How to prepare your bike for winter rides

By Michelle Valenti
Some cyclists chain their bikes to the indoor trainer at the first hint of cold weather, while others can’t wait to slosh their way through the snow. Both types of cyclists love to pound out the miles but only one is equipped for winter rides. Sub-freezing temperatures, snowy sidewalks and slick streets might make you cringe, but with a few tweaks to your ride you can turn your hamster-wheel workout into exhilarating outdoor exercise.
Winter Wheels
Norm Hensen, Service Manager at M+M Cyclery in Mundelein, Illinois, says the first thing you should do is get season-appropriate tires. “You can’t be riding around on slick tires in winter,” he says.
Winter tires have more tread and are a little wider than standard street tires—some even come equipped with studs. “Those will get you through the nasty days,” Hansen says.
Year-round cyclist and USA Cycling-certified coach Gale Bernhardt points out that you should avoid riding with studs on dry roads as they will wear down over time. This could become a hassle if you constantly have to change your tires, or expensive if you have to keep an extra set of wheels on hand.
Bernhardt, known for riding her bike through Colorado snow storms, recently heard about the Slipnot Bicycle Traction System—it’s like having snow chains for your bike tires. According to the website (, they require a quarter-inch of clearance around the tire and take about five minutes to install on both wheels.
If you’re more worried about your paint job than anything else, you should consider getting an entirely different bike for winter. “You don’t want to ride your nice bike with salt on the streets,” says Hansen, who commutes between 5,000 and 6,000 miles each year. “Winter is rough on bikes,” he says. “You might spend just as much money fixing your bike [from all the wear and tear], as you would buying a new one.”

Hybrids, mountain bikes and cyclo-cross bikes are all good options. Hansen rides a single speed cyclo-cross bike: They are, after all, built to power through the copious amounts of dirt, mud and debris that is expected on a cyclocross race course.
Other specialty bikes, like the Surly Pugsley ( or the Salsa Mukluk ( are designed to go where most bikes can’t go.
Winter Maintenance
Regardless of what bike you ride, you’ll have to be more diligent about maintenance in winter than you are during warmer, dryer months. Your drivetrain is more susceptible to grit and buildup from the salt and sand that’s used to cover icy roads in cold places. Be sure to clean it regularly and use a chain lube that’s designed for extreme climates.
Safety is always a concern among cyclists—even more-so in the winter when visibility is low and road conditions are compromised. “Sunshine in Illinois is really limited in winter so you will likely be riding in the dark at some point,” says Hansen. “You should always have a light with you.”
Hansen who commutes 28 miles a day prefers a helmet-mounted light so he can shine the beam in any direction he wants. With the handlebar mount you can only see where your handlebars are pointed. “A helmet-mounted light lets you see what’s around you,” he says.
Hansen adds that you should only consider lights that are 300 lumens or brighter.
Like most winter sports, it seems high maintenance. But once you’re ready, nothing beats playing in the snow. 
Michelle Valenti is a senior editor at She can be reached at