Preparing Your Bicycle for Winter

Winter cycling is on the rise in Vancouver. Are you and your bike ready to tackle the the onslaught of rain, sleet and snow?

Credit: Flickr /

With Cold and Wet Weather Already Upon Us, Make Sure You Follow Our Guide to Bicycling in Winter

Biking all year-round has become the norm for Vancouver cyclists, and not just with the absolute fanatics. Sandra Allen, a cycling instructor for the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, says the VACC expects to see even more people—both beginner and advanced cyclists—out and about on two wheels this winter.

Allen says: “I’ve been riding in Vancouver for over 10 years now and when I first started, as soon as fall hit the number of cyclists on the roads would drop drastically. Now my routes are full of other cyclists during the winter months. We are tipping the scales and the energy is palpable!”

Not sure if you’re a winter road warrior? All you really need is bit of motivation, a high-visibility outfit and some smarts for staying safe in the dodgiest of winter conditions. Check these tips for getting yourself and your ride winter ready.


Winter Cycling Must-Haves

You won’t win any fashion points with a high-vis vest, but when it comes to winter riding, it’s best to grin and bear it. (Image: Flickr / Ron Richings at Velopalooza)

As the saying goes, better safe than sorry. When it comes to winter conditions, a little bit of pre-planning goes a long way. Any steps you take to prepare your bicycle (and yourself) for the sometimes harsh winter weather will make a huge difference.

Here are some essentials for the smart winter rider:

  • Helmet with reflector/light for optimal visibility.
  • Lights and reflectors. Cyclists are required by law to have a white front-light and a red rear-light in use when it’s dark.
  • Waterproof Gloves to keep your cold digits functioning.
  • You can never have enough layers! It’s all about staying warm while minimizing the sweat factor.
  • Visibility is key. Think high-vis vests, bright clothing, reflectors and lights…who cares if you look like you just walked out of the 80s.
  • Goggles for visibility. You’ve made sure everyone will be able to see you, but you have to be aware of your own surroundings. The VACC recommends yellow/orange lenses for winter riding.

Rain Proofing Your Bike

Be sure to stay dry and warm when riding during the soppy Vancouver winter.

(Image: Flickr / bluebike)

Sandra Allen believes the biggest concern for winter riders in the city is (surprise, surprise) the rain.

“Vancouverites mostly only have to deal with rain. For the few days we have snow every winter it’s not worth anyone getting studded tires. Just take the bus on those snowy days.”

Unlike snow, which is incredibly slippery, rain is more of a nuisance than a hazard. Put some serious effort into waterproofing your outfit and you should be fine.

As for your bike, Allen’s advises you to get a set of fenders and to consider switching to a wet lube for your chain. She stresses the importance of checking your brakes.

“Be sure your brake pads are in good condition. If the brake pads are already quite worn out, wetness only increases the inefficiency. Wet rim equals slippery surface equals less braking power.”


Charting Your Route

Stick to routes you are comfortable with when riding in the city this winter.

(Image: Flickr / cdcessums)

When you’re riding, knowing where you are going is always a smart idea.

Looking up your route in advance is ideal—that way you know where the designated bike lanes are and which sections have the heaviest traffic. Go online at VACC or the City of Vancouver website for handy bike routes and maps.

Even better, choose routes you know and take regularly during the warmer, drier months. The more experience you have in an area, the more confident you’ll be in unpredictable winter conditions.


Know When to Leave Your Bike at Home

If you have to dress like you’re about to take on a blizzard, you might want to consider taking the bus. (Image: Flickr / Otfrom

Knowing when not to ride is actually more important that you’d think.

When rain is extremely heavy, or if it’s snowing and icy, be sensible, know your skill level and take public transport.

“Super-heavy rain can be difficult to ride in, especially for someone newer to winter riding,” says Allen. “That’s the great thing about being a cyclist: we can be ‘hardcore’ when we want to be, but it’s perfectly fine to throw your bike on the bus or SkyTrain if the weather gets too bad!”

As far as VACC is concerned, riding in snow is just not worth it, especially because Vancouver’s snow is notoriously slippery. Allen’s advice for even the keenest of riders is to ditch the bike until the weather improves. “It’s probably easier to take the bus for a few days until the snow is gone… it never lasts long!”


Winter Riding in Vancouver

Take a class with the VACC and you’ll be ready to roll this winter. (Image: Flickr / Ron Richings at Velopalooza)

The City of Vancouver has done great things to make biking safer in the city (the designated biking lanes come to mind). However, bikers are still the minority on the road. Staying alert and cycling defensively is particularly important when visibility and road conditions are questionable.

“The roads get wet and then frosty overnight. One has to be aware of slippery patches, so take your corners wider and more upright,” says Allen, who also warns against riding on slippery painted road lines and seemingly benign fallen leaves, which can be the slipperiest of all!

When the roads are wet, lights start to reflect all over the road. “A cyclist needs to be sure they are riding a good meter from parked cars and curbs to stay visible on the road.” She also recommends that you always ride in a straight line: “You’re more predictable and visible that way.”

If you’re really serious about winter cycling, check out the VACC’s cycling programs, particularly the Fall/Winter riding classes that provide valuable tools and advice to turn fair weather cyclists into confident, safe, winter riders.