Breaking down the “Nobody bikes in winter” Myth

Busting the 3-season biking myth

We’ve all heard the myth, “nobody bikes in winter”. Take a journey through the comments section on any article about bikes, and you’ll find plenty of angry anti-bike trolls making ridiculous claims. Here are just a few examples:

Social media comments which read 1. "Uhm...who's gonna be riding a bike in sub zero temperatures. Shouldn't that be more the story?"  2. "Underutilized, especially in winter months. When the little snowflakes begin paying usage taxes, insurance and following rules of the road, then dedicated bike lanes should be considered" 3. "Bike lanes are a waste of space for a small percentage of the population that only use the lanes 8 months out of the year. (Who rides a bike in the cold winters we have?) As for commuting to work...I'm sure your co-workers appreciate your body odor, especially if you're working in a professional office."

This myth isn’t just wrong, it’s also harmful. It’s used as a reason why bicyclists don’t deserve dedicated infrastructure, but we need safe ways to get around without a car whether it’s 75°f or 25°f.

The misconception that biking is just a fair-weather transportation mode can weasel its way into the minds of even the most dedicated bicyclists. The truth is, many of us rely on our bikes to get where we need to go year round, regardless of the season, and you can too!

Breaking down the myth

First, let’s break down the assumptions behind the myth.

1. Assumption: You can’t bike in the cold. 

FALSE! Just as people walk in the cold, wait for the bus in the cold, toss a football in the cold, you can also bike in the cold. It just requires a few extra layers in the right places. And after all, movement warms you up!

2. Assumption: It snows all winter long in Pittsburgh. 

FALSE! In the last decade, it has snowed an average of 17 days per year in Pittsburgh. (Source

3. Assumption: You can’t bike in snow, slush, or ice.

FALSE! There are many ways to make biking in the winter weather safe and comfortable. Whether you add some knobby tires to your bike, or use a mountain bike or fat bike, there are simple solutions to biking in the snow that cost much, much less than driving a car. 

Believe it or not: Real Pittsburghers bike in winter

Biking in winter is not only possible, people do it all the time! Here, a few lovely Pittsburghers share their best tips and tricks for keeping those pedals cranking through the winter.

“I usually wear a wool buff around my head, but some of my face masks have been nicer for short rides! Layers are my bff’s, especially a good under layer (I really love merino wool, long sleeve top and socks in addition to my buff). I like legwarmers because I can easily remove them if I get too heated or pull them up/on if too cold. My bar mitts have been one of the best investments I’ve made, as this helps me wearing smaller gloves with more dexterity longer. A good solid pair of winter boots with neoprene toe covers! If it’s super cold, chemical toe warmers are necessary. Overall, layers and options while riding are my keys to success. Winter is some of my favorite time to ride!”

– Kat

“Wool! Wool is the best for winter biking. I snagged a wool BikePGH jersey and a wool coat from target. Layering those two keep me warm but not overheated. Add in a decent pair of gloves, and I’m ready to ride. I love biking in the winter, especially the snow. I can’t wait for the Frigid Bitch Alley Cat every year!”

– Samone

Robin Woods wears a buff and hat with a helmet, and a holiday sweater

“Here I am wearing 4 thin layers. A wool base layer, a 32 degree, a turtleneck for my neck all beneath my Holiday jersey. I was comfortable because I was not climbing and there was no sun. Take your time as you travel throughout the city no matter what bike you decide to ride and remember that bridges are last to thaw.”

– Robin

Heather wears a balaklava and sweater. Her bike is in the background with a crate containing extra warm layers.

“I always start with more layers than I need by the end, so I find having my rack and crate is even more useful in winter so I can ditch jackets, hoodies, and so on as needed. I also usually have alternate layers, like thinner gloves or a thicker hat, just in case I mis-assessed what I needed when I left home. And I’m not wearing it in the pic because there was not a single other soul on the Redbank Valley Trail on Thanksgiving, but I always have a face mask or two, also!”

– Heather

Lydia is standing with her bike in an alleyway. She is wearing a light jacket, mittens, boots, and a face mask.

“When I bike in winter, I find that I don’t have to do much to keep my core warm. Movement generates heat, so just a light jacket will do! My fingers and toes can get chilly though, so I wear giant purple mittens that I found at the thrift store, and insulated boots with heavy wool socks. This year, facemasks have replaced my scarves. I carry some extra layers in my front basket so they’re easy to throw on if I get cold. Bright lights are a must on these gray Pittsburgh days! Drivers seem extra aggressive in the winter (seriously chill people!), so I try to bike with extra spunk – I take the lane, give very clear signals, and double up on my lights.”

– Lydia

Winter Biking Wisdom

If you’re trying to bike in winter for the first time, it will probably take a few rides to find your perfect layers, and the right bike setup. But before you know it, you might find yourself saying that you prefer winter riding to summer riding! Here are a few great resources to get started building up your winter biking wisdom:

We want to hear from you!

There are a few ways to change the hearts and minds of people who say that nobody bikes in winter. Most importantly, just get out and ride! You can also step in when you see internet trolls making unfounded claims about the impossibilities of biking in winter and share your experience. Lastly, post photos of yourself in your winter biking get-up on social media – and make sure to tag BikePGH!

Posted by Lydia

Leave a Reply