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Winter bicycling can be fun, with the proper attitude and some thoughtful equipment and clothing choices. The exertion keeps you warm, and being active makes winter more enjoyable. The day of a storm and a day or two after usually are not great for bicycling. Take a break and walk or ride Metro Transit until the roads are cleared for good bicycling conditions.

If you see a bike path that needs to be plowed, or there are sections of the path covered with snow and ice, contact Report a Problem: Bike Concerns.

Plowing

Arterial bike paths are plowed as needed after any snow event. When a general plowing is underway the arterial paths will be plowed. The goal is to have these paths clear for commuters as soon as practical on weekdays.

Because we often have to plow major streets three or four times during a given snow event, windrows at the intersections of bike paths and streets are inevitable. We instruct our plow operators to make an effort to minimize the windrows. We also send a plow back on the bike paths once we are finished with our plowing to clear the windrows. Bicyclists should be prepared to encounter windrows at intersections.

Since on street bike paths are located on the edge of streets they will get snow accumulations. Because snow removal operations are expensive and our places to store removed snow are limited, we only clear these on street bike paths when we get significant narrowing of a street. We do not remove snow strictly to clear on street bike paths.

Winter Bicycling Tips

Being visible is your first concern in winter bicycling. There are fewer bicyclists on the road and motorists often do not expect to see bicyclists. Wear bright colors during the day to announce your presence. At night there is no substitute for the best lights you can afford. Reflective strips on clothing, leg bands, vests, etc. also help at night.

Choose your route carefully. The heat from traffic helps clear streets of snow and ice. The places that will be best to ride are where cars are driven, not near the side of the street which will stay icy and snow covered. Try to find streets that have enough traffic to clear the snow and ice, but not so much traffic that you feel uncomfortable riding in the path cleared by the cars.

Preventive maintenance is also important. Having a breakdown in the winter is no fun. The cold, wet and road salt can lead to unexpected problems.

  • Make sure your brakes and gears are in good condition, especially cables and cable housing. Grease all cables to help them move smoothly and protect them from the wet and salt. Replace cracked cable housing to prevent water from getting inside.
  • Tires should have plenty of tread, and the sidewalls should not be cracked. Use less air in your tires when the roads are snowy or icy for better traction. Studded bicycle tires are available, too.
  • Make sure that fenders, racks, lights and other attachments are secure.

Winter bike set up is a personal choice. While most any bike will do, winter bicyclists generally recommend something along the lines of a hybrid or mountain bike with upright handlebars, thumb or grip-twist shifters, knobby tires (studded tires are popular, too) and low gearing. Accessories include a rack for carrying things, fenders to help keep you and the bike clean, and good lights and reflectors.

Adapting to winter road conditions for bicycling is similar to changes needed for driving a car. On snow covered or icy roads, ride slower, be aware of hazards and know how to react to them.

  • Use easier gears to pedal through snow and across ice. Plodding along in high gears will cause you to skid out. If the front wheel is skidding around, put more of your body weight forward to keep the front wheel going straight. Bar end extensions can help you get your weight further forward.
  • Use your brakes lightly, and remember that it will take you longer to stop. Panic stops don't work on snow or ice. Practice braking away from traffic, on a slight hill if possible, to get used to how much pressure you can use before locking up and skidding on snow and ice.

Two of the biggest concerns for bicyclists in the winter are changing road conditions and changing light conditions through the day.

  • Bright sun in the morning melts snow and creates glare in the eyes of motorists. Glare, combined with dirty windshields, makes it difficult for motorists to see each other, let alone bicycles. Thus the importance of brightly colored outer wear and riding defensively.
  • The melted snow means your rims are wet and braking ability is reduced. It also turns to a thin layer of ice at night, when you can't see well. Another reason for a good headlight.
Use a light at night. It's the law!
Biking in the winter
Bicycling is the most efficient and non-polluting form of transportation known to humankind.
City of Madison Bike Map
What is a bike box?