As someone who likes to ride my e-bike in all four seasons, I’d like to share some tips and techniques to keep you safe and comfortable in the saddle during the winter months. I will also share tips on keeping your e-bike in good condition at the same time. I hope my experience of cycling in weather as cold as 20F (-7C) is helpful to you!
Commuting in snow and ice with your e-bike requires careful gear selection, route selection, and driving technique. Promptly cleaning water and salt off your e-bike and knowing that the cold weather reduces your battery’s range are important to know before setting off in winter.
Read on for everything you need to know about cycling in snow and ice.
Most Essential Tips for biking over snow and ice
- Good tires and lighting are crucial
- Wear weatherproof and light-colored clothing
- Always take the pedelec battery with you when you’re warm
- Bear in mind the torque delay when riding a pedal-assist bike over slippery surfaces
Cycling in winter is only fun with the right equipment!
Pack the correct winter clothing
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”Scandinavian Saying
Having the correct winter clothing is essential on a bike.
Quality sportswear that is breathable, rain-repellent, and windproof can be relatively expensive but very useful, particularly if you are living in a colder climate.
However, it’s possible to make do with the following essential items:
- Gloves. Cold air rushing over your hands will quickly numb them, which is dangerous if you need to brake suddenly. Getting a good quality pair of cycling gloves will keep your hands warm and protect you from scrapes too
- Bicycle helmet. This goes without saying that you should have one, especially on slippery road conditions
- Bicycle helmet cover. These covers fit over the outside of your helmet and block uncomfortable windchills, and keep rain and snow away. Waterproof, breathable, windproof versions are available.
- Breathable underwear. Depending on the length of your commute and how much sweat you intend to work up, having breathable underwear can keep you comfortable.
- Windproof cycling jackets and pants. Again, how much gear depends on your circumstances. A windproof jacket is essential though to keep chills away. Having a windproof pair of pants may be important if you frequently cycle through exposed windy areas.
- Overshoes. If you are often wading through slush and rain, having overshoes will keep your work shoes clean and dry.
- Reflective high-visibility vest. If your main jacket is not reflective, then having a high-visibility vest over your jacket is a must during the cold, dark days
Lower your tire pressure in snow
Lowering your tire pressure slightly will increase traction in snow.
However, it also increases rolling resistance which makes the bike more difficult to pedal and the motor must work harder, so don’t overdo it.
Fat tires offer more traction and can be a good option to consider if your e-bike model supports them. This is due to the increased surface contact with the ground.
Keeping your behind in the saddle will increase traction for the same reason that adding weight to the trunk of your car in winter will increase grip. So stay seated for more grip.
Avoid biking directly on ice
It’s easier said than done to completely avoid cycling on ice of course. However, if at all possible, try to avoid shaded paths like in wooded areas, country lanes, under bridges, and bike paths that have not yet been cleared of snow and ice by the local authorities.
Cycling across a patch of ice on a bike can be a scary experience, so try to stick to main roads or paths that get cleared promptly after a snowfall. This could mean taking an alternative route to work in the morning, perhaps along a major thoroughfare that gets cleared quickly.
But what happens if you unexpectedly discover a sheet of black ice?
Driving technique for winter
- On black ice, avoid steering movements and, if possible, coast along without braking. Keep a sufficient distance from other road users, parked cars, or pedestrians
- On snow and slush, the electric drive assist kicks in with a time delay and a lot of torque. Many electric motors respond to pedal movements with a time delay. On slippery surfaces, i.e., ice and snow, pedelec riders must be prepared for this time delay.
- When the snow cover is firm and the road is slippery, you should neither pedal nor brake in curves. If braking cannot be avoided, do so early and gently
- Road markings and cobblestones are particularly slippery when wet
- Be careful of obstacles such as longitudinal grooves (e.g. tram tracks) or longitudinal edges like curbs, which are often between the bike path and the sidewalk
- Ride slowly on bridges -they’re often icy than before and after a snowfall. The same applies in shady places, such as forests, where the road is particularly exposed to the weather.
A heavier e-bike with loaded bags is more difficult to control
If you frequently bring lots of bags and equipment on your e-bike’s frame, keep in mind that adding weight higher up on the bike will unbalance it in slippery conditions. Reduce the weight or move your cargo to bike panniers lower on the frame.
Salt is your e-bike’s worst enemy
Clean off the underside of your e-bike frequently. Keep a short-handled brush outside and dust off loose salt from your e-bike to keep rust and corrosion at bay. Wipe down the bike as often as possible, especially exposed metal surfaces.
Battery care in cold weather
Cold, mud, and snow can usually do little to the well-sealed e-bike motors. Most brand-name bikes have properly sealed motors. However, the battery is a sensitive component.
Lithium-ion batteries, which are the most common battery type on electric bikes today, experience significantly reduced range while driving in cold weather compared with driving in mild temperatures. The colder it gets, the bigger the effect on your battery’s range. This is important to keep in mind if you live in a cold climate or you frequently experience harsh winters.
This also affects battery charging. Charging is less efficient at cold temperatures. Try to let your battery stand for an hour or so inside before charging to get it up to room temperature, instead of charging it directly after a bike ride in cold weather. If it is too cold, it cannot be fully charged. In addition, sudden temperature changes can cause condensation to form – which can lead to damage. The battery should only be inserted shortly before the start of the journey
There are some ways of mitigating against the cold effect on your battery’s range. Try to store the battery inside beforehand to keep it warmer than the outside temperature – remove it from your e-bike first for convenience! You can also purchase neoprene covers (the same material as a wetsuit) that keep the battery warmer for longer, which increases the range.
I wrote a full article on keeping your e-bike battery warm in cold weather.
E-Bike equipment – winter tires, spikes, and mudguards
In general, you should make sure that their tires have a good thread – replace worn tires. Under certain circumstances, you should even choose a coarse MTB tire or fat tire. If you lower the tire pressure a little, you can increase grip.
Spikes are permitted for bicycles – unlike in cars – but are not recommended without restrictions. Although they improve grip on snow and ice, they have very poor handling characteristics on dry or wet asphalt. Cornering and braking, in particular, become more difficult. Special winter tires for bikes with and without studs are offered, for example, by tire makers Schwalbe and Continental.
Trekking and city bikes usually have mudguards as standard. Mountain bikes, cross bikes, and other sporty models usually do not. In rain and snow, however, they are useful to arrive at work without being splattered by mud and rain.
Good lighting is vital for every winter cyclist. A front headlight, a white reflector, a rear light, and a red reflector are the minimum essentials needed. In addition, a good idea is to have reflective strips all around the front and rear tires, yellow reflectors in the front and rear wheels or reflective spoke sticks on all spokes, and two yellow reflectors on each pedal. For the light power source hub dynamos make sense as a power source, as the old side-rotor dynamos quickly slip in snow and lots of water.
Clearing cycle paths
In many areas, cities and municipalities are obligated to clear and grit city paths, including bike paths, however, it may be a lower priority. Choose an alternative route if your regular path isn’t yet cleared.