Winter Cycling Techniques for the Canadian Prairies

Winters in the Canadian Prairies are harsh, but it doesn’t mean that time needs to be spent in the coziness of our homes, cars, and buildings. For those willing and able, it is possible to take up winter cycling and I hope these tips can be useful to you northern cyclists out there.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, can get down to -60 Celsius with the windchill. I lived and biked year-around for over a few years in Saskatoon. I learned many things and want to share them before I forget, since I moved away last year to a warmer place. A lot of posts and articles out there focus on what to wear and the bike equipment, I’d rather focus here on riding techniques since it’s just as important.

Here are seven riding techniques I used for winter cycling in Saskatoon:

  1. Turning in icy conditions.
    This requires either studded tires or/and slowing down to the point of when you are not leaning your body towards the side you are turning. The straighter your body is when perpendicular to the ground the less chances there will be of your tires slipping.
  2. Turning when in a snow rut created by car tires.
    This requires you to find a place where the car tires-made rut is not so deep. This is typically near a street intersection. Turn your front wheel fast enough so that it hits the rut wall with such an angle that it will climb it as oppose to shave the wall and possibly throw you off balance. In really bad situations you’ll have to stop and pull yourself out of the rut.
  3. Riding through a fluffy powder section of fresh snow.
    This can be tricky because you don’t know what’s under all that snow (a pothole, ice, slush…). So if it’s short section of about 5 meters or so, try keeping your front wheel straight and go with the forward momentum.
  4. Accelerating from idle.
    You’ll need to shift your centre of gravity towards the rear tire, since that’s where the torque for movement is originating from. Feel the diff between leaning forward and pedalling over an icy spot, then try shifting your but and upper body back and pedalling.
  5. Decelerating to a stop.
    Pump your front brakes. Place both feet on the ground, sliding them, while you pump your front brake. Worse case, pull both brakes, fish tail, and put one foot down, locking your bent knee in place so that you can slide like a three-legged stool.
  6. Zen Riding.
    Something I learned from riding a fixie is that you need to see ahead and expect anything. Strategize your stop way before getting to that intersection light. Listen to cars around you. See what’s coming up. Have a good sense of your surrounding at all times. Ride with focus; whether you recognized it or not, this is an extreme sport. You have to treat it like so and respect the conditions around you.
  7. Riding during Dark Hours.
    This is so great and peaceful. Zen riding comes in handy here. Also be like a christmas tree and use your front light, head light, rear light, side reflectors, tire reflectors, clothes reflectors…
  8. Know your limits.
    But always push your limits when safe to do so. You gotta always improve.

Side tip: store your bike outside when it’s -20 or below. Try not to place it indoors then outdoors. Ice builds up in some components which could cause your bike to be unridable.

Here’s what I have to say about what to wear:

  • Know what the current weather is and the forecast.
  • Wear enough layers to keep your body warm but not so much that you start sweating like crazy, because you will.
  • Know how far you’re riding (the longer the colder you’ll get) and dress appropriately.
  • Know how your body reacts based on the weather. After a few years I got to know which clothes to wear for specifically for each range of winter temperatures and conditions.
  • Know the wind chill temperature.
  • Know when not to have skin exposed to the elements.

Well, there it is. I’m sure there are other techniques and tips, so if you have any that weren’t mentioned, or critiques, please post a comment. Keep in touch with your cycling community if in Saskatoon, checkout Saskatoon Cycles.

Have fun and ride safe!


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