amf673's picture

Winter Conditions

With the leaves falling off the trees and the discussions on the board about lobster gloves etc. we can't ignore that winter is on the way. Have you ever had those discussions about winter cycling and someone will inevitably blurt out, "Yeah but what about all those -30 days? And all that snow?" As a winter rider, I pay attention to the weather because I need to know how to dress and how much extra time to give myself. And I never seem to remember all that many -30 days or all that many big powder days. Being a science nerd, I thought I would check out the actual conditions. Looking at the last five winters and defining winter as the beginning of November to the end of March, Calgary gets on average:
  • 22 days below -20
  • 9 days below -25
  • 2 days below -30
There have not been any days below -33 in the last five winters.
  • 19 days with 2 cm or more of snow
  • 7 days with 5 cm or more of snow
  • 2 days with 10 cm or more of snow
I used those cutoff values as I find -25 about where things get ugly: my glasses freeze, I worry about exposed skin and carry a down jacket in my bag, in case I get stuck. Warmer than -20, unless there is a lot of wind it is usually pretty good. For the snow, 2 cm (less than an inch) is not usually an issue, 5 cm or more overnight can make for a very long ride if things have not been cleared. The good news is that you could ride four days out of five in the winter and still enjoy temperatures above -20. Keep in mind that those temperatures are the lows for the day and unless you are riding in the hour before dawn, you will likely be even warmer than that. And there are only about seven days with 5 cm (2 inches) or more snow. Makes one wonder why the city has such an issue with snow clearing! A person need not be a masochist to ride 70-80% of the time in the winter.


RichieRich's picture

winter questions

Hey amf673... nice post. I'll certainly be referring to those numbers again when people ask me just how crazy I am (as if there is a scale). Just wondering where you got those stats from and if they split out each months average?

Living near the top of Nosehill over the last ~10 years and bike commuting from here too, I'm also very curious where those snow depth numbers were taken. The reason being that some snow days I'll see ~5-10cm (undrifted) here at home, but barely a skiff along the Bow river valley.

mercator's picture

Sounds about right,

Except it always seems like:
a) I am riding in the early hours so I always see the low temp, and
b) The ride home usually coincides with the big dump of snow

Keeping track of the weather lets me be prepared so it isn't (usually) a disaster.

philosohpie's picture


Thanks for the information; just reading it is getting me in the mood for some winter riding!

I think the most important thing to consider for winter cycling are your toes and fingers. Make sure all twenty little appendages are warm before you go riding. For the winter, I've been using 'strap ons' for a pedal retention system, on a fixed gear bike, with large (45c) knobby tires. The pedal retention system enables me to use my big winter boots to stay warm, though sometimes, I'll add those unoxidized iron powder warming pads for comfort or assurance. They are cheaper than bus fare, plus you can save them for later by sealing them in an airtight bag (I think they last a cumulative three hours). I do use lobster gloves exclusively, but haven't really had much satisfaction; the design I find aren't well thought out, or they wear out - they're the best thing out there, though. I also recommend wearing ski-goggles and a balaclava for your head. Cold air makes eyes water, and cold air makes water freeze; ski goggles will prevent that for the most part. Lastly, do carry one of those foil emergency blankets or the like; I carry an emergency 'bivy sack' - they pack small and light, and offer good support while waiting for help, if ever you or your bike broke down.

winterrider's picture


The temperature information above is only a partial story, and probably the one at the airport where the official weather station is.

There are cold pockets in this town, such as in Bowness, where is is frequently up to 5 degrees colder than at the airport. The coldest day last winter at my house was -36, and I can tell you I get more than 2 -30 or colder days each winter.

The good news is it warms up as soon as I ride out of Bowness (which is how I'm able to trust my thermometer). Let me tell you, there's nothing like the feeling of having it warm up from -35 to a balmy -30 by the time I get to work. It makes it feel like spring is coming! :D

Richard Z's picture

More stats?

If you have the time, can you look up the # of days below -10 and 0?  It would be nice to know approx. how many days during our winter the conditions aren't really harsher than "regular" cities in Winter. I think there may be quite a few "fair weather" winter riders for whom the cutoff is closer to -10.

mikewarren's picture

days below -10

There were 68 days where the low was below -10 last year and 187 days below 0. If we look at the high instead, there were only 16 days below -10 and 48 below 0. I suspect the low is most important, as that will be the morning temperature before the sun comes up...

Data and code at github. I screen-scraped the data from

Here's a graph of min/avg/max temperatures for all of last year.


gyrospanner's picture

That's good stuff!

But sad to note - there were only a couple of days that blew through +30 (I don't really like to ride in those temps anyways) and during those days, the nightime temps still dropped to single digits!  BBBOOOOOOOHHH!

I'm not moving, 'cuz I love Calgary!

Newbie's picture

Winter Wear.

Hey everyone,

I am outfitting for the winter and am looking at options for my hands. Last year I fought through with my lobsters and they didnt' do much on those days lower than -20; I am thinking pogies for this year.

Does anyone recommend pogies or something else and if has anyone tried the MEC ones. they appear to be the most convenient purchase.



winterrider's picture

I have some gortex shells

I have some gortex shells (mitts) and in the cold I layer fleece mitts inside (up to 4 pairs of varying thickness and length), all bought from mec. I have been fine down to -35 with enough fleece, and I still am able to operate the brakes and shifters.

RichieRich's picture

Warm hands are not

... just about having good mitts - but they certainly help, but make sure they're not tight/restrictive.   You also have to keep the blood flowing to your hands warm so that means having warm arms too.  Same concept applies to keeping warm toes.  Typically I'll have 2 additional layers on the arms, and 1 additional layer on the legs as compared to the torso.   Having that warm tea or coffee just before riding certainly helps out too.

Cword's picture

Pogies, I'll be putting mine back on soon

I rode with layers, lobsters and neumerous arrangements to conserve heat in my hands particularly for the descent into Edworthy. 

Then a couple years ago I tried pogies, and I wouldn't switch back. 

I started with really heavy "Arctic" (Dogwood Designs) pogies on flat bars, then when I swtiched to the cross bike I went with Bar-Mitts drop bar pogies I got via Sean at Bike Bike. 

I like the pogie for better temperature control, convenience of easily pulling out your lightly gloved hand and quickly shedding the extra layer.

Locking-up and little things like adjusting eyewear and buckles becomes more convenient with out having to wear heavy gloves. If it gets warm enough to drop gloves completely then the pogie becomes a handy pocket to leave the gloves in.

critninja's picture

BikeBike has pogies in stock

For both road and MTB bars.

We have a good selection of studded tires in stock too - and a bonus - buy a set of studded tires and get a pair of tubes free!

Also have those little chemical hand a feet warmers, llobster gloves, leg/arm warmers, and fenders in stcok.


DarrenB's picture

Snowmobile mitts

I picked up some leather, pile-lined snowmobile mitts at Princess Auto last year and my hands NEVER got cold, even down below -30.  I couldn't recall what I paid for them, but I found my old post, and I guess they were only $7.  Hard to beat at that price!

Scott's picture

I used..

I bought and used some thin rubbery pogies from MEC that were $30. once I jammed my big ol' lobsters inside them I was golden. Never once had a cold hand issue. I kept the gloves inside so they were warm and that helped lots. Gloves and pogies dont do much if the handlebars are already freezing though. I keep my bike inside so its warm. On the coldest of days I have no issues with cold bars or thick gummy gears.

jemcalgary's picture


How many people out there ride clipless in the winter? Does anybody find that there are issues clipping in, and more important, clipping out when the weather gets colder and, or slushier? I started riding clipless at the beginning of the summer and I really like it. I'm just not sure how many problems I might encounter during the winter.

Cword's picture

going on 15 years

I've been clipless in winter since 1996.

I've never frozen to the pedal, but have had issues clipping in after puttinga foot down in wet snow.

I lube the springs and gates in the pedal assembly once a week in winter.

Another winter routine I have is to put fresh foot beds in my cycling shoes every year at this time. A livelier foot bed means more warmth for your sole. ;)

RichieRich's picture

still do

Have also been riding clipless year-round for 15years, and the last 10yrs of winter commuting.  Never had an issue to be honest since running CrankBro's pedals, but can't speak for other brands.  Since I have also worried about the same thing I run the same pair of cleats from ~mid August through until March each year. 

Statement of the obvious, but winter is harsh on all bike parts so regular cleaning and lubes is essential, and even then you'll go through parts quickly enough to warrant a big overhaul come spring time.

Great point, Cword, re: replacing foot beds.  Thanks for the reminder to replace mine too.

DarrenB's picture

I like hybrid pedals

Wellgo makes a hybrid pedal that is really great for winter: SPD style clipless on one side and the other is a standard platform pedal.  I couldn't live without them, now.  You can always use the platform pedal on stretches where you are worried about clipping out, and the clipless side otherwise.

I haven't had much problem clipping out, but sometimes my cleats fill with snow or ice and getting them to clip in can be a pain. 

fastlayne's picture


I have a set of these on my shitbike. Having platforms are handing for getting going in marginal conditions, once moving I clip in.

umgray's picture


I ride clipless all winter. I just clean them more often especially with the salt and muck. I need to kick the snow out once in a while but I am use to that everytime I ski so its natural to clean the bottom of the shoes. The killer is how fuc*ing slippery the winter cycling shoes are! every year there are great stories on the board here about studded tire drivers ride 3- kms and fall and hurt themselves getting off the bike and to the house! Thats the most dangerous park of winter cycling in clipless over the winter!

RichieRich's picture

Slippy building designs

I'm more concerned about the slippery entrance into and out of my work parkade!  My choices:

- navigate progressively steeper ~1m wide reducing radius curve to card-lock door (with grating right below card-lock so it's easy to drop your card there).  Already leaving skid marks in the summer (unintentionally of course, but just from weight of me/bike/panniers).  Can't wait until this entrance route has snow/ice on it.

- not quite as steep car entrance over open steel grating to door area where I then I have to lift my bike up ~1ft step to enter above card-lock door whilst cars collect behind. Steel gratings were incredibly slick a few weeks back with the rain.  Now throw in silly bike shoes... and snow/ice.  sigh...



RichieRich's picture

Bah humbug

don't want to think about winter just yet... even though a buddy and I threw snow at each other this past Saturday at the top of the Big Elbow mountain bike loop at end of Hwy 66.  It was only +3C up there at 10am, but the sun and scenery were beautiful.  Didn't see any yellow trees yet at least but that won't last long...