I’ve been commuting to work on a bicycle year-round in Grand Rapids, Michigan since 2005. I’m lucky to work at a place that’s so supportive of bike commuting, enabling me to ride in year-round for the past 8 years.
Winter riding, in particular, is what I find most enjoyable. No one should feel that snow, ice, or sub-freezing temps are insurmountable barriers for winter riding. Every morning I check the temp and see a sub-32F reading I think, “YES! No rain!”
The following are a few tips I’ve learned which will hopefully help and encourage you if you’re curious about trying a winter commute.
I only recommend studded tires for winter commuting. Ice is your worst enemy on the road, and studs are the safest way to beat it. More studs are better. Bigger tires yield more space for studs and will provide more control if you hit uneven patches of ice or snow.
Here are a few studded tires of various sizes I would recommend:
- 700c road bike / hybrid – 700c Hakkapeliitta W240 or a more narrow tire – W106
- 26” mountain bike – Nokian Extreme 294
- 29” mountain bike – Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro
- fatbike – 45nrth Dillinger
Some people think only a front or rear tire need be studded for safe winter riding. I always use studded tires for both front and rear.
If you have a bike with sufficient tire clearance for a studded tire, it’ll likely do fine as a winter commuter. Your local bike shop should be able to help you out if you’re not sure about tire sizing.
Platform pedals (the kind without straps or clips) are good to start with for winter riding. They’ll give you flexibility to wear heavy winter boots when it gets extra cold outside.
Your normal bundling technique for being outdoors in the winter should suffice for short commutes. I didn’t own a winter coat for my first 5 years of winter commuting, relying instead on a few layers of hoodies, sometimes coupled with a base layer of Under Armour. If you’re going to overcompensate, consider doing so on your hands and feet with a good pair of warm gloves or mittens and extra layers of socks in a warm boot.
My face doesn’t get too cold in the winter due to chronic bearding, but if yours does you should check out the Lung Cookie from 45nrth.
Some of my best problem solving comes while riding to work in the morning. I find riding a bike to the office much less stressful than piloting a multi-ton piece of steel through a heavily populated area. It’s a great time to get centered and organized for how you want to start your day.