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I've seen posts here about winter cycling, but I live in Winnipeg, where the weather drops to -50C (-58F) and we experience gale force winds.

How can I bike in these conditions?

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At some point, you have to call it quits - even if you're in control, the people and environment around you may not be in control. What kind of riding do you intend to do in this weather? Have you talked to other cyclists in the area? –  Batman Jan 26 at 21:41
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You might check out icebike.org . The site hasn't been updated in about 8 years, but it still has some good info. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 26 at 23:22
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The two biggest hazards (other than falls and collisions with motor vehicles) are frostbite and airway injury. I've experienced airway injury cycling in temps around zero F (foolishly cycling hard when I could have taken it easy), and it's bound to be a much more difficult problem at -50 where even a single deep unprotected breath can be problematic. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 27 at 13:21
    
And then some parts might just freeze solid. While my brakes did not fail on me yet, several times I had shifter cables stuck in their housings. Make sure you don't have any moisture left after cleaning your bike and check that at least the more "vital" moving parts still are moving parts. –  linac Jan 27 at 16:08
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Fixed gear drivetrain might make sense in the very cold, since there are fewer points of failure. Alternatively, single speed with a fixed / free setup, so that you could switch sides of your wheel if you developed issues with your freewheel. Of course, that might necessitate some foot retention, like pedal straps (or 45nrth wolvhammer spd boots). –  Benzo Jan 28 at 16:34

5 Answers 5

As one comment has indicated, you may need to evaluate if cold this extreme is even safe to ride in. If you determine that is is, there are several issues you'll need to address.

There are a lot of questions here about winter cycling. I went through question with the tag. Here are some of the ones applicable to your situation:

  • Breathing may be a problem in extreme cold. The traditional solution of putting a balaclava over your nose and mouth and using large goggles may not be enough protection. The question How to prevent breathing issues during extreme cold has an interesting answer about heat exchange masks.

A scientific Journal, Chest Journal, published an article about the efficiency of heat exchange masks on asthmatic subjects during cold weather exercise. They found that the heat exchanger masks were at least as effective as pre-treatment with albuterol in preventing decline in lung function.

  • Seeing will prove to be a challenge, and glasses or sunglasses will almost certainly prove to be not nearly enough eye protection from the freezing wind. Suggestions for winter cycling glasses? suggests that downhill MTB goggles, or maybe ski goggles will work. (Be prepared for reduced peripheral vision with any goggles.)

  • Tire selection in the winter is a bit of a black art. Whether you get fat tires or studded tires is largely a matter of the terrain: Lots of snow, or lots of ice? The question Fat or Skinny Tires for Winter Riding? has a great overview of the issues involved.

I think the arguments are as follows:

  • Fat: You can float on top of the snow and you don-t have to go through it. You have a larger contact patch with the ground.
  • Skinny: Will find it's way through the snow to find some pavement to grab onto.
  • Studded: Works great on ice but has no effect on snow/slush/other stuff. (Note never tried studded tires so just speculating).
  • Of course, you want to wear the proper clothing in winter. The traditional advice is to dress in lots of thin, breathable layers, but with temperatures this cold I'd not take any chances. There are many questions on this site tagged and ; I'd read them all. Talk to fellow cyclists and see what they wear. Start with short rides until you're confident that you're staying warm enough. Frostbite is a real danger!

  • Gloves are important; your hands freezing up an hour from anywhere warm can be a disaster. I'd not skimp on these, possibly layering multiple glove if need be. I've personally never found a single glove warm enough to handle even New Jersey winters, and always need to layer. You might want to look at lobster-claw gloves, cycling mittens, or bar mitts. Gloves with pockets for warming packs are nice, but do nothing to protect your fingers from being frozen. Also see: What gloves work well for winter riding?

  • Shoes should be warm, and also windproof. You'll need to layer socks, possibly even getting boots a size too big to fit them. What your options are here will depend greatly on whether you use plain platform pedals, toe clips and straps, or clipless pedals. Personally, I prefer plain platform pedals when riding on ice, removing clips and straps for ease of dismounting in an emergency. But I've heard good things about riding clipless on a fixie in the ice. (I'd be afraid to try it, personally.)

  • Most bike helmets are designed to cool the head as well as provide impact protection. However, since you'll be wanting to hang on to heat, I'd investigate helmets specifically for cold weather. See: Using a ski helmet for winter biking, Why don't cyclists wear all-encompassing motorcycle-style helmets?.

  • Freezing weather can be tough on bikes, particularly if there's road salt in your area. Cleaning a bike in winter presents special challenges. See: How do I clean my bike in winter? You'll obviously be cleaning your bike indoors, not washing it down with a hose outdoors!

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In extremely cold temps the tires get "interesting". The rubber is so stiff that tubes are hardly needed, and sometimes so stiff that the tire separates from the rim and the rim spins inside the tire. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 27 at 13:16
    
@DanielRHicks - Do we have a question about that? I'd like to link to it here. –  Neil Fein Jan 27 at 15:02
    
This is info I read via the icebike.org site. But that was probably 10 years ago. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 27 at 15:25
    
That is a special thing reserved for less expensive tires. Nicer high TPI tires stay fairly flexible down to at least -50F or so. However, at those temperatures, you can generally jack your pressures to their upper limits and you don't have to worry about sidewall flex anyway. When it's that cold, the snow is generally compacted and hard and you don't need as much float. –  Chris in AK Nov 17 at 21:34

I suggest getting neoprene covers for shoes and/or neoprene socks, which keep your feet warm even if they get wet from melting snow/slush from the road.

If you ride clipless, make sure to get some insulation between the bolts for the pads and your feet. My SPD shoes have a metal plate on the inside that gets quite cold while riding.

I had Pearl Izumi lobster gloves when I rode to school/uni on a daily basis and they're really quite warm. But beware: These kinds of gloves need to really fit, so you need to try them on in conditions most similar to your hand position on the bike. Especially if the fingers are too short, they will get cold and/or painful very fast.

Beware of motorists! Most of them overestimate their tyre's capacity to handle snow/ice. Also beware of sharp corners, depressions in the road where water may collect etc. An accident in this kind of weather, even if the injuries are minor, is very, very bad. Lying on the ground even for only a few minutes will pose a major health risk.

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Slush? Not anywhere near that temperature. –  Carson Reinke Jan 27 at 17:57
    
@CarsonReinke Well, if the roads get salted, snow and ice will turn into slush before melting. Same as with snow that is churned to slush by car tyres. –  arne Jan 28 at 7:03
    
Yes, I understand that, but not at pretty much 5-10F and under (or -58F like the OP said). –  Carson Reinke Jan 28 at 18:03

Biking-oriented gear is generally unsuitable for very cold temperatures— though things have gotten better in recent years, it seems lots of 'winter' biking gear is oriented towards 50F California winters. I'd look at ski gear and Army surplus extreme cold gear.

Civia (of Minneapolis, Winnipeg's balmy southern neighbor) has an all-weather clothing guide, but it only gets down to -10F/-23C: http://www.civiacycles.com/whattowear/

45NRTH is an Alaskan company that makes some pretty serious gear: http://45nrth.com/products/softgoods

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In order to protect your hands and feet, I recommend some sort of active heating. If my hands are clumsy from a lack of circulation, or if my foot gets frost bites, the other issues discussed are of secondary concern to me.

Basically, there are three types:

  1. heating pads that generate heat from oxidation of a metal-coal powder
  2. heating pads that generate heat from a liquid-solid phase transition that is triggered by pressing a small metal that floats in the liquid phase
  3. electrical devices that contain thin wires

As always, each type has its pros and cons.

@1 pro: can last for up to 6 hours, thin enough to fit everywhere con: not reversible, needs some initial heat & oxygen, which, at times, results in some time until heat is generated

@2 pro: usually the cheapest alternative, after treatment with hot water, the material becomes liquid again and is ready for reuse con: to have substantial heat, you need some volume of the material, i.e. it cannot be used in shoes, it can be too thick to be able to fine tune your breaking power (it might not even be legal according to traffic laws to use them); usually, the heat is generated for (only) around 1 hour, i.e. for longer times, you have to carry additional pads

@3 pro: you can switch these on and off, and depending on the type, can adjust the heating power in between con: depending on the exact product, you have to fiddle with additional cables and storage of batteries.

In your case, I'd check electrical heating, but try the coal/metal heating pads first. However, I doubt that the coal/metal heating pads would generate sufficient heat at -50 °C. This also means, I'd check that the heating power of the electrical system is "exceptional".

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I have used the oxidative heating packets (the small ones for your toes) before and they work pretty well. The main problem is that they (and the other schemes) take up space, and you really don't want your shoes any tighter. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 28 at 16:10
    
If space matters, I'd use the electrical solution. There, I use a sole that is not much thicker than a piece of paper. Plus, if you are really into winter biking, I would not use shoes that are too tight to not allow for one or two additional pair of socks or thermally insulating soles. –  StefG Jan 28 at 21:12
    
Yeah, the electrical sole liners are probably the thinnest option. At one time I was considering making some, but I never got around to it. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 28 at 21:35

Some companies make "fat tire" bikes intended to go in snow and deep sand. I've never ridden one, but people say they are really fun to ride. Check out the Surly Pugsley. As far as wind goes.. try going downwind??

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I think the issue is not snow but cold. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 27 at 13:15

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