Braving the Elements: A Beginner's Guide to Riding Your Bike Through A Toronto | Urbane Cyclist Blog - Urbane Cyclist
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Braving the Elements: A Beginner's Guide to Riding Your Bike Through A Toronto Winter

Braving the Elements: A Beginner's Guide to Riding Your Bike Through A Toronto Winter

Don't let the cold and wet weather keep you from getting a bike ride in! From layering up to adapting your routes and maintenance routine, there are plenty of ways you can enjoy a safe and comfortable ride all winter long.

Riding your bike in Toronto during the winter can be a bit of a challenge, but definitely doesn't have to be with the right mindset and preparation. Whether you're a seasoned winter rider or just starting out, there are plenty of ways to stay safe, comfortable, and motivated during the colder months. We've got some tips and tricks for biking in Toronto during the winter, from choosing the right gear to staying safe on the road. So if you're ready to brave the elements and keep pedaling through the winter, read on!

  1. Stay warm and comfortable
    The most important thing you can do while riding in cold weather is keep yourself warm and comfortable! You’ll want to wear plenty of layers that you can add, unzip, or remove to keep yourself at a comfortable temperature and protect your face and ears from the wind. With layers, it’s ideal to have a moisture-wicking base layer, layers for warmth, and a waterproof shell to prevent the rain and snow from getting to you, both on your top half and your bottom half. Your core will get warm just by riding, but keeping your extremities will be the real challenge. This means having smaller items like arm and leg warmers that you can add and remove are super important for regulating your temperature. Going all the way to your extremities with the warmers and protecting your face, ears, fingers and toes are very important! These are the parts of your body that are going to be exposed to the elements the most. A good, breathable layer going over your face and ears will be helpful for preventing chapped red skin, and wind- and waterproof gloves will also help keep you from feeling the cold. Add in a pair of handlebar booties, and you’re ready for deep winter! Stopping the wind from hitting your hands means you can have a lighter pair of gloves and maintain dexterity, as well as keeping your bike’s shifting and braking hardware nice and toasty. For longer winter rides, you might also want to use hand and foot warmers to extend the time you’re able to spend outside. If you’re someone who typically rides clipless, winter might be a great season to try putting some big platform pedals on so you can ride with boots. Pair these with some thick cushy socks, your toes will be thanking you. As for getting an ideal winter ride together, there are things that might be nice to have, but aren’t necessary. For example, an internal gear hub will help you protect your shifting because it'll all be housed internally, away from the elements. As well, you might want to look for a bike that has disc brakes on. The first benefit of disc brakes is that the braking surface is farther from the snow, ice, dirt and debris of the road. The more important one is the increased stopping power! What's also really great is having hydraulic disc brakes. Without any cables that could potentially be exposed to the elements, you're less likely to encounter any mechanical issues. Plus, in Toronto, the temperatures never get low enough to affect the efficacy of the hydraulic fluid!

  2. Dealing with wet and slippery road conditions
    Of course, with winter weather, you’ll get wet and slippery roads. There are tons of ways to adapt your current ride, such as using wider tires with more tread, or finding a studded tire that fits your frame, and being extra cautious at intersections. You want to find a tire that will be able to grip the snowy ground and keep you steady in less-than-ideal conditions, but not with treads so deep that they bring snow back up and trap it under the fender or in the front fork while you’re riding. Getting a set of fenders is also a must-have. They will help you avoid having a streaky mud-spattered backside, or having a buildup of snow across your back become a ride-ender. Having a hard time deciding between studded tires or non-studded tires? We have a blog post all about it here!

  3. Maintain your bike
    In winter, keeping your bike clean is crucial to prevent rust and freezing. Before the season, preventative maintenance will be your best friend. Greasing the seatpost, all your bolts, and any other moving parts will give you a head start on beating winter. You can have the nicest winter ride out there but if you're not removing the snow, salt, and dirt, you're going to be spending more money on repairs than you'd need to otherwise. The salt eats away at the paint and the frame, the dirt grinds into your braking surfaces and gears, wears into your chains, the melted snow and ice will rust anything metal on the bike (aka most of it) and you want to prevent these from becoming a problem before they do. Special areas to pay attention to are underneath the bottom bracket and under your fenders, and gives you the chance to check for loose bolts and prevent any other potential issues. 

  4. Stay safe and highly visible
    With longer nights and shorter days, being visible while riding in winter is a big part of staying safe. Wearing reflective clothing, using lights, and choosing routes that are well-lit and have less traffic are all things that can help you keep yourself safe and stay riding longer all season. Choosing lights that have higher lumens will help cars see you from farther away, and give them the chance to stop a safe distance and give you space. As for fishtailing, it's just gonna happen! If you're anxious, you're more likely to overcorrect, so it’s important to just stay cool! To avoid this, adapting your riding route to include well-lit, well-plowed streets with fewer cars will also help you have a stress-free ride. 


Riding your bike in the winter can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, especially when you have the right gear and preparation. Whether you're a seasoned winter rider or just starting out, these tips can help you stay comfortable and safe while pedaling through the cold. So don't let the winter weather hold you back – grab your bike and get out there! Whether you're commuting to work, running errands, or just enjoying a leisurely ride, you'll find that winter biking can be a fun and fulfilling way to stay active and explore the world around you. Happy winter riding!


We also have a YouTube video with tips and tricks from Owen all about winter cycling in Toronto, which you can check out here:

- Veronica Ing


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