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When is it too cold to ride outside?

You can ride most of the winter outside but there are some conditions where it just might not be worth getting on the bike

As temperatures plummet across Canada, cyclists can become increasingly wary about riding outside. In Canada, there are few cities where year-round riding isn’t an option. With fat bikes, technical cold weather gear, ski goggles and the right bike set-up you can keep riding after a snow storm or when it feels like -30 C. With that said, there are a few scenarios where the trainer is the better option.

How to ride in the cold

To ride on the coldest days of the year, you will want to make sure you have a warm moisture-wicking base layer, warm mitts or bar gloves, winter cycling shoes and have your bike set-up for the snowy or icy conditions.

One of the biggest barriers to riding when it’s extremely cold is sweat. If you are wearing too many layers and moisture builds up close to your body you can catch the chills extremely quickly. If you’ve worn too many layers, especially if they’re not highly breathable, sweat can then freeze, and cause frostbite and hypothermia. You shouldn’t feel completely warm when start riding. Being a little bit chilly at the onset means you’ll warm up to a comfortable temperature and won’t sweat too much.

two female athletes riding fat bikes in the snow

When getting dressed, don’t overlook your first layer. Put on an extra pair of bib shorts under your tights to keep your big legs muscles warm and a technical baselayer that will wick sweat away from your body. A good pair of winter cycling shoes and warm mitts can help keep you riding for longer. Consider buying some Hot Paws to put in your gloves if you won’t be able to duck into shelter during your ride. The worst thing is not being able to feel your extremities in the cold. Bar gloves are also a great option for the extreme cold. A balaclava to cover as much as your face as possible and ski goggles will help keep you face from freezing off.

With these precautions, you’ll find you can ride when it’s extremely cold out. As long as the trail or road conditions aren’t too dicy because of ice and snow, you shouldn’t be phased to head out in some extremely frigid temperatures.

When you shouldn’t ride outside

There are several scenarios where either a day on the trainer or a day off is probably a better option than an outside ride. If you are trying to do high intensity or structured intervals, commit to the trainer to hit your targets and be able to complete your workout without the added adversity of the elements. Trying to do structured riding in the cold can be extremely hard because the riding conditions and could result in injury if your muscles aren’t properly warmed up or your position on your winter bike isn’t quite as dialled as your road or XC bike.

Skip riding if it’s icy or slippery. Bad conditions could lead to a fall and you don’t want to risk breaking your wrist or collarbone.

After a fresh snowfall, you can still ride but don’t expect to be able to cover your usual distance or maintain any sort of steady rhythm. Whether you are riding trails or gravel roads, getting anywhere will be a slog as you push hard on the pedals but only slowly make any progress.

Don’t venture out onto busy streets without proper tires after a storm. Whether it’s ice build on the shoulders of the road, uneven snowpack or black ice, riding on uncleared busy streets after a snowfall fall should be done with extreme caution. Unpredictable handling can make it extremely tricky to stay predictable to vehicles and a fall when you are being passed could be extremely dangerous.

If you don’t have the right apparel or your bike isn’t set-up right for the wintery conditions, these are also perfectly acceptable reasons to forgo the outdoor ride. However, investing in the equipment to make winter riding enjoyable is well worth the expense. Nothing beats riding outside.

With winter riding, it’s key to know yourself. With the right apparel and a well set-up bike, you should be able to brave almost anything winter can throw your way. If you’re someone who gets cold easily or struggles to warm up, pick your winter riding battles. On the coldest days, it might be better for your training and more enjoyable to knock out your ride on the trainer, rather than freezing outside.