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What Kind Of Winter Cyclist Are You?

What Kind Of Winter Cyclist Are You?

Posted on 22 October 2020

We're here to demythologize winter cycling. That's because we feel - at least in our bike industry - winter cycling has become the last domain of the 'hardcore cyclist,' the hardcore cyclist feeling they are the archetype of what a cyclist 'is' - the archetype, the exemplar, the purist of all, the "real" cyclist,' Pah!

Well, that's just a load of nonsense. And mythology. Winter cycling is actually pretty easy, and yes, you can do it! The first thing to recognize is that there is a diversity of winter cyclists - and you might be one of them! The second thing to put in your memory pocket is that it's ok if somedays you don't ride!

To be a winter cyclist isn't some sort of thing-in-itself essentialism that crushes all diversity with its ice-spiked tires. You can be a winter cyclist and walk, take transit, or even drive a car on the days that are icy or wet. We feel it's important to say this. For too long the bike industry has held winter cycling as the measure of a "true commuter cyclist.' And we're saying, that's silly - and also:

You can do it!


A lot of people seem to think riding in winter is like buying winter sports equipment - where you have to shell out a mint for gear and clothes. Not the case! We'll cover more of this below.


What you already have in your closet will probably do the trick! There's no need to buy all sorts of silly bike gear. Dress for the weather, not your bike. Make the bike lane your winter catwalk!


(Image: Nano Calvo/Corbis)


Some bike gear is a good idea, but it's pretty minimal. Winter tires for grip, handlebar mitts to keep cables from freezing (and your hands warm), and that's about it!


(Image: Mikeal Colville-Anderson, Copenhagen Cycle Chic)


Good city infrastructure is key, and luckily we've seen vast implementation of bike lanes to keep you safely riding all year. The time has come!


(Image: Mikeal Colville-Anderson, Copenhagen Cycle Chic)


The bike industry still believes that winter riding means lycra leggings, clipped in boots, hi-viz jackets, special sunglasses, special helmets, etc etc. And sure, while more specialized winter bikes exist (and will save money over time), chances are good your bike will do the trick - it will just need a bit more love and attention (only a bit!).
In North America, the archetype is a geared up cyclist, battling winter as though at war - with the bike as some weapon and the clothing as some armour. Not exactly aspirational, but then the bike industry is often guilty of selling bikes with riders covered in mud, grimacing in pain, looking generally masochistic. Um, no thanks!
Our muse is the cyclist of Copenhagen, a woman who might wear a dress with tights, a fashionable wool jacket, and a headband and gloves. Look, we're not against the sporty cyclist, we just don't think they deserve all the attention. So, which cyclist are you?



You probably live downtown, play downtown and work downtown - or some of the above. Chances are good you live a majority of your life within 7km of home, and riding a bike links all those distances that are too far to walk or too far to drive. Your riding style: efficient and non-aggressive, no need to get a sweat on. You don't have time to arrive at your destination and do a complete outfit change ... that's crazy! You want to ride in what you're wearing - as you would all summer - and arrive safely. This is how you get around - and you make it look goooood.


Not unless you're crazy! You know that some days those bike lanes won't be cleared in time, or the streets are wet with potential black ice. Your rule is simple:

  • Are the streets clear or not?

And, if they are, you ride! The only difference between walking and riding? Same clothes, you're just on two wheels!


Chances are good you ride a bike that was designed with winter in mind. For instance, your bike might already have:

  • A chain case to keep your clothing clean
  • Internal gears that work in snow and ice
  • Upright position to keep you safe
  • Fenders to keep you dry

Now all you need to consider is some winter tires and handlebar mitts to keep your cables dry and your hands warm. Cheap as chips and you're set to go! Rosy cheeks and a good warm scarf ... winter perfection!



You probably live outside of downtown and commute, or ride well over 10km and view each ride as a chance to skip the gym and get your sweat on. You're most likely a-ok with packing a change of clothes and aren't at all deterred by having to take a shower at your destination or deal with other hygiene logistics. Your riding style? Performance and speed! You're like a conquistador, like a climber ascending Everest, you ride winter because it's there! As for gear? You're out to be 'that guy' in the office who rolls in looking like an ad for Gore-Tex. This is your identity.


Without fail! Every day is an opportunity to find that red-cheeked vitality that only winter can provide! Chances are good you have excellent bike handling - you may be a mountain biker - and winter is another form of handling and control.

And you have all the gear, tons of it. For your bike and your body. This isn't just transportation, this is your sport!


Chances are good you own a dedicated, distance oriented winter hybrid bike, maybe with a belt drive or internal gear hub. Chances are also good you find joy in cleaning; scrubbing things down and oiling things up. You definitely ride studded tires.

As for clothing, you probably own a lot of merino layers, fancy USB heated gloves, knee and arm warmers, neoprene booties and lots of hi-viz Gore-Tex neon. But, to be fair, you aren't riding just to go to work. You might still be riding on weekends for fun!

(Fun being relative, of course)


Do you need special clothing for cycling? No! Why everyone thinks a winter cyclist needs to be geared up in Gore-Tex goes contrary to nearly every established (snowy) bicycle culture on earth. If you already own warm gear, you're ready to go. Only your bike needs the odd thing (which we cover below). We could say more, or we could just let the images do the talking.

"Captain Spandex and his merry band of Avid Cyclists might like to get their gear on to ride a bike... But guess what? People who live in winter climates already know how to do so. The 99% know that whatever you can walk in, you can bike in. And, after one day of doing so, if they discover they got cold, they’ll put a couple extra layers on the next day."

Mikeal Colville-Andersen - Copenhagenize


Copenhagenize: Cycling in Winter



While you might believe that riding all winter has more to do with your clothing than your bike, really it's quite the opposite. You probably already have warm clothes, so it's really just a matter of making sure your bike is safe (in case you hit an icy patch) and working a-ok when things start to freeze. Here are some of the things we recommend:

  • Winter tires! These are made to grip ice without slowing you down
      • Bar Mitts! These keep your hands warm and dry, but also keep water out of the cables (frozen cables suck!)
      • A good winter jacket, scarf and toque to keep you warm on the outside
      • A hot drink to keep you warm on the inside!



Nothing makes city cycling more concrete, literally, than bicycle infrastructure itself. Each bike lane written into concrete is a testament to visionary legislators, hard working activists, and conscious citizenry. Bike stores also help too. For 30+ years, we've made it our job to provide the proper bike for city cycling, encouraging a groundswell of new cyclists with its aspirational design.

This groundswell, combined with infrastructure, reached a real tipping point when Covid unfortunately hit. More and more people will be riding in the winter to keep safe, and more and more people will find cycling all year is pretty easy (and kind of fun!). Now is the time. With the new infrastructure in place, we encourage you to keep riding, because what is concrete we hope to keep concrete, and what is growing we hope to keep growing.

Want a great story on winter cycling? Look to Oolu in Finland, a city colder than Winnipeg where people cycle year round. (This is one of our favourite articles ever!).

"Those cities that will make the shift most quickly will be the ones that figure out that the ideal design vehicle for their cycling network is an elderly couple wearing regular clothing, riding regular bikes having a quiet kindly conversation, regardless of the weather, anywhere in the city. They will likely be wearing woolly hats, not helmets, and they will be riding upright, enjoying the view, basking in the beauty of winter."

Anders Swanson - The Guardian

16 FEB, 2016





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