An important thing to remember about winter is that it is not homogenous. There will be mild days in the plus temperatures, and some particularly cold weather advisory days. This doesn’t stop people from participating in winter activities or performing daily tasks. The winter conditions of each city, town, province, and territory in Canada will all be different. Generally, the most populated areas of Canada will likely have an easier time — in no small part because of the quality of winter maintenance a municipality is able (and willing) to provide. Here is an aggregation of tips from across Canada to help you continue using a bicycle throughout winter. This document will generally refer to resources from the City of Brampton, and across Canada from places like Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Banff, and Whitehorse.

Prepare Yourself: Apparel

Winter weather is complex and how each person experiences cold will be different. Temperatures can range from mild above 0 temperatures, all the way down to -30 degrees Celcius (or colder!). Sometimes it’s dry outside, and sometimes one must deal with snow and/or freezing rain. Wind chill also needs to be considered, and no matter what the conditions, one should also expect to warm up slightly as they ride — in much the same was they would as if they were to take a brisk walk.

In the Toronto area, the coldest months of the year are January and February with an average temperature of about -5–6 degrees. Sometimes it’s colder at about -9, other times it’s warmer at -1.

It’s not necessary to purchase expensive technical exercise clothing, but the key to preparing yourself for these conditions is in layering. Layering is not as complicated as it might sound. The combination of an undershirt, button-up shirt, and sweater is a simple layering example.

It’s best to not work so hard as to start sweating when on a bicycle. This allows you to wear whatever combination of clothing you want. If you do anticipate sweating or are planning a workout, the layer closest to your skin should be moisture-wicking fabric like polyester or wool.


As the thermometer drops to below freezing, you might choose to wear a tuque or something over your ears to keep them warm and comfortable.

You might also consider buying a scarf and a coat with a collar, to protect the back of your neck and head from the cold where the bottom of your hat ends.

What’s nice about these is that they can simply be removed or loosened if you’re feeling too warm.

If wearing a helmet, you might consider a thinner tuque, or “skull cap”, to fit better on the inside of the helmet.

Upper Body

Outerwear: Wear a coat that to repel elements like rain, snow, and wind. You might want to avoid wearing a heavy coat, as it might cause you to overheat when you’re riding. It’s preferable to be able to add or remove layers as needed.

Gloves: Thin mobile phone gloves for 5+. For temperatures from 0 to ~-20, winter rated gloves with Thinsulate are a good idea. If the temperature drops below -20, you can combine both pairs of gloves.

Lower Body

Outerwear: Snow or rain paints can help repel elements like rain, snow, and wind. As with your upper body, it’s preferable to be able to add or remove layers as needed.

Boots, Socks and Long Underwear: Winter-rated boots with Thinsulate are recommended. Also consider how your boots will perform on ice because you’ll still need to walk when you’re dismounted.

Add layers of long underwear or socks as the temperature drops below -20.

DO NOT use clips, in case you need to put your feet down.

Prepare Your Bicycle: Tune-up, Lube, And Parts

Before the first snowfall, consider having your bicycle inspected and replace any cable lines or other worn parts if required. Sometimes the cold can make frayed cables freeze. It’ll be dark sooner and for longer, so check the batteries on your lights frequently.

Just as with cars, winters can be trying on bicycles. Salt and dirt from roads can take a toll on a bicycle’s components. Consider keeping the bicycle in a sheltered space, if one is available, to prevent slush and salt from accumulating on the bicycle. Alternatively, you might want to get something to cover it. Wipe it thoroughly every month with a dry rag to keep dirt off of the chain, pedals, and any other parts that could use a little shining to prevent corrosion. Spraying your cleaning rag with a little bit of a degreasing, solvent or rust dissolver product — a product that will remain liquid in freezing temperatures — is okay for cleaning the bike frame and chain, but not the moving parts that require grease like wheels hubs, gears, or pedals.

Some people like to apply “wet” lube to the chain to better protect it from ice and snow. The downside to this is that it tends to pick up more dirt and requires more cleaning. Experiment to see what you prefer.

You might find that lowering the pressure in your tires to the minimum recommended amount helps with traction.

What Kind Of Bicycle?

Sometimes people will report that a different combination of bicycle types and tires has an impact on the winter cycling experience. Whether you use a Fat Bike, Mountain Bike, or upright commuter, it seems to depend on the circumstances you expect to ride in. Considerations that can make a difference can include:

  • What are the snow maintenance standards for your municipality?
  • Do you expect to ride on snow/ice?

Generally speaking, fat bikes seem to perform well over thick snow, with the big bulky tires acting as suspension over uneven terrain. Studded tires are available for all kinds of bikes to aid with traction on ice. Snow tires help maintain grip on loose snow. If your routes are reliably cleared, there might be little benefit to you in getting a separate bicycle for winter.

The bicycle itself can be equipped to save yourself some work. Sometimes heavier bicycles have an easier time maneuvering through different types of snow accumulation. You might find that an upright posture makes the bicycle more stable if the front wheel slips a little. Chain guards and fenders can be installed to help protect your chain and clothing from splashing road salt. Installing a Dynamo hub or similar generator can save you the trouble of having to replace batteries on your lights.

Watch The Road, Weather Conditions, And Your Own Behaviour

In general, when you’re using a bicycle to navigate on snowy, possibly icy surfaces:

  • Slow down: Take time to get used to the snow and take turns carefully.
  • Give yourself plenty of space to stop and slow down.
  • Try to keep your trips short (less than 30 minutes), particularly during cold advisories, to avoid frostbite.
  • Consider planning your route to favour facilities and roads that receive better snow maintenance.
  • Be careful when riding over snow. It might be hiding ice.

If you live in Brampton, The Bikeport Twitter profile will alert you of changes in weather conditions and snow maintenance updates that you might want to consider when planning to head outside.

Have A Backup Plan

Nothing compels anyone to ride every day. Some weather events are downright miserable to drive in, let alone use a bicycle. Multi-modal options are great for days like that. If your city has a transit system, consider taking advantage of it to augment part or all of your trip.


This document is intended to provide general information. It is not CAN-BIKE advice, is not comprehensive, nor provides specific advice or any guarantees. You must determine for yourself what your experience, training and competency level is with using a bicycle. The Bikeport by Kevin Montgomery disclaims any liability in connection with the use of this information.

For More Information

BikeBrampton – Autumn And Winter Cycling
(accessed January 1, 2020)

Laura Wright, CBC News – Winter cycling: good idea or flat-out insane?
(accessed January 1, 2020)

Mountain Equipment Co-operative – Get Ready For Winter Riding
(accessed January 1, 2020)

Cycle Toronto – Winter Riding Tips
(accessed January 1, 2020)

Vélo Québec – Cycling Year-Round
(accessed January 1, 2020)

EnviroCentre – All Season Cycling Is Possible In All Communities
(accessed January 1, 2020)

Whitehorse, YT – Winter Cycling
(accessed January 1, 2020)

The City of Calgary, Alberta, Canada – Winter Cycling
(accessed January 1, 2020)

Banff, AB – Winter Cycling
(accessed January 1, 2020)

City of Toronto – Cycling Safety Tips, Winter Cycling
(accessed January 1, 2020)