Home > Tips & Tricks > Winter Bike Commuting: The Basics

Winter Bike Commuting: The Basics

An attempt to plow the TART trail in Traverse City

Recently, I’ve been asked the annual question. What do I need for Winter Biking?

The truth is, I’ve never really thought it through. I’m no expert.  But, there are two basics: layer (it’s easy to over-heat) and don’t be dumb (winter is not the best time to challenge the worst designed roads in the city).

Here are some specifics:

For the bike:

  1. Fender (s): Key for me. I hate that wet stripe up the backside.
  2. Tires: I’ve gone my entire life without studded tires–most riders do. This year I’m going to give them a try. December has been slippery. There are lots of choices, so choose wisely.
  3. Lights: Less to see by and more To BE SEEN in these shortened days. My new favorites are the Reelights–always there, charged by the rider.

For the Body:

  1. Good food: (I always start & end with food & hot drink)
  2. Base layer: Anything but cotton. Wool/Synthetic.
  3. Wind/Water Proof Shell: Anything with vent zippers under the pits is very nice.
  4. Head, Neck & Face: Key! Warm thin hat (under helmet),  scarf (not too long) or balaclava. My core and legs are usually fine, but if the head isn’t covered I freeze.
  5. Gloves: Wind and water proof preferred.


Or rather, not riding. Some days are just hell. Depending on conditions, I might just walk or take the bus, but sometimes I’ll take the BATA bus one way and throw my bike on its racks. Of course, if it’s that wintry outside, I’d probably just stay home.

But, on the days you do ride, keep it smooth and relaxed. I’ve never falling while riding forward, only when I’ve tried to stop or turn too quickly.

Bad balance + icy spot = rider fall down.

But its important not to be afraid to fall. It really doesn’t hurt all that much and typically results in me laughing in the street. Of course, don’t fall in traffic. That can’t be good. I also don’t adjust my brakes in the winter and just let them go loose. I’m going slow enough and don’t need to accidentally lock them up and skid out.

Oh, and regarding cars. Take up the lane if you have to. The edges are typically uncleared slushy messes. It’s a public road, meant for automobiles, bikers and walkers if need be. Use it.

What are some other tips of the trade for winter bike commuting?

Are we ready for a bike to work day/week in Northern Michigan?

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