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Get back on your bike this winter

With three full-time Exchange District BIZ (EDB) staffers now clearing snow from the streets and sidewalks – including bike lanes – after snowfalls, it’s high-time to shake the dust off your trusty steed and get back on that proverbial horse.
We asked the team at long-time Exchange District bike shop Natural Cycleworks (NC) for tips on getting through winter as a rider.

EDB: What kind of bike is best for winter cycling, and how do you prep your bike for the season?

NC: Any bike can be a good winter bike. With a few changes, any bike you can ride during the summer time is one that you can ride in the winter time too.

The most basic change that people make to their bike is putting on more aggressive tires, like studded tires or stubby tires with better tread.
It’s common to see people go with a studded tire on the front, at minimum. That’s because if you lose control of the front wheel on ice, more often than not, you’re falling off. On the rear wheel, you’re just putting your foot down.

We’d recommend moving to a single gear if possible (fixed gear or single speed). The reason for that is twofold: there’s maintenance issues that arise from having gears – extra things that can get corroded and rusty. There are also more single-speed components that come in durable variations.

EDB: Got it. Now how do you dress to face the forecast on a blustery winter’s day?

NC: With winter cycling, you want to leave the house feeling cold and then allow your exertion to warm you up. The worst thing would be to start sweating and get cold again – sweat management is the entire thing.
Dress less warm than if you were to go walking, and make sure to include a base layer, an insulating layer, and a shell layer. We can’t say enough good things about merino (wool)!

On longer rides, a really thin merino sock that fits close to your foot will wick sweat away, and then you’ll want to wear a larger insulating sock over that one.
On really cold days, we’ve taken to putting little plastic bags as a heat barrier between the small sock and the insulating sock. It’s amazing because it creates this sort of micro-climate for your foot. That technique has kept us warm on the coldest days – even if we’re outside riding for eight hours.

Likely every Winnipegger knows their way around a pair of mitts – you’ll definitely want mitts rather than gloves.
We carry Raber leather gauntlet-style mitts that go all the way up your arm. We like to have several different mitts on-hand, with each getting more and more hardcore to adapt to conditions. Our favourite mitts have removable liners that are merino as well.

EDB: What about eye protection?

NC: We’ve seen everything… Our preference is to play it pretty minimal. We rarely wear goggles because we find it affects peripheral vision, but we do wear them on the coldest of days. Typically we’ll wear sunglasses to create a bit of a wind barrier and to minimize some of the blindness caused by the white snow during the daytime.
We’ll shield our faces with a sleeve-like scarf – a buff that goes around your neck that you can stretch over your ears – and a helmet with either a thin toque or bare head, depending on the day.

EDB: Any tips for riding safely through the winter?

NC: The best way to be a winter rider is just to keep riding. If you’re a rider during the summer, just don’t stop riding. But there are a few things that will lead to success and confidence in the winter.

Take the lane. We always call it “riding primary.” Rather than riding in the sidelines, it’s much safer to take the lane in traffic situations. Usually the lane is going to be cleared and de-iced, so just take up the whole lane when it’s the safest thing to do.
If you try riding your bike in that portion of the road that’s between the moving cars and parked car doors, you’re much more likely to get into an accident.
We know a couple people who are riding for the first time this winter, and they attribute it to the bike lanes (which eliminate this traffic issue).

When there’s lots of snow on the ground, pick an easy gear and just spin through it. If you can just practice pedalling through, you can bust through almost any pile-up.

Bring your bike inside if you can, letting the snow and dirt of the day melt off. Make sure to check your bike regularly to make sure little problems don’t turn into big ones. People say winter destroys your bike… and it does, but only through inattention.
Clean your bike regularly, and stay on top of its maintenance, taking care of the chain and brakes by wiping off the dirt and snow after use. We like to keep a bunch of cut-up old T-shirts around to do this dirty job.

EDB: How can Natural Cycleworks help you get back on your bike this winter?

NC: We’re a full-service shop, so we’re here to make things happen. We’ll make you a brand-new custom winter bike, or we’ll winterize your current one. At the end of the day, we’re all enthusiasts, so we’re always here to talk about bikes.

Find Natural Cycleworks and fellow cycling enthusiasts at 91 Albert Street in the Exchange.