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5 tips for riding your bicycle during the winter

The preparation and precautions cyclists should take riding during the winter

Downtown Montreal bicycle courier delivering letters and parcels during a snow storm.

When a customer makes an order on a food delivery app, one of its couriers must travel to the restaurant and get the food to where it needs to go. Often that will be done by bike, and during the winter months snow, cold and ice makes that job a bit trickier.

Those riding for delivery apps must be prepared for the conditions and well educated to take the necessary precautions on the roads. With experience putting couriers out on the roads in all weather during the winter, Alex Paterson, former head of fleet operations at Foodora (which was an online food delivery service), knows how to get through winter riding.

Here are five tips from Paterson to help you ride successfully in urban environments this winter:

1) Take your time

While the tendency is to try and get from point A to point B as fast as possible, during the winter Paterson advises slowing down. It may take slightly longer but navigating the obstacles hidden under snow or ice requires greater attention and being well alert of your surrounding at all times will be easier if you aren’t riding full speed. “Ride slowly and take your time around turns. There are a lot of visibility issues during the winter so be mindful of anything the snow may be covering up,” Paterson said. “Winter is not for speed demons.”

2) Set up your bike up for winter riding

Getting your bike winter ready requires a few steps. Paterson says the main thing is to choose the right tires. “We suggest a bike that is prepared for the snow with a reasonably large set of tires for a wider contact point. A softer compound, knobbier tread and low tire pressure,” he says all will help ride through the winter. You can also use these six ways to winterize your road bike on the cheap. A good set of lights is also essential because of fewer daylight hours and reduced visibility with snow or gloomy conditions.

RELATED: The best bike lights for 2020

3) Layer properly

Biker on the road doing his workout. Cloudy winter day. The road is snowy

RELATED: Frigid winter cycling survival guide

Staying warm out in the elements can be a little trickier in winter. You don’t want to overheat but at the same time, you don’t want to lose sensations in your toes and fingers. “For the upper body wear a close base layer, a couple of layers you can move around and keep an extra one if you get wet and need to change. Wool is always good. Then a  proper coat that is water and windproof with some breathability” Paterson advised. “It’s an investment in comfort. For the serious riders getting Goretex shoe covers and pants will keep you dry if you are working in the slush all day. Cold feet will end your day really quickly. Consider hiking gaiters to keep the snow and slush out of your shoes and compression or thermal tights to keep the legs toasty.”

4) Use quieter streets

While main arteries are sometimes the ones best cleared following a snow storm, taking quieter roads can keep you away from busy vehicle traffic. “Ride in a safe and alert manner always aware of your environment. You shouldn’t push yourself into conditions that feel unsafe,” Paterson said. 

5) Clean your bike

Group of bikers on the road. Cloudy winter day. Film look image.

RELATED: How to get your bike really clean before storing it for the winter

Grit, snow and ice can get pretty bad on a winter bike during just one ride. Ideally storing it inside is possible but if not, Paterson suggests using a brush and cloth to wipe the bike down before leaving it. Slush can freeze and make riding it next time really tricky. Rotate the wheels and drive train to clear it of ice or debris that’ll wear down parts.  “Give your bike a wipe down before parking. Lubricate it at least weekly but every night if possible. Lube contact points and your lock so it doesn’t get stuck in the cold.”Use wet lube for the chain and apply frequently. If there is a problem, Paterson says it’s vital to address it as soon as possible.