How to Ride Your E-Bike All Winter

Lloyd on a big Easy

It's a little bit different from how you ride your bike, but not much.

What's that guy doing, dressed in all black and not wearing a helmet? Well, that's me, in a park in Minneapolis in the daytime so I am not particularly worried while I test-drive a Surly Big Easy in Minneapolis. And now that I have my own e-bike, a Gazelle Medeo that I plan to ride all winter, I will be dressing a bit differently.

Most advice for winter cycling recommends dressing in layers. I have quoted Average Joe Cyclist, who says, "The key to dressing for winter cycling is to wear layers, because cycling warms you up quickly, so you want to be able to peel off layers quickly and easily. A good approach is three layers on the top half of your body, and two on the bottom." But on an e-bike I find that I do not warm up as much, and dress as I would going for a walk, rather than a ski. I do keep a pair of waterproof shell pants in my pannier, but have not found that I needed them because the bike has full fenders.

urbane scyclist
CC BY 2.0. An urban cyclist employee taking picture of Lloyd Alter

An urban cyclist employee taking picture of Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The only difference is at the extremities; your hands and feet are more exposed. In the past I have been wearing my old ski mitts but on the Gazelle I find that I am having trouble changing gears, which I have to get at between the handlebar and the brakes. I may break down and buy a pair of lobster claw gloves that give me a bit more dexterity.

Other than my helmet, I have never bought anything specifically for cycling. My mitts and balaclava are from my snowboarding days; my yellow vest, which I just started wearing, is from Regatta Sports and I used it for rowing on dark mornings. I figure now that if I felt I should wear a yellow vest on Lake Ontario, it wouldn't hurt to wear one on Toronto streets. When I bought my new puffy jacket, I looked for one that wasn't black.

St. George bike lane

University of Toronto bike lane/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The problem in Toronto is that the bike lanes cease to exist as the cars get pushed out from the curb and essentially park in them; the drivers often don't have clean windshields; and there aren't as many bicycles on the road, so they aren't paying much attention. So this is when I go for helmets, high-viz and bright lights, which fortunately are built-in on the Gazelle. I am cranky that I feel I have to do this, but we do not have properly separated and plowed bike lanes and I am going to be sharing space with cars.

According to Pedego electric bikes, you should make sure your battery is above freezing before charging, or you can harm the cells of the battery. "When you are riding in very cold weather, you will notice a drop in power and range; this is normal and expected. You can help avoid this by bringing the battery inside whenever you aren’t riding to keep the temperature of the battery up. That way you will get that extra bit of power!" Bosch suggests bringing the battery inside.

I have been told that the Bosch motor will actually cut out below -10°C (14°F) but I have not been able to confirm this.

Studded tires on bike

Studded tires on bike in Dismount Cycle/CC BY 2.0

Because the e-bike does go faster, I have put studded tires on my bike for the first time. On bikes, they can increase rolling friction and pedalling effort, but that is less important on an e-bike. If you bring your bike into your apartment, be careful; they can destroy your floors. On Icebike, they even show you how to make your own studded tires with screws.

My first winter ride of the year

My first winter ride of the year/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Jared Kolb, former director of Cycle Toronto, used to write that as long as you keep driving straight, you can go through anything. I have trouble following his advice and am often swerving a bit to avoid going through slush like this. I am hoping that the studded tires will help keep me upright when I do this. It's also bad for the bike; Pedego advises that "the watery, salty snow gets splashed up into your gears and can seep into hard-to-reach areas, causing rust to form."

However, winter maintenance of an e-bike is pretty much the same as it is for regular bikes: rinse the salt off it on a regular basis and keep that chain oiled. The big difference is that the e-bike costs a lot more and isn't some winter beater, so I am going to be religious about it.


I'm in eco mode, of course. / Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

My key advice to myself is going to be to slow down. It's really easy to go faster on an e-bike, but the rim brakes on the Gazelle can become slick with slush and braking distances can be much longer. I am going to keep it in Eco mode all winter and just relax. I expect to be a very nervous and careful rider. And I am going to really, really complain a lot about cars parking in bike lanes.

Winter is just getting started, so I will report later in the season on how it is going.