Riding an electric bike can be a real joy especially in nice weather. But unfortunately for many of us, we live in areas where weather is more variable and winter is much more severe. In the past, it left no alternative than to leave your bike at home and take the bus.
The last number of years with the introduction of the fat tire bike and the demand for better traction tires from off-road mountain biking there are many good winter tires available for a bike. Studded tires are also easy to find and give excellent traction in the snow. Add to that clothing manufacturers are making better products for outdoor activities that keep you warm and dry.
In this post, I will be listing tips for riding in the winter. Most of the information is geared towards the daily commuter that is going out in traffic. Many of the tips presented in this post will apply to the weekend E-biker that bike on the trails in winter, but fully covering tips for electric mountain biking in the winter is a whole other post.
If you are not a confident rider and find it difficult to ride safely under difficult driving conditions, it may be better to opt for a conventional bike with no power.
Add some good snow tires or studded tires and your good to go. Most of the information below will apply. If you are new to E-bikes and a novice rider getting a new E-bike in winter may not be the best idea. Ideally, it would be nice to have had your E-bike earlier in the year to get used to the added power in good conditions.
Don't forget E-bikes go faster than normal bikes and have a throttle control that can get away on you. Winter riding and summer riding are very different and take a little adjustment when riding. So if you are planning to ride this winter here are 10 tips riding an E-bike in winter.
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Head, fingers, and toes, is what will get cold first
1. Get good winter tires on your Electric bike
If you are going to seriously ride in the winter putting on a pair of snow tires is a must. Depending on the tires many bike tires that are good in the rain are useless in snow. Adding colder temperatures will make rubber more stiff with less traction, a recipe for disaster.
The good news is there are more winter bike tires available than ever. A studded tire can make a real difference in icy conditions carbide studs are preferable. Prices of winter tires for bikes are not cheap but well worth it for safety sakes. If you have the budget having two complete sets of tires with rims is ideal.
One set with good snow tires and another set with studded tires for heavy snow and icy days. Studded tires work great in snow and ice but often times roads dry up and you are riding on bare pavement. This wears out the studs very fast and the studs add drag and slow your E-bike down and reduce battery range.
It may cost more upfront but you will go further, your studded tires will last much longer and can be used as needed. Consider puncture-resistant tires because it is no fun having to fix a flat in the cold.
They may cost a few dollars more but well worth it. See Amazon's selection of Winter tires for your E-bike. Another option is to keep a spare inner-tube in your pack for a quick change and patch the hole on the bad tube at home. Note: In a pinch, if you are stuck wrapping your tires with tie wraps will give you traction in snow. This will work with disc brakes and not tire clamp brakes. A temporary fix if needed but will not last very long.
2. Dress appropriately
Dressing properly for winter weather is very important. Head, fingers, and toes, is what will get cold first. You may have good traction and your bike may be running great but if you are cold, wet and miserable it is no fun and chances are you will soon leave your E-bike at home.
Dressing properly to ride your E-bike in winter can be more of a challenge than in summer. Temperatures can vary from below freezing to above freezing temperatures in a few hours. Overheating and sweating in colder weather and getting wet is no fun.
If you commute daily chances of riding in the rain and snow are inevitable so you might as well be prepared. Depending on how long your ride is and how bad the weather is in your area some of the following articles of clothing in this section will be a must and others can be added if needed. Choose bright colors with reflective strips to help others see you. You can buy a roll of reflective tape and add it to your clothing and bike.
A helmet is required to be worn when riding an E-bike and winter is no exception. The typical bike helmet is made for summer riding and designed to release heat from your head to prevent overheating. This is great in the summer when you are hot but in winter a cold head is no fun.
A full hood or balaclava that covers your ears and face can be worn under your helmet. If you are a skier a good ski helmet will also work. It will give you great head protection and better head coverage to keep your head warm.
Your hands are out front in the wind and as the temperature gets cooler the first thing you most likely will need is a good pair of gloves to keep your pinkies warm. Depending on where you live I could see you using gloves year rounds, especially during brisk morning rides.
Choose a pair of gloves with a windshield outer layer to cut the wind. Having two pairs of gloves on hand is ideal when temperatures vary. Two-layer gloves are also ideal, one layer for warmth and one layer for water and wind protection.
Here is a good pair of waterproof thermal gloves from Amazon that will keep your fingers warm and dry. If you are in a really cold climate and still have a tendency to get cold hands Bar Mitts available from Amazon will keep your hands warm in very cold temperatures.
Anti Glare Sunglasses or Goggles
A pair of Anti Glare Sunglasses is also a good idea year-round. They improve vision on bright sunny days and prevent debris from hitting your eyes. Squinting to see in the rain and snow is no fun and downright dangerous. Sunny days with winter snow can be very bright and sunglasses will allow you to see better and reduce the glare.
One issue as the temperature drops is your glasses may fog up. This can happen when stopping, and when the air is cold and humid. If you wear a face mask, warm, moist breath rises up and will fog up your glasses.
A good pair of ski goggles available at Amazon will work the best in snowy conditions. No squinting required and they have much less chance of fogging up. If you wear glasses they can be easily worn underneath the googles.
Windproof clothing and layers
Windproof clothing is probably the next most important item of clothing. Windproof clothing cuts the wind and also holds the warmth in. Depending on how cold it is often a windproof jacket will keep you warm for a good part of the season. As the temperature drops dress warm but don't overdo it or you will be sweating.
Because winter days are so short choosing a bright reflective color for safety. This will help drivers better see you in snowy conditions. Don't forget the cars on the road cannot stop as fast on snowy icy roads so the more they can see you the better.
Layering is best in cold weather. Often it is colder during the morning commute than the afternoon return. You can then remove a layer if necessary. A really good waterproof jacket that is highly recommended is made by Showers Pass available at Amazon it comes in a variety of bright colors that helps you get seen on the road and it has ventilation zippers to prevent overheating.
Adjust your face mask or neck warmer so you breathe out through it, or downwards, so you do not fog your glasses or goggles. It may look cool in photos but do not use a long scarf which could get tangled in the spokes! Depending on how long your commute is and how cold it gets you will find when temperatures drop below freezing that your legs start getting cold.
Wearing two layers on your legs is the way to go. They make a lot of good long underwear made with synthetic fabric that wicks moisture away and dries very quickly. Women can use a pair of tights as their first layer.
Face protection is very important. A cold head can make cycling very unpleasant. Cheeks, noses, and ears can get cold very fast in cold windy conditions. A good face mask balaclava will keep your cheeks warm. They make a number of nice face masks that allow you to breathe easily and stay warm.
Here are a number of good face masks from Amazon many for under $15.Neck protection is also another important item you find very useful as temperatures drop. For example, the Neck Gaitor also available at Amazon for less than 15 bucks, is an excellent product that keeps your neck warm and prevents drafts from going down your jacket.
Splash-proof footwear. Having cold wet feet is no fun. If you have ever ridden your bike in the rain you found your feet got really wet, not so bad in the summer but riding in winter with wet feet is another story. Putting your feet down in slush and snow will riding is inevitable and will result in wet feet.
Get a pair of waterproof shoes to keep your feet dry. Another great option is waterproof cycling overshoes. They slip over your existing shoes and keep your feet dry on rainy days and can be kept in a bag when not needed. They can start as low as $15 and go to $100 for fancier pairs. See Amazons waterproof overshoe selection. To keep your feet warm, Marino wool socks come highly recommended.
I love cotton but for layering, in cold weather, it can be a bad choice. There are much better synthetic fabrics available today that wick moisture away and keep you much more comfortable. Cotton holds in moisture that can eventually leave you cold and clammy.
Wool can be a good choice for some to keep warm. But wool can be heavy, does not dry quickly and some people, myself included, cannot stand to wear it because it makes me itch.
Manufacturers are making better wool undergarments that are not so itchy that will keep you warm and comfortable, and the big advantage of wool is it does not smell as quickly as synthetic fabrics. There are a number of wool undergarments available at Amazon if you can handle wool.
Waterproof windbreaker pants
A pair of cheap waterproof outer-shell pants, like these available at Amazon, is a good idea to have on hand year-round.
In summer if riding in the rain they will keep your legs dry and in the winter they are great as an over-layer to cut the wind and provide water protection.
If you are riding in snowy weather oftentimes snow will stick to you and your body heat will melt the snow and in short order, you will be cold and wet. Windbreaker pants are light and easily compacted and stored in your backpack or bike bag.
3. Lower your seat
Lower your seat so that your feet are firmly on the ground when you sit, this will gives you a lower center of gravity and more stopping power and balance and reduce the possibility of crashing.
This works great if you slip on some ice or snow, and you can stick your legs out to regain your balance. Driving in the snow with a bike is definitely more challenging than riding in good conditions and slipping and sliding is part of the ride.
You may like your seat up high but you will find you will be peddling a bit differently in the snowy slippery conditions and this is a much safer option. The nice part is many seats have a quick release and you can adjust the seat to suit the weather conditions of the day.
4. Put on fresh brake pads
Winter is not the time of year to have dodgy brakes. Even good breaks may not work their best in cold wet temperature. Be sure to put on new brake pads and give the brakes a tune-up.
If you store your E-bike inside, you may find that when you first start your brakes and shifter works fine and after you are out in the freezing weather they freeze up.
Lower areas in the cable housing collect water and freeze. Check your cables and make sure there are no cable runs that can trap water. In fact, a good tuneup and regular maintenance is always a good idea. Here is my Electric Bike Maintenance Guide to get you up to speed.
5. Keep your battery warm
You will notice when temperatures drop you will not get as much range out of your battery than at more moderate temperatures. Batteries don't like to be too hot and they do not like to be too cold. In summer you should avoid keeping your E-bike in direct sunlight on sunny days. In winter it is best to bring your battery inside to keep warm.
Be sure the battery terminals are dry and snow-free when putting the battery back on. You can wrap the battery in insulation to keep it warm. There are reports of a decrease of about 30% or more in range with a colder battery. Do not charge a freezing cold battery. Bring it inside to warm up first for a few hours then charge the battery. See my full post on How to care and maintain your E-bike battery. It will help you get the most out of your battery.
6. Put some fenders on your E-bike
Although an E-bike looks cool without fenders and going out on weekends and getting dirty is no big deal, using an E-bike to commute daily is another story.
Weather conditions change daily and you are bound to be riding in rain or snowy weather. A front and back full fender will keep slush and snow from kicking up in your face. A rear fender will prevent getting a stripe down your back.
If it is just clean snow then you don't need mudguards, but the snow will pack in the small gaps and locks the wheel and other mechanisms if you don't clean it.
7. Clean your bike
Staying on top of cleaning your E-bike in the winter is much more important than in the summer. Temperature can fluctuate up and down in a single day.
You and your bike may get a little wet on the morning ride but on the ride home, it has dipped below freezing and now you have a frozen bike. In the winter salt is often put on the roads and that salt gets on your bike. A major issue is no corrosion to the frame, but dirt, slush, and corrosion make brakes, cables, derailleurs, and other moving parts stick and not operate smoothly.
Lubricants thicken and break claws may not work properly. Use lighter lubricants in the winter and lube more often.
For the summer WD-40, dry lube is an excellent lubricant, but in winter it is best to use WD-40 wet Lubricant available at Amazon. It penetrates and cleans the chain better than Dry Lube. The squeeze bottle is recommended vs the spray can. You have more control and no overspray.
Chain wear is fastest in winter, replace the chain and sprocket in the spring if needed to get the most use out of them. Road salt is hard on bikes. The best is to rinse it off.
But do not do this in freezing temperatures. Do not use a pressure washer to clean your E-bike. It may be convenient to stop off at the local coin wash and pressure wash your E-bike. Don't do it!
A great tip is to get a garden sprayer like this one at Amazon that you can fill with water and store inside. You can then bring it outside to wash your bike providing you have above freezing temperatures and ideally direct sunlight.
Give your bike a quick wipe-down after a ride if it's wet and lubricate the chain more often using a wet lubricant like WD-40 wet Lube on the chain.
Bringing your E-bike inside is always the best because it has a chance to dry and the battery stays warm. Putting your bike in the sun can also dry off your bike in the winter and bring the battery inside if it's cold. Here is more info on how to properly clean your E-bike before putting it away for winter.
If you are a daily commuter it is inevitable that your E-bike will be exposed to salt. Your daily wipedowns will help but the salt will still remain on some of the nooks and crannies.
To prevent rusting and corrosion, I suggest at the beginning of the winter and every few days spray on a product like Rust Check. Spray it on your spoke nipple right where the spoke meets the wheel.
After your daily wipe down, you can spray some on a rag and wipe around leaving a film of oil to protect the metal from salt exposure. Be sure not to spray the LCD screen or the electronics. Just keep an eye out that the connectors are clean and dry. In the spring you can give a good cleaning.
8. Have some tissues on hand
Being outside in the cold air in winter can make your nose run. Bring along some tissues. Also, bring along a rag to give your bike a quick wipe down when needed or for drying the battery terminals.
9. Add some anti-slip tape to your brake levers
You may find in wet cold conditions that your gloved hands will slip on the controls. Adding a little Anti-slip tape to key locations like brake levers, gear levers or anywhere you touch with your hands to control. A roll of anti-slip tape that is available at Amazon is all you need. It is basically tape with sandpaper on it that you can cut with a pair of scissors and stick on any desired locations.
10. Slow down!
One rule that is a must in winter is: slow down. You may have good winter tires on your electric bike that give you great traction but they still are not perfect. Slush and patches of ice can still leave the best tires slipping and cause you to crash. Slow down on corners to avoid sliding into traffic.
Don't forget that cars also have less control in the cold and snow and cannot stop as fast and can easily slide into you. Also, they have less visibility with frosted or snow-covered windows and snowy conditions. Be extra defensive and make slower stops to avoid sliding
Winter riding also means more night riding as the days are shorter. You most likely will be riding in the dark, in the morning, or on your commute home from work, or both, depending on how far north you are. Be sure to have good lights in the front and back. This will help drivers see you better.
If you want to get more comprehensive information about riding in the winter here is an excellent download. This E-book can help you Ride Your Bike All Year Long.
If after reading this post and you come to the conclusion that you really do not want to ride your E-bike all winter, I have another post that will give you the ins and outs on How To Properly Store your E-bike for Winter.
Get some good lights
If you don't already have lights on your bike and you want to ride in winter I highly recommend you get some good bright lights. Depending on where you live the chances you will be riding in the dark on the way to work or on your way home is highly likely and driving in traffic at night is not a good idea.
Be aware people driving in cars at night have less visibility when its snowing, it is better to see and be seen.