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Until now, I have been an infrequent recreational (summer) cyclist, but this winter I plan to begin commuting to work via bicycle. It is a relatively short distance, (approx. ten minute ride), but the temperature in winter can get as low as -40°C (-40°F), although more-typical lows are between -25 to -30°C (-13 to -22°F), with the ever-present wind making it feel even colder.

It generally stays below freezing most of the winter, so I'm not particularly concerned about wetness or slushy/icy streets; my primary concern is temperature.

My bicycle is a mid-range mountain bike -- not super fancy, but not the uber-cheap Walmart variety, either. (I realize it's not the ideal commuting bike, but it's what I have.) It has rim brakes and trigger shifters for the derailleurs.

At home, my bike will typically be stored in an unheated shed. At work, there is a heated indoor location to store it.

Snow is generally cleared from the streets reasonably quickly, and I have a dedicated bike lane most of the way to work, so I'm not too worried about navigating the streets in the winter.

This is not a duplicate of What are the minimum requirements to commute comfortably through the winter?, since it deals with moderate New York winters, and I'm asking specifically about much colder temperatures.

I want to know:

  1. Is there any special equipment/care/maintenance I need for my bicycle for it to be able to function appropriately in these temperatures (e.g. special lubricant for the chain, special tires that won't crack in the cold, etc.)? I have little experience with this, so I don't know whether my bicycle will be sufficient as-is or will need special treatment.
  2. I plan to dress warmly, cover my face, etc., but I'm wondering if there is any special clothing/equipment I need for myself, aside from regular warm winter clothing.
  3. Is there anything else I need to be aware of when commuting in very cold weather?
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    Does your location apply salt to the roads ? If yes, I'd consider a separate $10 beater bike for winter. – Criggie Sep 15 '17 at 23:24
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    There is not a simple "prescription" for this -- you have to learn what works from trial and error. But mainly you need to keep your hands, feet, and ears warm. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 16 '17 at 2:21
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    Sure, a cheap mountain bike isn't an ideal commuter but, for a ten-minute ride, it really doesn't make much difference. (Well, I don't know about the temperatures you're asking about, but any bike's fine for ten minutes when it's above freezing.) – David Richerby Sep 22 '17 at 22:08
  • For a ten-minute ride it's probably not an issue, but another bit of bike wear I've found useful in cold weather (for rides of 30-60 minutes) is wind-proof undershorts. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 11 at 3:40
  • @Criggie Salt is only useful down to about -10C, so they're probably using something else where the asker is. – David Richerby Jan 11 at 12:43
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Although this was posted over a year ago, I'll still reply as I've been riding in very similar temperatures (Fairbanks, AK) for about 3 years and I'm constantly finding ways to improve my cold weather riding comfort. Hopefully you have found a setup that works for you, but here is my input. Note that Fairbanks is almost never windy, so I generally don't deal with any windchill other than that from my own speed.

  1. Assuming the roads where you live are NOT salted, there is little to no extra maintenance required. Like others have said, consider a beater bike if the roads are salted, but I'm guessing that, like Fairbanks, that isn't the case. There is absolutely increased resistance as the grease in your BB/hubs/pedals gets colder, but that isn't much of a concern for a ten minute commute. From personal experience, I don't notice whatever stock grease is in my bearings becoming noticeably thicker until it drops below about -20F (-29C). Riding at 40 below I've had a 45 minute commute take 1.5 hours, so for any longer rides and seriously cold spells you should be prepared for a workout (can be nice to stay warm at those temps), or consider replacing bearing grease with something thicker. I'm planning on doing this soon, perhaps with Lubriplate Mag 1 or a similar low-temp grease.

  2. Staying warm but not TOO hot is absolutely a matter of trial and error. I typically run warm, but what works best for me is a pair of long johns under whatever pants I'm wearing (carhartts/jeans or a lightly insulated ski pant if it's quite cold) and then a long sleeve shirt base layer and fleece mid layer topped with a rain coat. I typically get warm enough after ten minutes of riding to lose the outer layer even as cold as -30F (-34C). Typical head gear is a beanie (toque) with a buff or something that covers the ears specifically. A beard or balaclava helps for the face. For serious wind I'd be sure to keep your nose covered as well. Hands and feet are the tough part for me. I used to wear a thick wool and leather mitten that would still leave me with numb fingers and no shifter articulation, but I finally upgraded to a heavily insulated Pogie (Dogwood Designs, but there are tons of others out there). Under those, I hold the handlebars bare-handed down to about -30F (-34C) or use a thin glove below that. My hands are sweaty more often than cold. Any good winter boot should be fine for your purposes, as I'm sure you've found. If I'm riding less than half an hour at -20F (-29C) my feet are fine in any old pair of (non-steeltoe) work boots, but much beyond that and you'll want something really warm.

Other than that, practice makes perfect! Studded tires can certainly be nice on a regular mountain bike tire, though I made do without when I used to commute on 2" tires. I haven't ever found myself wishing for studs on the fat bike. I don't usually wear goggles (I get too sweaty in them), but sometimes glasses for wind.

The tl/dr: No need for any additional maintenance unless you'll be riding long distances in frigid weather (consider a less viscous bearing grease), riding on salted roads (wash your bike a lot), or don't like getting loose on the ice (studded tires). Lots of thin layers allow you to stay warm but not get sweaty. Wear good boots and consider handlebar pogies.

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First of all, I haven’t done anything as extreme as you, only -18°C.

The bike should be fine, maybe use less viscous chain oil and grease. I’ve ridden normal (though quite supple) Michelin Mud2 and Schwalbe Racing Ralph cyclocross tires in -10°C and didn’t notice any difference in their performance. In even colder weather I’ve only ridden studded Nokkian tires. There are special winter tires, e.g. the Conti Top Contact Winter 2 which might be a good idea in any case.

Be aware that cables can freeze and molten snow can form ice on your rims. Regularly check that you are still able to brake, especially before approaching an intersection or the like. Battery powered lights might run into problems (or at least reduced battery run-time).

Regarding clothing: Think about all the contact points between you and the bicycle: Saddle, pedals and handlebar (brakes, shifters). If you can comfortably sit in the saddle with your -40°C winter pants, don’t rub on the crank arms with your -40°C boots and can still shift and brake with your -40°C gloves everything should be fine. For your hands you could get Bar Mitts which allow you to wear thinner gloves. This assumes that your clothing is otherwise suitable for wind and strenuous activity in the cold weather.

  • The Bar Mitts I can't suggest enough. At 10F-ish, I can wear my summer gloves in the bar mitts. Winter gloves are too hot. – Jack M. Sep 20 '17 at 2:10
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I will comment on the clothing suggestions, having commuted down to -15F for a few years.

First off, don't forget about wind chill. Air temperature may be -10F, but with windchill it may feel like -25F. Cover every bit of exposed skin.

Ski goggles are awesome. Normal glasses will fog over while you are riding. I wear a wool buff to cover my face and neck. A windproof hat under my helmet. My coat is a snowboard jacket, and hiking boots on my feet. I haven't needed snow pants yet, but my ride takes only 15 minutes. If it were longer, then maybe snow pants. On my hands I wear mountaineering mittens. I tried Bar Mitts but they didn't keep me warm enough, because my bike was stored outside, so the bar was always very cold, even through the grips.

In terms of your bike, keep your chain lubed. Salt and slush will wear it out very quickly.

  • And there will be windchill, unless you're cycling with exactly the right tailwind! – David Richerby Sep 22 '17 at 21:05
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10 minutes is a good distance - not an epic distance, but far enough to get warmed up.

I've not done those temperatures personally, but some points

  • Riding generates heat through exerise. So the clothes you might wear standing still at -40 degrees will be far too hot while exercising. My winter jacket has pit zips to allow heat out, and a double-layered zip to stop wind getting in. The upper surface of the arms has wind and waterproof layers to keep you warm, but the underside of the arms is relatively thin.

  • I wear glasses - have never found a good way to stop them chilling, which leads to fogging when stopped at lights. This comes from forehead heat/sweat and breath mist, so a helmet/hat combination that absorbs sweat would be good.

  • Breath is another problem - if its cold enough you will hurt your throat by breathing hard. Consider dawdling more as it gets colder. Some people use a breath mask that directs their exhale downward, maybe into their jacket.

  • Tyres -40 degrees means ice. If you have hard ice then studded tyres would be wise. They're not at all common here so search locally.

  • Cable housings - If you can, consider rewiring your bike with full housings rather than having any exposed inner wire. This helps reduce the incidence of water entering the cables and freezing.

  • Hydraulics - Not sure cos never owned any, but check the freezing point of your fluids. You might want to use a lower temp fluid that is still compatible with your brake system.

Personally the one thing I'd suggest you change is storage at home. Storing the bike in unheated shed is better than leaving it in the weather, but if you can store it somewhere warm then moisture will evaporate and keep your bike happier over time.

Salt is an issue too - if your location applies salt to the roads, then it will eat your bike over time. Consider staying out of puddles if they will be salty, and rinse your bike at least weekly if not more often to remove salt.

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    Cable housings and hydraulic brake lines are nothing to scoff at. I had my share of commute during -25c and it's not cool when your RD stops responding to shifts or brakes lose modulation completely. – Klaster_1 Sep 23 '17 at 3:32

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