Recently, I committed to the idea of becoming a year-round biker. I imagined this meant forcing myself to bike through the sleet, sludge, and ice that a Chicago winter can bring. What I’ve learned so far is that year-round biking isn’t about toughing it out as winter warrior.
I always imagined that all winter bikers were hardcore dudes and that I needed to adopt a hardcore mentality, too. The truth? Winter biking is for everyone: families, beginners, and casual riders.
I’m lucky enough to live near streets with decent biking lanes, so it’s often the quickest way to get where I need to go. Plus, it’s free-ish since I own my bike and good for the environment. If you’re interested in figuring out how to successfully bike through Chicago’s winter, the experts below will give you all the advice I wish I had starting out.
What to know if you’re just starting out
“It’s not all or nothing; riding on the beautiful cold-but-sunny days is a great way to start!” —Elsbeth Cool, owner of Four Star Family Cyclery
“Nearly every person that bikes in winter has a boundary or limit. For some it’s a temperature, for others it’s ice. Trust your gut. Your safety is paramount. Choose to bike (or not) based on your confidence and have a backup plan. There is no shame in locking up the bike and hopping on the train.” —Rebecca Resman of Chicago Family Biking
“The biggest obstacle is in your mind,” —Alex Wilson, executive director West Town Bikes
“For the vast majority of the winter in Chicago, the road surface conditions are dry—similar to what they are the rest of the year.” —Ted Villaire, communications director at Active Transportation Alliance.
The perks of biking in winter
“I could sound really altruistic and say I love biking at any time of the year for the way it connects me to my community, it’s good for the environment, etc. All true. But I mostly love biking because: I’m a tired parent with a lot going on, it’s fast, saves my family a ton of money, it’s super efficient, I don’t have to look for parking or sit in the pick-up/drop-off line, and I can skip the gym (because who’s got time for that... not me).” —Elsbeth Cool, owner of Four Star Family Cyclery
“One lovely snowy day, I was stopped at a light and a fellow bike rider said, ‘It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?’ I fully agreed. I got to my doctor’s appointment and the first thing she says to me is: “Isn’t it miserable out there?!” She drove. When you’re on a bike, you feel like you’re a part of the city, not just stuck in traffic trying to get somewhere. You see so much more.” —Lindsay Bayley, senior planner at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP)
“The ego boost when people hear that you bike places in the cold is super validating (and makes you feel like a badass.)” —Rebecca Resman of Chicago Family Biking
“A real sense of accomplishment on days that it might be particularly cold or snowy. It’s tough to get around by any mode in these conditions, but for me, when I’m on a bike, it seems like a real adventure! I also really love being the first to ride through fresh snow in Humboldt Park near where I live. It can be very picturesque and serene.” —Alex Wilson, executive director West Town Bikes