Most of us love a good ride when it’s warm and sunny. But there are those of us who are cut from a different cloth—some of us who prefer the winter. And I’m one of them.
Call me crazy, but I love the feeling of a snowflake on the tip of my nose. There is something magical about taking your fixie out on a snowy ride. But are fixed-gear bikes good for winter riding? And how can we ride safely in the snow?
Fixed gear bikes perform great in winter conditions because your feet are directly attached to the drivetrain. This provides ultimate control in slippery situations. But it can still be dangerous, and there are still many safety considerations you must be aware of.
As you can imagine, there’s more to it than that. So, in this article, you will learn how to prepare your bike for winter conditions, how to dress for winter, and what hazards you should look out for, so you can figure out for yourself if cycling in the snow is a good idea.
Before we learn how to ride in the snow, let’s first understand what to think about and why cyclists enjoy it in the first place.
Is it normal to ride a fixed-gear bike in the snow?
There’s a certain thrill to sliding along a snowy road on a bike. The weather might be freezing, and it might not be as comfortable as cycling at other times of the year, but there’s no way I would trade my cycling commute for anything. I love riding my fixed-gear bike in the snow. I’m sure sometimes people think I’m nuts, but I often come across other cyclists on snowy days, so I’m not alone. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this video below of a cyclist that battles the elements like a boss.
We have some harsh winters here in New York City, but the riding never stops. Some of the most bike-friendly cities are also known for their unforgiving winters. Take Minneapolis, MN, Madison, WI, and Vancouver, BC, for instance. These cities have year-long cycling, rain or shine, snow or otherwise. In Sweden, cycling is often the most popular way to get around, even during the coldest winters. Another Nordic country, Norway, is famous for its passionate cyclists. Even when it snows, the people still mount up. Shouldn’t you?
State Bicycle Co. Black Label 6061
State Bicycle Co. Black Label 6061
What makes fixies great for winter riding?
Your bike is subject to more wear and tear in the winter than in any other season. This is because most municipalities counter sleet, snow, or ice with the ever-trusty salt, sand, or a combination of both. Unfortunately, both salt and sand can corrode bike parts.
Salt is highly corrosive and has a habit of getting into even the smallest of spaces (think any moving part, wheel hubs, brake calipers, etc.), which can become corroded if left untreated.
And sand isn’t much better, as it can cause excessive friction and grind away at moving parts on your bike. It’s even worse for those riding with dérailleurs, as the sprockets can easily become clogged by salt or sand. This can further damage gear cables and shifters, which can also become stiff and unresponsive in frigid weather.
Fortunately, fixed gear bikes are minimalist by design, meaning we have fewer parts to maintain and worry about. You’ll also save time on cleaning and maintenance with a fixed-gear bike in the snow. Just make sure to keep your chain well lubricated and your eyes peeled, and you’re good to go!
Check out our best fixies round-up article if you’re looking for a new fixie this winter.
What to look out for when cycling in the snow?
If you have ever ridden your fixed-gear bike in the snow, you know how important it is to be prepared for the unexpected.
It’s not just the road conditions you need to watch out for; there are also other commuters, cars, trucks, and buses, all of which can easily skid on snow or ice. And if a vehicle skids right behind you, you better believe it’s coming at you at full force with no chance of slowing down. Below is a video on how dangerous skidding vehicles can be, even at slow speeds.
Traffic signs can be covered by snow, so be on alert. Fortunately, most traffic signs have distinctive shapes specifically for cases when you cannot see the face of the sign. Remember, stop signs are octagons, and yield signs are triangles. So make sure to slow down and pay attention to the shape of street signs, especially if you are commuting on a daily basis.
What clothes should I wear for riding in the snow?
If you plan to ride in the winter, dress appropriately. Exposed skin can be painful when riding a fixed-gear bike in the snow. That windchill will make you wish you had taken a cab, so bundle up! Also, consider how far you are traveling. You’ll want even more layers if you’re riding for many miles.
You will definitely need a pair of gloves. This is an absolute must. A pair of sunglasses is recommended to protect you from sun glare and howling winter winds. Consider picking up a cap or headband that can fit underneath your helmet to keep your ears warm. Thermals are great because they provide an extra layer of warmth without being too bulky.
One thing I’ve found that helps is wearing padded cycling shorts underneath my pants, leggings, or whatever I choose to wear. They give an extra layer of padding and heat-retention, keeping everything warm. Also, expect your clothes, particularly your pants, to get wet and gross—just facing the facts here.
Check out our complete guide on how to dress when cycling in cold weather for more tips.
What gear should I have for riding in the snow?
If you’re riding in the snow, odds are the streets will be gushy and wet. So you should invest in winter cycling equipment.
It should go without saying, but don’t forget a decent set of lights. It gets darker faster in the winter. And it’s much harder to see a cyclist on the road when it’s snowing. So make sure to have a powerful tail light to avoid getting plowed down.
Grab some fenders to protect yourself from the slush.
And get some studded pedals to prevent your feet from slipping off. And, if you don’t have them already, some toe cages or pedal straps for good measure.
If you don’t have the right gear for winter riding, consider some of the options below. I own all three of these and used them last winter.
How do I prepare my tires for the snow?
Just as you would opt for winter boots to protect your feet when walking in the snow, equipping your bike with winter tires makes a big difference with regard to traction. Of course, no tire will help you if you hit black ice, but on snow, a pair of studded or knobby winter tires may keep your front and rear wheels from skidding while riding your fixed-gear bike in the snow. You can even find some winter tires with metal studs built right in, providing far better traction on icy surfaces. They are a little expensive, but if you have the cash, they are worth checking out.
If you have already equipped your fixie with some winter-friendly studded wheels and want to DIY the process, check The Ultimate Guide to Winter Bike Tires and Studded Tires from Icebike.org. A word of warning, though, they’re not very effective on wet roads. They only work well on snowy roads, so you’ll want to switch them out if there’s no snow.
You can also make your own studded tires with zip ties. Wired.com has a short post on how to treat your bicycle tires with zip ties that’s worth checking out. A word of caution, though: this will only work with fixed-gear bikes, not single-speed bikes because the front caliper brake will obstruct the zip ties. So for this to work, you’ll need to remove the front brake, which I do not recommend.
However, whether this actually works is up for debate. I never tried the whole zip tie thing, but I found this video that proves it to be a bust. But, to be fair, they did not try this on a fixie, and they were on the road, not in the snow, and they admitted to not properly zip tying the wheels, so hey, maybe it will work for you.
You should also consider releasing some of the air pressure in your tires. Doing so will create a larger surface area between the tire and the road, providing even better traction.
How to break or slow down in the snow?
Anyone who has driven a car in slippery road conditions might have heard of engine braking. Engine braking is achieved by decreasing the vehicle’s speed by shifting the gearing down. This is more effective than simply using the vehicle’s disc brakes to slow down. The main benefit is greater control, which is critical in bad weather conditions. In addition, reducing engine speed to brake can help prevent locking the wheels, a common problem when using the brakes to slow the vehicle in slippery conditions.
What does this have to do with riding a fixed-gear bike? Well, it’s the only bike that allows you to stop without applying the hand brakes. And when riding in the winter, this has a lot of benefits. For example, you’re more likely to stay mounted and not have the bike shoot out from under you.
Slowing your pedaling speed slows the bike, allowing you to maintain traction and control without using the hand brakes—the same as using engine braking in a car or other vehicles.
Need more reasons why fixies are great winter bikes? Check out this video called ‘Why Fixed Gear Bikes Make Great Winter Beater Bikes‘ from the Zach Gallardo YouTube Channel.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are some commonly asked questions regarding how to ride a fixed-gear bike in the snow.
Is it possible to ride a bike in the snow?
Yes. You can ride your bike in the snow or winter conditions. First, ensure that your bike’s tires are slightly deflated. This will improve stability and traction in slick conditions. Second, wear warm clothing and gloves, especially if you intend to ride outside during the winter. Finally, always exercise caution when cycling on snowy roads.
Is a fixie a bad idea for winter cycling?
While this may appear to be a bad idea for winter cycling, it has many advantages. Fixies are often considered more suited for winter because they do not have as many parts that could malfunction in cold weather conditions.
Does cold weather burn more calories?
Yes. Cold weather helps burn more calories as your body has to work a little harder to keep you warm while you exercise, resulting in a higher calorie burn. It’s not a lot of extra calories, but every little bit helps.
Are fixed gear bikes good for winter?
Fixies can be great bikes for winter conditions because your feet are directly attached to the drivetrain. This connection provides ultimate control in wet or snowy situations.
Riding your fixed gear or single-speed bike in the snow can be enjoyable, convenient, and safe. You just have to do it right. So, when it comes to riding in the winter, not only can you ride a fixed-gear bike, but it might just be your safest option.
This article covered tips on safely riding your bike in snowy winter conditions. Here are some key takeaways:
- Many people enjoy riding in the winter.
- Salty roads take a less severe toll on fixed gear bikes due to their minimal parts.
- Watch out for sliding vehicles. They won’t stop sliding until they hit something.
- Pay attention to the shape of street signs.
- Wear warm clothing.
- Use a set of lights to be seen in thick snowfall.
- Use a fender to shield you from a slushy back.
- Try using studded tires.
- Slightly deflate your tires to increase the surface area for better traction.
So, are you a winder-riding nut job? Or are you keeping the bike in the closet this winter? Let us know in the comments below (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on everything fixie. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.