Tips for Winter Biking in Edmonton

Old mountain bike converted for winter cycling.
Bike Modifications 

My commuter 'summer' bicycle, with narrow wheels, was not suited to the slippery conditions of winter in Edmonton. We asked our local bike pros at Hardcore Bikes on Whyte Avenue if they could winterize a reliable Norco mountain bike that sat unused in our garage. "Yes...we can do that", they replied. And so, with their expertise, the old bike was converted for winter use.

Studded tires for ice.
Off came the tires and on went two studded Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro tires. These tires, with a medium-sized stud, fit perfectly on the frame of the Norco. They worked well, gripped ice and snow, and withstood the sandy, stony streets and sidewalks of early spring.

I wanted the handlebars on the Norco raised up, for greater riding comfort. No problem. The low handlebars were replaced and the gears and brakes refitted.  I now ride more upright, but still with the seat low to the ground, to readily plant my feet down for stability.

First Winter

With my new bike, I rode throughout the winter. My trips were limited to 20-30 minute urban rides around south Edmonton. I stuck to the back roads and did not ride in traffic. Nor did I bike in extreme cold - not much below -20C. I rarely changed gears, and rode on level, cleared sidewalks and back streets. Icy ruts are extremely dangerous, especially when mixed in with cars. Here are a few hints for safer winter urban biking in a northern city like Edmonton:

Tips for Winter Cycling

Wear a thermal full face/head and neck mask to keep skin from freezing. Place your helmet over top.

On really cold days - use breakable hand and toe warmers in mittens and boots. Fingers and toes quickly freeze. I use two pair of mittens- warm wool inside insulated leather. Stop to warm up, as needed.  Frequently flex fingers and wiggle toes. Don't risk frostbite. Dress warm. Shelter your neck from cold winds. Some days, it may be just too cold to bike.

It gets dark early, so light up your bike with strong front and back lights and reflectors. Wear a reflective vest, and other reflective clothing. Try to bike during daylight hours.

Plan your route for safety. Winter streets are often gutted with ice ruts that are not safe for biking. Right next to the curb is quite dangerous, as this area is not fully cleared and car tires leave icy ruts.  I use plowed back streets where the snow has been cleared and there is very little traffic (and low exhaust fumes). I ride on the sidewalk when that is safer and I always dismount for pedestrians and their pets. I walk past them, or alter my route clear around them.

Long shadows from low winter sun.
Go slowly to react to dangerous road/sidewalk conditions, pedestrians, or vehicles. Look all around and be prepared to stop. Drivers may not expect a cyclist and may not see you. Make eye contact. Winter cycling requires greater defensive riding. For the slickest ice, dismount and walk over it, or go slowly and carefully. Take your time- slow and steady. Fresh snow over ice is particularly slippery.

If you must ride through deep snow, be prepared for tremendous exercise. It is really hard work. Know your own endurance and strength.  Even on plowed streets, winter bike tires with studs make biking more strenuous. There is more friction when the wheels meet the ground. Maintain your bike - it will take a beating.

Winter biking - not for everyone.

For many years, I concluded that only the brave or foolish cycled in winter in Alberta. I rode my street bike all summer but winter cycling - no. Gradually, I began to ride in the rain, in high winds and even in cold weather - as long as roads were free of ice. But last year, as autumn rolled into winter, and Edmonton streets iced over, I resisted putting my bicycle away.  Was it not time for me, too, to try winter bicycling? It was...and I enjoy it... BUT ... I keep my trips short, plan my route, dress warmly, and bike with extreme caution away from traffic. It is refreshing, exhausting and challenging, but it can also be dangerous.

Update: Visit this Edmonton City site for current information on cycling in Edmonton.