photos.

gyrospanner's picture

I'd rather see

your best camo shorts! HAH!

I'll do the winter thing, as well.

We can have a beauty contest. Or the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly contest?

RichieRich's picture

are they back?

what's it called when a hillbilly comes back to life? re-in-tarnation!

So Gyro, have your camo shorts come back to life or did you find new ones? Those shorts were about the only way I recognized you on the MUPS.

Richard Z's picture

Winter riding resource page

Well, it'll be time soon.  And we still don't have a winter riding page.... just a placeholder.

Would someone like to step up and condense the wealth of information in this forum into an introductory article on how to get started riding through the winter?  That'd be awesome, and Calgary's wannabe winter cyclists would be forever grateful.

I did just put up some materials I got from one of our instructors who used it in winter cycling workshops: they're ataached to the page linked above.

RichieRich's picture

Studded Tires: Will you? won't you? Why?

Been some talk on the forums about Studded tires, and with a number of new folks to BikeCalgary this all-in-one link discussing various studded tires may be helpful.  Yes they do sell winter tires but you're likely better off buying locally.

The choice whether or not to use 0, 1, or 2 studded tires is very personal it seems. I've noted studded-tire choice is quite highly correlated with 1) how far you travel; 2) your ratio of street:MUP usage; 3) where you live (ie elevation and snow clearing); 4) if you're prone to hurting yourself when sliding out/crashing.

I've tried several tires, in both 26 and 29/700c sizes and my observations were:

a. studs on outsides but not in middle... meh, sufficient but not great, reasonably speedy, mid-level pricing, can vary pressure and hence amount of stud contact so flexible usage, on flat ice easy to get sliding so not great for front wheel.  Settled on a Schwalbe 26", rear mounted.  Will upgrade to fully studded (middle + edges) once this wears out.

b. studs in middle but not on outsides... worst. absolutely the worst.  wiped out too many times on ruts (still looking for lost pride), not great at anything except MUP-only usage.  Maybe I shouldn't have run in the front. Who wants it?   Used ~1 month, brand: Innova.

c. full metal jacket... expensive, heavy, carbide studs, noisy on pavement (think swarm of bees chasing you), and absolutely the best.  Love my Nokian Hakka and swear by it.   Front mounted 700C x 45mm.  Cuts through majority of loose and "brown-sugar" snow and finds grip. 

d. 2.3" DH MTB tires... heavy... slow... run at lower pressures in icier conditions, not too bad actually, consistent behavior.  Used these F+R for ~6-7 years of winter commuting.

e. 1.9" XC MTB tires... 'cross tires... 2.1" XC MTB... road... they can all be made to work.

DarrenB's picture

Great summary

Great summary. I will just add that I had good luck running 26" MTB tires with only outside studs (Schwalbe 'Snow Studs') last winter. When conditions were dry and bare, I ran full pressure meaning no stud contact and less rolling resistance, and when things got icy I let out the air so the tire flattened and the studs were making ground contact.

I did get winter tires for my cross-bike this winter with a much higher stud density, however, because there isn't really a 'low pressure' option for a skinnier 700c x 35 tire.

mikewarren's picture

packed snow, pavement

On packed snow or pavement, a nice knobby tire works best (for 700C, I recommend Ravogozzi or similar from Nokian) I find. When studded tires truely help is on ice. The last couple winters have encouraged me to try them out, and I think they do give you a bit more confidence on bare ice or in ice-ruts -- with the weather last couple winters we certainly got a lot more of these than "normal" for Calgary.

If I didn't have an extra set of wheels on which to mount a studded tire, I don't know if I'd use them; I find they're just not worth it unless you've got really bare ice. Even then, they're not magic: you'll still go down if you try to change speed AND direction at the same time ;) but they do give you time to get a foot down first.

Start with a front tire only if you're unsure: this gives you the stopping and turning traction you need, and it's got to be pretty horrific before you lose "go" traction with a decent knobby. Plus, front tires are a little easier to swap out than rear ones, if only because you don't have to mess with your grotty chain.

Also, get carbide studs or don't bother, IMO. The steel ones are shitty, fall out and rust. Or maybe that's just Schwalbe.

For people who are going to "try" winter riding and expect to not ride if it's especially shitty out, I'd recommend NOT buying studded tires -- spend the money on nice gloves, warm booties or wool layers instead and choose the "not ride" options if there's just been a chinook, there is snow around and it's -15 now (there will be ice all over the MUPs).

mikewarren's picture


Some inspirational photos to get you out on the road this winter. As DarrenB said it's really quite awesome riding in the winter. Once you get some nice packed snow on the gravel roads, they become a lot better to ride.

Ridin' Retreat Road

gyrospanner's picture

YES TO FUN! Another photo

This little draw is actually more fun to ride down in the winter than in the summer.  For me anyways!

The problem is is that you have to wait a long time sometimes for the foot traffic to pack it down until it is ride-able.