Cycling really took off in Ottawa this past summer, with large numbers of new cyclists on the bike paths and off-road trails because of closed or restricted access to gyms and other forms of exercise. But now winter has arrived and Ottawa has had its first few snowfalls. Some of the new cyclists may continue to cycle during the winter as a way to get out into the fresh air and stay fit.
If you are looking to avoid public transit, or are a keen cyclist, you may have already decided that you are going to continue to ride your bike through the winter. Winter cycling can be both fun and rewarding but, remember, winter cycling has its own challenges. You will need to adjust the way you ride, as well as your clothing, tires, cycling routes, and bike maintenance to adapt to winter road, trail, and weather conditions.
Winter riding just feels different than summer riding. With snow and ice on the road or trail, handling can be lethargic or unpredictable. Hazards like potholes or roots may not be visible. Stopping and turning can require more time and space. Speed will be decreased and riding through even a couple of centimeters of snow or slush can be a real slog.
To make your winter riding safe and enjoyable, follow these simple tips:
- Wear a properly fitted helmet.
- Be sure you wear appropriate clothing and ensure that you keep your hands, feet and face warm.
- As in all outdoor winter sport, dress in layers that breathe and keep moisture out. Take advantage of the new fabrics that are lightweight, waterproof, breathable and windproof.
- Get winter tires for your bike. Fat bikes, which are sturdier and have thicker tires for better grip, handle snow and ice better than a road or mountain bike.
- If you do ride your mountain bike, consider getting studded tires for traction and control. If you are not going to do a lot of winter riding, and don’t want to invest in new tires, try making them; instructions on how can be found on the internet.
- With traction impaired by snow and ice, it is essential to ride with a heightened sense of caution, whether you are riding on the roads or trails.
- Visibility in the winter can be limited or impaired and drivers can fail to see a cyclist because of failing snow or high snowbanks. It is therefore particularly important to have flashing lights, front and back, even in the daytime.
- If this is your first winter as a cyclist, consider staying on groomed trails, paths, and dedicated cycling lanes until you feel comfortable riding in winter conditions.
- Cleaning off the salt and sand at the end of each day will protect your bike.
Ottawa has a wide variety of winter cycling options, from cleared bike paths, to dedicated bike lanes, to off road cycling in the Gatineau Hills and elsewhere. Buying good clothing and tires will increase your comfort, safety and enjoyment and is definitely a good investment if you are going to be riding in Ottawa this winter.