How to Bike Toronto Winters

Toronto's winters are very bikable, so there's no need to put your bicycle away until spring. I biked through the past two winters and now have it down to a fine art. Sure, you'll need to skip a few days when it's actively storming or when the temperatures plummet below -20°C, but you can get in a good ride most days with only three adjustments.

1. Layer Up
Staying warm is essential if you're going to bike through Toronto's winters. I've learned to add layers as the temperatures drop.

On a -10°C day in January, for example, I'll be wearing:

  • two pairs of socks
  • long thermal underwear
  • water-and-wind-resistant pants
  • tee-shirt
  • two long-sleeved athletic shirts
  • runner's hoodie
  • water-and-wind-resistant running jacket
  • balaclava
  • biking gloves
  • winter gloves

Trust me when I tell you you'll feel warm in all of the above down to -20° at which point your toes will turn on you.

2. Choose Maintained Routes
Once the snow falls and stays, I have to alter my regular routes. Much of the waterfront trail to the west of me is not maintained in the winter time, and it becomes an unsanctioned skating rink. That's no good.

Through trial, error, and common sense, I've mapped out several routes that are ploughed and salted throughout the winter. The Martin Goodman Trail, for example, is maintained all winter long, and you'll often find me biking it on a cold February afternoon.

Be prepared to lose your regular routes and map yourself rides with cleared snow and ice.

3. Slow Down
Even if your trail / road is ploughed and salted, the greatest danger in winter cycling is losing control on snow and ice. In my adult life I've never fallen off my bike in dry conditions, but I've had several falls in snow and rain. It's essential you reduce your speed during winter rides when snow and/or ice is present. This is especially true when turning.

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Get out there and enjoy biking Toronto in winter, just be prepared to bundle up, lose many of your favourite trails, and slow way down. Things will return to normal some time in April.


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Comments (6 - click here to join in!)

markosaar

You can get booties to keep wind out of your shoes. I've tried the toe-covers, but they seem mostly useless. I also have studded winter tires with which I've never slipped. I'm always prepared to wipe out anyway, but they're shockingly grippy even across slick ice.

November 23, 2015 @ 4:29 PM

Cambo

I'm surprised you haven't installed mud guards on your tires? Or do you like the racing stripe up the back?!

November 25, 2015 @ 8:40 AM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

@Cambo

It never bothers me.

November 25, 2015 @ 9:34 AM

markosaar

I had a pair of fenders which worked pretty well, but I hated them because the the struts would tear up my legs. My winter tires didn't fit under them so I was happy to throw them away finally. Haven't found a good solution ... I'd like something metal, works with a pannier, and ideally works with my winter tires too.

I ride Bike Share to work every day. They have fenders, yet somehow I still end up with road splatter all over my back on messy days.

November 25, 2015 @ 10:53 AM

Sal

Starting to bike this year..yes, in the winter when we had the first snow fall...can only get better. I bought a bike with a covered chain case and the guards..only thing I need to figure out is the clothing....I have to wear a suit to work everyday so the above list would essentially require me going to a changing room (I do have an office) but carrying all my work clothes is too much organizing which I am not prepared for...I am doing this to simplify life not complicate it (I hate street cars with the Short turning and unpredictability being the primary reason). No showers at work but I consider myself lucky to have only a 9K ride from the Beaches to the Financial District. If anyone has ideas, pls dont hesitate to post a reply. I am planning on buying a Shell Waterproof Jacket and Pants (maybe even shoes) from Arcteryx or something reliable but its a lot of $$$.

To start, I may go in earlier to give me time and when the traffic isnt as bad in case i need to ride on the road Vs. the Martin G'man trail which cuts towards the lake and would be a big diversion. Thinking Martin Goodman>Lakeshore Blvd East>Sherbourne>King West.


Will post on how it goes.

Cheers.

December 29, 2015 @ 3:53 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

Fresh recording of what I wore today, a snowy -17 day in Toronto.

December 13, 2017 @ 1:43 PM

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