This is not your normal winter cycling tip sheet

Tired of winter, missing your bike? Why wait for spring to ride again. Try biking short distances to start: Ride to the subway station and take the TTC for the rest of the trip. That's how I started. One day I just kept going.

Photo of the author in the Honest Ed's alley way by Yvonne Bambrick.

Unusual Winter Riding Tips

by Tammy Thorne

It’s something you’ve been thinking about trying but you’ve been worried: Will it hurt? Will I embarrass myself? Will I get wet and dirty and ruin my favourite pants?

But you know what? Winter cycling is not as hard as you might think.

Just try it– you might like it!

In this spirit, here are some unusual tips that I hope will motivate and serve you well.

Please Note: These are definitely not the usual 'winter riding' tips and tricks – tips like, slow down, keep a slightly lower air pressure in your tires to help with rougher terrain, layer up, and keep your hands, head and feet dry and toasty at all times. The tips below are things you may not have tried yet that are just as useful for first-time frost bikers as well as the tried-and-true selfie-taking, balaclava-wearing, die-hard year-rounders.

First off, I like to get heated up before I go out – but NOT to the point of sweating, that would be very bad. Bundle up ahead of time and let your body temp rise a wee bit. I find helps me brace for the cold.

Luxury in the bike lane. Wool. I love it and so should you. But why not take it up a notch with cashmere. Cashmere doesn’t have to be costly. There are a number of great vintage shops all around town that sell pre-loved cashmere sweaters and scarves in all shapes, sizes and colours. You can also look for end-of-season sales around this time of year. The Bay sometimes has good deals on cashmere before the spring styles come in.

Wrap it all in a wind and/or waterproof shell. I have an ancient MEC windbreaker that I leave in my pannier. (I do not wear it inside/to events.) You’ll always be ready to roll in the cold with this combo.

TOP TIP: Secondhand fur. Right now I've got a vintage black rabbit fur vest under my leather coat and it’s super toasty. I also have a rabbit fur-lined hat with big-ass earflaps. I can’t hear a damn thing, but that doesn’t matter because I’ve got my eyes peeled and my double-scarf-wrapped neck rotating for a full 360 view of everything around me at all times.

Illustration by Jody Hocs from dandyhorse winter 2012 issue.

Tender tootsies. ALWAYS BRING AN EXTRA PAIR OF SOCKS WITH YOU whenever you ride. Again, I prefer wool – but you do you. Oh and, if your footwear does get soaked, you can help speed up the drying process by stuffing your shoes with newspaper once you arrive at your destination. Wet is the enemy of wise for winter riding. If your boots have already got holes or aren’t fully waterproof you can put a bag inside your boot (on top of your socks.)

PRO TIP: Handlebar gloves aka handlebar booties. Yep, you can get mittens for your handlebars. They’re like little windshields for your fingers.

Bikes mean business. One of the main benefits of biking is knowing you’ll get to your destination on time. That perk doesn’t have to stop in winter. You got this. It’s in the bag. I bring my blazer and heels in my pannier and do a quick-change on arrival to my meeting destination. My pannier (which is also purposely a bit grubby looking) is where I can keep bike-only outer layers like dirty winter footwear and the aforementioned unfashionable outer shell that I don't have a huge sentimental attachment to. If someone takes those things I figure they probably needed them more than I do. (And, personally, I’d probably take that theft as an excuse to go shopping.) Never leave anything in your pannier that has sentimental (or high financial) value.

PRO TIP: Show off your designer DIY skills with groovy arm warmers: one of the most genius extra layers I love. They can be made from old, too-tight sweaters (or find a funky-patterned sweater you like at Value Village and just chop those arms off.) This is the quick-release of layers; just pull it from your cuff and off they come, out of your jacket sleeve, like a magicians trick! Voila! Now you can put your blazer on and slay that meeting.

Winter wonderland on two wheels. When the flakes are big and fluffy, there really isn’t anything more magical than taking a little roll through the nabe at night. Like it is in summer, night riding can be so freeing. Fewer cars and quieter streets make for a great time to practice your handling skills and also practice getting comfortable with taking the lane during winter when snow banks are blocking up the gutter (where cyclists in Toronto are usually expected to ride.)

More than ever, in winter, you need to take the lane. When it’s snowy, you will need to ride where the cars have made tracks, so your wheels are on pavement.

This winter hasn't been that snowy, but it looks like we're in for our final blast here in early March in Toronto before spring - and all the rain - arrives.


Don’t be a hero. I’m not the kind of person who takes a selfie every time I go for a ride when it’s snowing. Who has time for that? And, I say, if it’s sub zero with a windchill that even the caribou would be hiding out from or the streets are filled with enough snow that the mayor might call in the army to help clear it, hey, it’s okay to walk to work that day. You don’t have to be a hero. You might even want to take the subway – that is if it isn’t closed for repairs. And, if you didn’t ride to work that day you can always go for a little rip that night and still get that selfie for Facebook.


Once we have a connected network of safe bikeways, the City then needs to maintain those bike lanes so they are clear of obstructions. If this is done year-round then we will without a doubt see more people riding year round.

In the meantime, first-time winter riders need to know two things: Go slow and start low, that is, try out winter riding with shorter trips and just take your time. Plan your trip ahead of time. Regularly clean your chain with a rag and lube it. And do not forget to take your lights with you at all times.

Related on

Winter cycling counts on Bloor

Winter riding tips from Copenhagenize

Bikes on Reels: Wadjda

Not Happy with Snow Clearance in the Bike Lanes? Suck it up.

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