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Cycling Survival Guide for a Cleveland Winter

Cycling Survival Guide for a Cleveland Winter


A multi-part guide to enduring Cleveland’s unrelenting winter on your favorite two-wheeled transportation.

Cleveland is known for its brutal, seemingly endless winters; sub-zero wind chills, lake effect snowfall, and slushy roads are enough to scare off even the most seasoned of cycling veteran, but don’t let that stop you. Whether it’s for sport, adventure, or last resort transportation, some of you are crazy enough to ride your bicycle in that kind of arctic shit. Turns out, some of us are just as bat-shit crazy, so if you’re looking to shake off that seasonal affective disorder, take a peep at our handy survival guide to biking through a Cleveland winter.

Psychology of Survival

When you first step foot into the frigid winter air, you may immediately say to yourself, “fuck this,” but after the initial shock you restart and think, “let’s give it a shot.” Standard cycling practice applies: maintain pedaling cadence, use hand signals on the road, and keep eyes peeled for frosty, hazardous situations. Keep calm, don’t panic, and despite the ice and snow, remember – you’re riding a bike, a skill once learned and never forgotten.  Have a little fun and don’t make it more stressful than it needs be.

Wilderness Navigation

Regardless of the season, always know where you’re going. A planned route may be your best chance at a safe and quick winter bike trip. Learning multiple routes isn’t a bad idea, in case of inevitable road accidents, animal attacks, or just for variety’s sake. Online mapping can greatly assist in any excursion. If you’ve got access to a four-wheeled smog-spitter, go beforehand and check out the route you mapped to ensure it’s cycle-ready.  Remember to leave early; on any path you’re bound to run into a few obstacles.


Cars are a biker’s most threatening predator. Visibility is key to a safe ride, so we recommend bright clothing paired with lights, reflectors, and possibly an obnoxious air horn. Enthusiasts may opt for a high-tech ski helmet, outfitted with lift lights and a flip down visor, or a neon yellow knee-length poncho. This colorful gear will help drivers see you through layers of dense windshield fog, and they aren’t the only ones with vision trouble. A science tip to prevent foggy cyclist goggle issues: take a thin coat of shaving cream or toothpaste, rub evenly throughout, then wipe clean with a dry towel.

Keep Warm and Dry

Ensure that you protect your body from the elements. Common ski apparel provides waterproofing, warmth, and breathability. For top-quality hoof gear, consider a pair of specialized defroster clip-less shoes, equipped with a sealed canopy and high top collar, guaranteed to keep those pedal pushers warm and dry, even in the toughest of commutes. Alternatively, a pair of gaiters to protect your feet and lower legs will get the job done. And if you’re feeling extra chilly, get off your bike and walk a block to warm things up.

Tools, Equipment, and Maintenance

An emergency roadside kit can be a crucial accessory. Some essentials include a multi-tool—ideally something with allen keys, screw drivers and a 15mm wrench for wheel bolts—as well as a tire wrench, patches, spare tubes, and if you can haul it, a portable tire pump.

Double-check your bike itself. Run through the gears, tire pressure, brakes, and do yourself a favor—lubricate your chain regularly. No one enjoys that shrill squeak your bike emits as a result of salt build-up and shear owner’s neglect.

See Also

A few tips from the Tour de Winter cycling pros

At the recent Ohio City Bicycle Co-op Winter Expo, director Jim Sheehan demonstrated some innovative tricks to get your bike winter-ready, and here’s one of our favorites: For extra traction, stud your tires by drilling a pilot hole through the top of the tread, then thread a short screw from the inside-out of the tire. Cut the bead off a set of old tires and use the tread as a thick rim strip to protect your tubes from the screw heads.

Another popular tip: during those slightly warmer winter days, spare your cube mates the stench, and get yourself some apparel with armpit zips—everyone’s entitled to a sweaty ride to work, but keep that smell of success to yourself—that’s just common courtesy.

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Cleveland’s cold season may be scary on your two-wheeler, but don’t be apprehensive about taking the plunge. Worse comes to worse, you get a little road rash or a runny nose on your ride—a small price to pay for braving face to face one of the Midwest’s nastiest winters on a bicycle.

If you’re looking for more tips, tricks, and tools of the trade, be sure to check out the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op’s website.

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