Canadian Winter by Bike

Winter is nearly over and I feel like I can officially say that I made it.

Almost one year ago I decided to start commuting to work by bicycle. At the time, I didn’t even consider the option to commute through the winter. I live in Manitoba, Canada, where we typically see cold temperatures, high winds and lot’s of snow.

Fall came and I started to realize that if I wanted to keep commuting by bike, I needed some better equipment. Studded tires seemed like a good option, maybe some fenders too. Clothing-wise, I had no idea.

The first snowfall feeling overly excited.

This was an odd winter to start commuting by bike. The snow started before November and didn’t disappear. December was extremely cold and it never seemed to let up. Along with the extreme cold, the winds were often gusting up to 50kmh. Luckily, it was often a headwind on the way to work and the tailwind would propel me home.

What did I learn

You don’t need a fancy bike or special clothes. There weren’t that many other “crazy people” like me out there, but the ones I saw were typically wearing old ski suits, riding old junker bikes. Now that I’ve made it through winter, I can see the toll winter takes on ones bike.

— Studded tires aren’t necessary, but they help I splurged on a set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires, thinking it would be necessary. Though I see now that they weren’t, when the roads became hard-packed with snow, the studs definitely helped me stay upright and give you considerably more confidence.

— Fenders are a must Though I regularly changed at work from my commute, fenders were a lifesaver and helped reduce the amount of maintenance required. They don’t look great, they’re pretty noisy, but they work and keep you and your gear clean.

Bonus points for fender flaps.

Storing your bike inside is crucial. Even on the coldest days, snow and salt accumulates on your bike. If you let your bike sit outside in the cold, you’ll find yourself with nothing more than a bike-cycle when you try to leave for home.

— Regular maintenance is necessary. Within the first month of commuting in winter, my bike was making all sorts of squeaks and sounds I wasn’t familiar with. The build-up of grime got so bad that my rear derailleur seized up and I had to bring it to my local bike shop for a tune up. After this experience, I purchased a weed-sprayer and would fill it with hot water and spray/wipe down my bike at least once a week.

— Get a good headlight/tail light When the sidewalks aren’t plowed, your only option is to bike on the street. When the sun only comes up after 8:00am and sets before 5:00pm, you want to be as visible as possible. Make sure your headlight is bright enough so light the path ahead, at least 450 lumens. When it’s dark, it’s hard to see any bumps in the snow, or patches of ice.

Early morning frost on this mornings commute.

Final Thoughts

There were only a handful of days that I recall being discouraging, mostly because of the wind and not the cold. I actually wish that there would have been more days with snow. Snow is easy to bike in unless people have walked all over it and their footprints have frozen in place.

I felt so confident about biking through winter, I sold my car and now solely get around by bicycle. My wife still has a vehicle we get around on, and I do still take it out in the evening if I need to quickly pick something up. We really haven’t felt the inconvenience of only having one car, and our bank account is also much happier for my choice.

Commuting through winter certainly isn’t for everyone, and I’m fortunate that my job allows me to do so. Though I did find winter to be much easier than I initially thought, I’m looking forward to warmer weather and putting my new gravel bike to good use.