Now that it is getting cold here in Utah and the snow has started to fly, we are adjusting our routine to accommodate biking in cold weather. Biking when it’s cold outside is tough, but it’s even tougher when you have young kids. That said, with the right gear and a little forethought, it’s entirely possible to continue biking right thru the winter. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned the hard way so that you don’t have to.
Choose the Right Clothes
The first key to biking thru the winter with kids is wearing warm enough clothes. I recommend investing in a good wool base layer, a coat, warm mittens or pogies, a thin beanie or buff that can be worn underneath a helmet, and warm socks. It might be silly, but snow goggles and/or a ski mask can also do a great deal to keep little faces warm and protected from the cold.
There are a few helmet manufacturers that make kids helmets with a winter liner. This can do a LOT to help with retaining heat and is somewhat more comfortable than wearing a beanie under the helmet. We like the Bern Nino (with the winter fleece kit) and the Smith Gage for cold weather cycling. Bonus points: you can use both for skiing as well.
Mittens and Pogies
Hands are one of the hardest things to keep warm while riding in cold weather. And if you’re kids hands get cold, well you’re all probably going to be miserable. We like the warm mittens better than gloves for kids and the size small Bar Mitts for exceptionally cold weather. Bar mitts (also known as pogies) are hand covers that stay on the handlebars and they are great for keeping little hands warm.
Merino Wool Base Layer
Super popular in Europe, kids size merino wool base layers are somewhat difficult to find in North America. Finding them is worth the effort, however. If you’re going on a longer ride, wool base layers are key to keeping kids toasty. They are warm even when wet.
Our favorite merino wool baselayer is the Smartwool Marino 250 base layer. Its great not only for biking but also for skiing, sledding, and other winter play.
Go for Short(er) Rides
When you’re riding with kids in the cold weather, it is important to keep your expectations low. Now is not the time to go on a 3-hour epic. Focus instead on shorter rides; a 30-minute cruise to look at Christmas lights, for example.
Talk with your kids throughout the ride to gauge their comfort level. Head home immediately if they start to show any precursors of hypothermia.
Keep them Inside
No, I’m not talking about staying indoors, I’m talking about an enclosed bike trailer. If your child is young enough that they are still riding with you, I highly recommend using a bike trailer this time of year. It is tough to keep little ones warm when they are in a bike seat (although we have a few tips on that below). With an enclosed trailer, you can keep them toasty for a very long time with some blankets and maybe even a chemical hand warmer or two (we like these ones).
We bike often in the winter with our Thule Chariot. We’ve noticed that cold air/wind tends to come in thru the rear of the trailer, so we make sure to wrap our son up burrito style so his back is covered as well. In particularly cold weather, we’ve also put him inside a sleeping bag inside the trailer.
If it is snowy or rainy where you are, you may also want to consider installing a fender on your rear wheel to protect your little one’s trailer from getting coated in wet goop.
One last thing to keep in mind if using a trailer is how it’s going to pull in snow. Burley sells a nice beefy 16″ wheel kit that does well in light snow, and if you’re headed out on ski trails, we like using a trailer ski kit like Polar Stroller.
Keep them Covered
If your child is going to be riding in a bike seat, there are a couple of ways to help keep them warm and dry. There are a couple of manufacturers that make a plastic rain cover. This works well not only for rain, but also for wet snow and slush. A bunting bag also does wonders to help keep little ones warm in a bike seat. We like the 7am Enfant bunting bag. It allows you to buckle your child into the harness underneath the bag.
Boost your Visibility
Wintertime means more hours of darkness. Even when the sun is up, it might be overcast or stormy. For this reason, it becomes even more important during the cold months to make sure that you and your kids are visible. For a trailer, add lights, reflective tape, and a flag. If your child is on their own bike, make sure they have both a front and rear light. You might also consider putting them in a reflective vest.
Bring a Warm Drink
I’ll admit it, my mom tactic for all outdoor activities is snacks. You can do a great deal to motivate young kids on outdoor adventures with food. When it is cold outside, I like to bring along a thermos with hot tea, cocoa, or warm water and lemon. When my son reaches his breaking point, we break out the thermos.
Embrace the Snow
If you live somewhere with snow, consider buying a ski kit for your little ones balance bike. Even if your child has graduated to a pedal bike, this can be a fun way to use their old balance bike and get outdoors to play. Both Strider and FirstBike have ski kits for their bikes, and Polar Stroller skis work well on pedal bikes.
Additionally, if you have a fat bike, snow biking can be an adventure for the whole family. You can tow little kids in a Chariot with the Polar Stroller kit (just use the bike arm with it), or if they are big enough–get them their own fat bike.
More Reading on Winter Biking
Do you and your family manage to bike year-round? What great tips or tricks do you have that I’ve missed? Share in the comments below.