Winter Biking Guide

Winters in Minnesota can be harsh, just take a look at the Minnesota DNR’s “Winter Misery Index.” But we’re a hardy bunch, and over the years many of us at Dero have adapted to, even embraced, riding our bicycles year-round. Between our office staff, we have over four decades of winter riding experience! How did each of us come to enjoy cold weather riding? Read on for our winter biking highlights, challenges, and tips on getting started.

How many seasons have you ridden in the winter?

  • Chad, sales administrator: This is my third year riding through the winter//living in Minneapolis.
  • Natalia, sales coordinator: Going on year 11!
  • Ben, marketing specialist: This will be my 10th winter of riding.
  • Jenn, sales coordinator:  I’ve ridden the last 14 winters.
  • Bri, marketing director: Five, I think.

What is most challenging about winter biking?

  • Natalia: Long stretches of darkness makes it tougher to get out of bed with enough time to commute. Otherwise, for fun it’s not hard to get out the door!
  • Ben: Variable conditions–i.e. Snow, ice, mud–makes everything take longer when riding during the winter. So budgeting the appropriate travel time is one of my biggest challenges.
  • Jenn: The darkness! I am so bad about keeping my lights charged. The bright, super duper crisp cold below zero mornings filled with sparkling, crunchy snow and plenty of sunshine are gorgeous and make up for night descending upon us at 4:30pm.
  • Bri: The distance, but I’m lucky to have the option to take the light rail for half of the way (in any season).

Favorite part of winter biking?

  • Chad: I love the calm and stillness that you experience while riding during winter, I love watching the snow come down in heavy heaps through the yellow glow of the street lights. It’s all quite romantic. I also appreciate the process of building of a winter bike. I’ve learned more each year about what makes a fun and efficient winter bike.
  • Natalia: I think it’s one of the most beautiful and still times of the year to ride.
  • Ben: To be honest, what I most enjoy about winter riding is the dearth of other riders. I savor the quiet and stillness afforded by the colder temps and empty bike trails.
  • Jenn: I love how the landscape of the city completely changes. Minneapolis is lush and green all spring and summer. In the winter, the bare trees and absence of underbrush show a spartan river landscape full of birds of prey, deer, and other critters usually hidden by the foliage. You can hear the ice on the lakes and river moaning and creaking like an ominous song. It might seem strange, but without the bawdy flowers and thick, dark leaves, the city seems like a much more wild and untamed place.
  • Bri: It feels like you own the trails – and the stillness.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to try riding in the winter?

  • Chad: If you want to get riding in the winter, I’d recommend good gear for your digits and extremities. Good gloves, warm boots and a wool neck gaiter are essential, in my opinion. I would also caution against getting overdressed, you’ll warm up pretty quickly when riding and you can always carry an extra layer to throw on should you get cold.
  • Natalia: Go slower to avoid falls and give yourself more time to get there. Bring a bag so you can add or remove layers as needed. YOU DON’T NEED A FAT BIKE TO RIDE IN THE WINTER (but it can make it really fun if you want to go off-road).
  • Ben: Check the weather before you first set out, and make sure to pack appropriate layers for your return trip. A 10-degree difference later on can make a huge impact on your comfort. As you experience various conditions, try keeping a log or journal of your riding setup. Over time, your collected observations will help you feel prepared for any winter riding scenario.
  • Jenn: Jump in at a level that feels achievable for you. Riding your bike to a bus or train stop to supplement your journey is a great starting point! Basing your standard of success on someone who’s been doing it for 10+ years will likely prove to be too daunting. Try one day a week and see how it goes! You usually figure it out pretty quickly- what’s going right and what you might need to change.
  • Bri: It doesn’t have to be every day, just try it once a week! Layers, layers, layers. It will take some time to figure out how much to wear – even after all this time I sometimes screw up. I highly recommend wool base layers.

Anything else you want to share?

  • Chad: Gear down, stay loose and enjoy the moments.
  • Ben: Winter biking can have steeper learning curve than other modes of riding. Give yourself time and don’t be afraid to ask others for advice.
  • Jenn: Riding in the winter is something a lot of us do for convenience and a few frankly for bragging rights, but the reality is that there are many more who simply have to, because it’s their only source of reliable transportation. Minneapolis makes this easier than most places I’ve been through miles and miles of dedicated cycling infrastructure that is often plowed and cleared even before the main arterial streets in the morning. However, I think we have great strides to go in order for cycling to be accessible to everyone.
  • Bri: Fat bikes are awesome. Studded tires are awesome. Winter biking is awesome.