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Don’t let winter keep you off your bicycle—tips for staying in the saddle year-round

Not only does bicycle commuting reduce your carbon footprint and save you money on gas and transit fares, it also lowers your risk of diabetes and cancer and improves your mental health.1 Even with the many benefits of cycling, many Canadians hang up their bikes in the winter and don’t consider winter cycling as an option. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right equipment, clothing and knowledge, you can bike all winter long and learn to love it! Here are our top five tips for staying safe while cycling in the winter. 

1.    Winterize a secondhand bicycle
Winter can be tough on bicycles, so you don’t want to use an expensive one. Find a secondhand bike, preferably a mountain or hybrid model, as road bike tires are thin and have little traction. Next, get it ready for winter—buy tires with good treads or even studs if you’re biking in a lot of ice and snow, brake pads that are meant for snow and slush, fenders fitted to your wheel size, and lubricant that works in cold and wet weather.

Small modifications like lowering your seat a few centimetres to lower your centre of gravity and deflating your tires slightly so they can better grip the road can also make a big difference in slick conditions.
After every ride, you should wash or wipe off all the grit and salt from your bike, as salt is corrosive and can ruin your bike’s moving parts.
2.    Layer up with the right gear
Don’t let the cold get to you—with the right layers, you can stay warm and dry on your ride. Stock up with a thin beanie to wear under your helmet, a balaclava or scarf for your face, goggles for messy weather (ski goggles work well), waterproof biking pants and warm waterproof shoes. For your hands,  wear lobster-style gloves or cycling pogies—mittens that fit around your handle bars so that you can have full dexterity for braking and shifting while staying cozy.
A jacket that is waterproof with vents on the back or under the arms is key for staying dry while keeping well ventilated. It’s also essential to have a warm base layer made from merino wool, polypropylene, or polyester that wicks away sweat, as moisture will chill you very easily once you stop pedaling. 

3.    Light up the street
Make sure you’re easily seen. With the short winter days, biking in the dark is unavoidable. A fluorescent vest, plenty of reflectors, and bright bike lights are essential to be seen and stay safe on the road. 

4.    Be alert and cautious
While you may be able to zip down the bike lane at full speed all summer, that’s not a good strategy in the winter, as black ice can catch you unexpectedly. Bike slowly enough to watch out for potential hazards, take turns slowly, and avoid stopping abruptly. If you do find yourself on a slick surface, brake only with your rear wheel to avoid spinning out. It’s also important to bike predictably—drivers are less aware of bikers in the winter, so make sure you’re biking defensively and making eye contact with drivers.
Although winter biking can be fun and a good source of exercise, it is important to keep an eye on the weather forecast. If it looks like it’s going to be messy, it’s a good idea to wait a day or two to allow the plows to clear your route.
5.    Protect your investment, protect your bicycle
If you’ve gone through the trouble to winterize a secondhand bicycle for your winter commute, you’ve made an investment that you will want to protect. Check with your home insurance provider to ensure that your bike is insured against theft. Additionally, if you get into an accident with a vehicle, you could be eligible for medical benefits from either the driver’s insurance policy or your own car insurance policy.
OTIP offers a variety of coverage add-ons tailored to your needs. To learn more about insuring your bicycle, contact an OTIP insurance broker at 1-866-561-5559.

1.    British Medical Journal

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