Cycling in the snow

A cyclist is cycling in the snow

The snow is coming down over London and many cycle commuters will be having a chilly ride home, beautifully framed by snowflakes.

This morning I cycled in with a friend of mine, to show her the ropes about cycling in London. Her biggest complaint:

“It’s too hot! I’m sweating!”

It’s bitter sweet that on one of the coldest days of the year, the complaint is about sweating. Something that fortunately can be easily solved by having the right layers, and removing them as you pedal to work.

I’d like to bring you some of my top tips for cycling the snow.

Snow tip 1: Staying warm

This is the most obvious one, but you’ll want a good winter cycling jacket such as the highly recommended DHB EQ 2.5, a pair of EDZ Merino Gloves and something to keep your head warm.

I generally just accept that my jeans will get wet, but I do tend to a wear a pair of meggins (men’s leggings) beneath to keep me warm (much to the laughter of my girlfriend – jealousy I’m sure!). Alternatively, you may own a pair of waterproof trousers.

Snow tip 2: More tyre tread is preferable for winter

Road bikes generally have slick tyres, which have minimum grip as they are optimised for speed. This should be fine for light snow, but as it gets heavier you’ll ideally want something with more tread.

Most hybrids and mountain bikes will be better equipped for this weather as they tend to have tyres with additional tread.

If the conditions worsen, you may choose to buy a new set of tyres from your local bike shop, that have additional tread. Otherwise, Chain Reaction Cycles have plenty of options.

Snow tip 3: Easy around the corners

When you are cycling in the snow, you’ll quickly realise you have less control than usual, due to slippery roads. You’ll want to be especially careful around corners, as this is when it’s easy to lose grip on the road. Take it slightly slower than usual and make smooth turns.

Snow tip 4: Go easy on the tyre pressure

You can get some additional grip by slightly under inflating your tyres.

Snow tip 5: Brake early

In snowy and slippery cycling conditions, it’s a good idea to brake earlier than usual and to drop your speed slightly. This is because stopping distances will be increased.

Ideally, the front brake should be used only when you are cycling in as straight line.

Snow tip 6: Relax and keep your weight back

When you are cycling in heavy snow and freezing conditions, you’ll find that your wheel will want to head off occasionally in strange directions as it drops in to various tracks laid out by cars. Allow it to do so, don’t tense too much and keep your weight back. This should help keep your central balance on the bike.

Snow tip 7: A good time to put a helmet on

If you don’t normally wear a helmet, this can be a good time of the year to use one. It’s more likely in snowy conditions that you’ll have a fall.

Snow tip 8: Mudguards!

If you don’t do it for yourself, then do it for the cyclist behind you. Add a mudguard to your bike, it takes two seconds!

We recommend the SKS Mudguard.

Snow tip 9: Be aware of drivers reduced visibility

Fogged windows mixed with ice conditions, means that if you are cycling in the snow, you should also be aware of a drivers reduced visibility. Remember to cycle in the primary position (not in the gutter) and give drivers extra space. Also, be aware cars that accelerate too fast in the snow may slide, so you shouldn’t be positioned at the side of one.

Snow tip 10: Clear glasses

When cycling in the snow, a lot of the snowflakes will end up in your eyes. Using either a cap or a pair of clear cycling glasses should solve the issue.

Any more tips? Share them below!

Join 9,241 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

, ,

31 Responses to Cycling in the snow

  1. stew 14/01/2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Put your lights on too.

  2. rikh 14/01/2013 at 2:02 pm #

    I recommend not cycling in the snow, as it is dangerous

  3. jackflap 14/01/2013 at 2:05 pm #

    Here are some other winter cycling tips that I’ve been playing around with:

    1) Snowboard helmets. Something like the following are now becoming more and more stylish, plus the integrated ear-muff padding is great for keeping your ears warm and are removable for summer-cycling:

    http://www.theboardbasement.com/snow-Helmets-Protection/K2-Rival-Ski-Snowboard-Helmet-Black-2013/5468?utm_source=google&utm_medium=base&utm_campaign=product&gclid=CPPJ9MCB6LQCFco92wodvBMAIA

    2) Convertible fingerless mittens instead of gloves. Great for getting your hands in your pocket, taking cigarette breaks, fumbling with keys without having to take your gloves off constantly:

    http://www.theboardbasement.com/snow-Helmets-Protection/K2-Rival-Ski-Snowboard-Helmet-Black-2013/5468?utm_source=google&utm_medium=base&utm_campaign=product&gclid=CPPJ9MCB6LQCFco92wodvBMAIA

    jackflap

  4. Alex 14/01/2013 at 2:15 pm #

    For the most part, I didn’t risk it today – most of my journey is through the royal parks and while snow doesn’t tend to settle on the roads in central london, the parks are less predictable. In the event, it didn’t settle on any cycle lanes so I just go on a boris bike!

  5. walonki 14/01/2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Slow cornering with internal foot supporting. Like those guys from speedway, but slower ;)
    V-brakes tends to catch snow from rims and has terrible efficiency.
    I’m not sure if you use salt on roads, but here in Poland they do so rust comes very quickly on chains.
    Sometimes it’s just better to walk couple of meters and than start to ride again.
    It’s easier to start from stop when you use your leg to push and get some moving instead of pedalling from the very beginning.
    This is quite ordinary view, so no fear, it’s just a snow ;) http://lh6.ggpht.com/_85FoTHQ54IM/SZxkBD0t_HI/AAAAAAAAXUg/Hm4-Gsue5SQ/s512/IMG_7255.JPG

  6. Tom_R 14/01/2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Get on your mountainbike and enjoy the snow!

  7. Tom 14/01/2013 at 3:29 pm #

    All good advice. I live in southern Sweden, so have to deal with snow quite regularly. I cycle ca. 8 km to work every day, whatever the weather.

    Snow tyres: worth having for winter. They give you more grip on black ice too. The studs ‘catch’ if you start to slip (as the bike starts to slant over), thus rescuing you! Failing that knobbly mountain bike tyres will be better than slick road tyres.

    Ride vertically! Usually when I’m riding fast I will lean at the corners – i.e. lean into the corner, increasing turning speed. In snow and ice I don’t – keep the bike as level as possible to avoid slipping.

    • Barton 14/01/2013 at 8:08 pm #

      I am with Tom. Studded tires/tyres are the way to go. Not in the powder, of course, there you simply need to let out some pressure, and the wider the tyre the better. But once the snow is packed down, studs will be a God-send.

      This may sound crazy to even mention, but if you typically clip into your pedals (clipless or the basket thingy), don’t. At least not after there has been some accumulation on the road and or some serious snow covered roads. I am constantly amazed at the number of falls I see in the winter from riders who continue to use their cleats on icy/snow covered roads. You need to get a foot down quickly in these conditions.

      Finally, I want to say “enjoy the snow!” In my part of the US, typically snow covered from November to April, we just lost all our snow to an unseasonable two days of rain. All I can think of is how many inches of snow we’d have if the precipitation hadn’t been rain.

    • Maria 18/01/2013 at 2:39 pm #

      Hey ,Tom!Could u recommend me good winter tires pls?thank you x

    • Ludo 15/02/2013 at 8:54 am #

      I also live in Sweden but unlike Tom I don’t ride studs. I opted for X-country tires (Schwalbe CX Pro) which do a really good job. You should probably ride a bit more carefully than with studs when you see ice patches but these tires are so much lighter than studded tires than it’s worth the “risk”.

      Instead of glasses I most of the time ride with downhill goggles: no fog, warmer (yeah it gets cold up here and wearing goggles when it’s -20 makes a huge difference), …

  8. GrahamL 14/01/2013 at 7:39 pm #

    I agree with the sweating (well, very warm actually) comment. Did a ride yesterday with temperatures around 2 degrees centigrade. 7 miles into the ride I could feel the cold on my face but the rest of me was more than toasty warm. Strange feeling actually.

    I swear by my set up though. Marino wool long sleeve base layer, long sleeve cycling jersey and waterproof jacket, skull cap, long leg thermal cycling leggings. When the neck and chin get cold out comes the ‘buff’. Sorted. Sealskinz winter gloves when the other gloves start letting the cold through. Sorted.

    • Wheelist 14/01/2013 at 10:23 pm #

      Dead right. A vented jacket is useful for getting rid of excess heat, and it means you don’t have to stop to remove layers. Stay vertical!

  9. Brian of Welwyn 14/01/2013 at 8:55 pm #

    I work from home so don’t have the opportunity to commute and had every option to stay snug in my home office today. But the snow was so pretty I cycled the 5 or so miles into Welwyn Garden City, on my mountain bike, through the woods. Glorious! Trees looked beautiful, air fresh and best of all at the end of it lunch with a very, very hot brunette. Turns out we had a lot in common…she’s my wife!

  10. don ki shot 14/01/2013 at 10:34 pm #

    dont cycle in snow unless you have a mountain bike.

  11. Matthew 14/01/2013 at 10:49 pm #

    Try to clean your bike after, as it will be covered in wet salt. That probably sounds like too much hassle to an ordinary person, but try a tolerable short cut.

    You can pour a bucket of warm water over it, bounce it a couple times on the back wheel (hold the handlebars, including the back break- incidently the best way to get a bike into a small lift). Bring it in somewhere warm so it drys and quickly regrease the chain in the morning.

  12. GrahamS 15/01/2013 at 11:45 am #

    Bike paths round this way are untreated. Schwalbe Winter Marathons on a mountain bike means this really isn’t an issue.

    Also RE: Snow Tip #1: Why on earth are you wearing jeans and accepting they get wet? Riding in wet jeans is horrible. Wear something more suitable and get changed into nice dry jeans when you get whereever you are going.

  13. James McConnon 15/01/2013 at 12:31 pm #

    I’m with the not cycling in the snow camp. The amount we have in this country it doesn’t seem worth the money or effort of changing tyres etc. I just get the train or work from home for the week or two the snow lasts.

  14. Ranty 16/01/2013 at 6:28 am #

    I came off before Xmas after a dusting of snow, but then again, the cycle track I use is not gritted (despite being next to a big TfL road) and this week, the bus too the strain. Still, snow gone today and I will be having a slightly longer ride to make up!

  15. Jack Cairney 16/01/2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Yeah, I’m not sure that I’d be up fo the commute in the snow, but the mountain bike ride from Welwyn Garden sounds delightful.

    I just found a new cycle group on ‘townfish’ so I’ll be sure to clean up the mountain bike and try some winter park routes.

    Great blog… many thanks. Well done you brave souls!!

  16. Zvirze 16/01/2013 at 8:07 pm #

    Hello from Beroun, Czech Republic. Foir winter conditions I highly recommend these tyres: http://schwalbe.com/gbl/en/produkte/spike_tires/ I use them on my folding bike, which I ride every day to the work and back.

  17. alua 18/01/2013 at 10:15 am #

    I’m also thinking of not cycling today. It’s not that I don’t want to go out in the snow, but the problem is that there are too many idiots on the roads of London and they seem to multiply exponentially in adverse weather conditions. (I already had two near misses yesterday in fine conditions because of a car door someone opened without looking and a cyclist who thought it was a good idea to bike, without lights or any reflective gear, down the wrong direction of a main street!).

    And the fact that I can’t be sure the snow will be cleared off the roads (especially on the side streets that I prefer to cycle on). I remember that when we had that snowfall two years ago that brought London to a halt for several days, some streets I cycled on weren’t cleared a week or two after!

    If I had a short trip (less than 5 k) I would probably cycle in the snow, but I’ve got go farther than that. That said, the thought of having to take the tube sounds nightmarish :-/ Heck, I would prefer to walk but especially tomorrow I have to go some place 15km from my house!

  18. Laura 18/01/2013 at 10:18 am #

    Mmm I do love your meggings :)

  19. Rob 18/01/2013 at 10:34 am #

    I’m a killjoy too – it’s too dangerous when you cannot see the potholes.

  20. GrahamL 18/01/2013 at 12:14 pm #

    I remember cycling around a country park last year. The snow had cleared near where I live but I took my new mtb this park some distance away. It was my first opportunity to try out my new mtb. When I got there the snow was still in place, obviously had more severe snow than in my area. Promptly set off and within two minutes I was on my backside !! There was compacted ice under the snow and my front wheel just slid on it and down I went. As you do, I got up pretended nothing had happened had a quick look to see if anybody had seen this graceful mishap and promptly set off again. No damage to the bike fortunately. Couldn’t believe I’d fallen off a brand new bike within two minutes of cocking my leg over it !!

  21. David 18/01/2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Schwalbe marathon winters are a good all rounder. But if you don’t have a set in your possession , it may take a little time to get hold of them. Try bike24 from Germany .

  22. Karen @ Cycle Sprog 18/01/2013 at 10:56 pm #

    Hi – thanks for this post – it’s the best summary of cycling in the snow I’ve come across. I rode for the first time in snow today – on road and off – totally exhilarating! I’m using Specialised Team Master Pro tyres – they were fine – wide and a good grip.

  23. joe 21/01/2013 at 10:16 pm #

    Should mention something about hills… and going slow down them. You really need to keep your breaks on from the start, not half way down, as I learnt this morning.

Leave a Reply