For many e-bike riders, the onset of winter means the end of riding or at least a sharp reduction in ride time. Winter also brings additional hazards to bike riders who ride year-round, especially those that are not familiar with riding in frozen winter conditions.
If you plan to store your e-bike through the winter, it requires some special care. We hope these tips help keep you safe if you decide to ride in the winter, especially on snow and ice.
Consider Taking a Break from Riding
First off, consider not riding if possible.
Snow, lovely as it is, is basically a pretty form of ice and should be treated as such. It is very dangerous to ride in under most circumstances, especially in cities. Even if you’re geared up and riding carefully, the risk of a crash or collision, especially with a vehicle or obstacle, is much higher in the snow.
Riding conditions can range from no-win black ice and wheel-diverting slush to even fairly reasonable if the snow is “dry” and has piled up to several inches. Fluffy snow can — but doesn’t always — provide a soft landing in case of a mishap.
There Are Hidden Dangers in the Snow
Snow also masks dangers, including broken pavement, frozen subsurfaces, rocks, and other hazards you can’t see and don’t want to hit, fall on, or otherwise tangle with. If the temperature is near freezing and it’s snowing, and you aren’t riding a fat-tire type e-bike while wearing a helmet, consider enjoying the winter wonderland with a walk or by using a four-wheeled vehicle.
Naturally, storing your bike for the winter isn’t always an option. You may have to ride in the snow to get to and from work. Maybe your bike is your only means of transportation and there’s a risk you’ll get caught out in the snowfall accidentally.
Even if you just want to get out and have fun riding in the snow (guilty!), take these steps to make your ride as safe as possible.
Wear Proper Winter Gear and a Full-Face Helmet
Certainly, you should dress for the cold, but make sure your top priority is a good helmet. Most cycling helmets do a decent job but try to wear a helmet that affords as much coverage as possible, including full-face biking helmets or even motorcycle helmets, which not only protect your head and face but can also keep you warmer as well.
Your odds of falling while cycling in the snow are much higher than riding on dry ground, no matter what “kind” of snow it is or what e-bike you are on. Snow is just pretty ice, and often, a thin sheet of ice can form under the snow on paved surfaces, making an unexpected crash more likely. Protect your head.
Also, while warm gloves are a given, if you find you have to ride in the snow (or just the cold) fairly often, consider battery-powered heated motorcycle gloves. They are worth the investment and will last for hours at a full charge.
Prepare Your E-Bike for Winter Conditions
If you have a “fat bike” with 4-inch wide tires, that’s the best kind of bike for traction in the snow outside of a bike with actual studded snow tires. Air the tires down to about 8 or 10 psi for an even better grip, or even lower if you’re a lightweight rider.
Experiment with tire pressure; different settings will work better in different conditions, but lower is generally better.
If you’re on an e-bike that uses mountain-bike-type knobby tires or “city tires” with a light tread, you’ll have less traction. Snow can pack itself into the treads of these types of tires, reducing their effective grip on the already slippery road.
Airing the tires down will still help somewhat, but if your e-bike has thin road bike tires, consider taking a pass on the ride.
Get Studded Snow Tires
And yes, you can get studded snow tires for bicycles! They are quite common in Europe (especially in Nordic countries) and are widely available online or through your local shop. The studs certainly help, but they won’t give traction equal to tires ridden on dry pavement. Always ride with caution — and a helmet.
Keep Your Battery Warm
Expect a small decrease in range if your e-bike’s battery gets cold, as lithium-ion batteries work best when warm. Their ideal temperature is above 50 F and below 90 F.
For the maximum range in winter, if at all possible, remove your battery and both store and charge it somewhere warm, such as in your home. Once out in the cold, the power draw for the motor will actually keep the battery somewhat warm.
If you accidentally leave the battery on your e-bike and it is subjected to sub-freezing temperatures for a long duration, bring the battery or your entire bike inside and let it warm up to room temperature. This will take several hours or even an entire night since batteries are dense with materials.
Never put the battery on or next to a heater, as it could get too hot and could pose a fire risk. Also, don’t try to charge your battery when it is very cold as it could damage the battery or affect how much of a charge it will take in the future. Let it warm up for several hours or overnight first.
Treat the battery like you would a puppy or any kind of delicate electronics: Handle it with care.
Ride Your E-Bike Safely in the Snow
Still game for some snow rides? First off, slow down. Way down.
Our bodies can handle most impacts at speeds up to 10 miles an hour (provided sharp pointy things are not involved) without much injury, so try to make 10 mph the maximum speed in the snow. Again, snow obscures many hazards and usually rests on a layer of ice, especially if the ground was wet before it started snowing.
Trying to make quick turns in the snow is not a good idea. Take it slow, turn gently, and get a foot down for some stability when turning, just in case. Use the rear brake as much as possible for slowing since skidding the rear tire is more controllable.
Go Easy On the Throttle
If your e-bike has a throttle, use it sparingly. If you only have pedal assist, use the lowest levels of assist. Again, watch your speed, because it’s not the speed that will get you hurt; it’s the sudden stops — as in, collisions.
Stay Off the Main Roads
If possible, stay away from main thoroughfares with car traffic, even if they have dedicated bike lanes. That can be tough for commuters, but if you have an alternate route available, take it, even if it’s slower.
Wiping out solo on your bike is a lot more survivable than getting hit by a car or truck that’s skidding out of control on a frozen street.
Practice Riding in Winter Conditions
If you’re just wanting to go ride in the snow for some fun, heed the above tips. However, riding in snow for fun also gives you a chance to better learn how your e-bike behaves on slick surfaces in a (mostly) controlled environment.
Experiment with the throttle and rear brake, slide that back wheel around a bit, and then bring it back under control. Then, when it happens unexpectedly, you’ll at least have some experience to recover.
Be extremely careful with that front brake (or just don’t use it if at all possible). It can lock suddenly in the snow and ice, sending you to the ground in a split second. Use the front tire for traction as much as possible, and if you need to put a foot or two down for stability, there’s no shame in that.
Keep Your E-Bike Clean of Ice and Snow
Post-ride, clean the snow from your e-bike as much as possible using a soft broom or brush, and then use a towel to dry it. As snow (or ice) in the bike’s nooks and crannies melts, it can cause corrosion and rust.
It would be very unusual for snow or ice to affect the e-bike’s electrical systems as they are typically sealed against rain, but they are not waterproof against submersion. It’s still a good idea to clear as much snow and moisture from your expensive e-bike as possible to avoid any possible problems.
A post-ride cleaning is also a good time to spot any problems or maintenance needs.
Store Your E-Bike Properly for Winter Conditions
If you’re going to put your bike up for the winter, be aware that e-bikes need a bit more winter prep than regular bikes. An e-bike’s battery is both expensive and a bit temperamental, so when it’s time to put the bike up, follow these battery protocols.
Keep Your E-Bike in a Protected Space
First, store your bike in as much of a protected space as possible, such as a closet, attic, or garage, and away from moisture. Clean and dry your bike before storage, and oil the chain if it has one.
If your storage spot is going to get colder than 40F, remove the battery (if possible). Store it separately where it is warmer, but not hot (like next to a heater).
Don’t Store Your Battery with a Full Charge
Opinions vary on how much of a charge an e-bike battery should have in storage, but most battery experts agree you should NOT store a lithium-ion battery with a full charge. It can shorten the lifespan of the battery and also possibly decrease its future storage capabilities.
Lithium-ion batteries are not designed to sit for long periods fully charged like alkaline (AAs, etc.) or lead-acid (car) batteries. Also, a fully charged battery contains a lot of energy, and if it were to get punctured in storage, it can be a fire hazard, so keep it in a safe, protected spot.
In general, battery experts advise storing a large battery like those that power e-bikes by using a “partial charge” level of between 50 and 80 percent charge. At those levels, the battery will hold a “stasis” charge for a long time (several months at least) with no negative effects on the battery, but it will very slowly lose power as well.
What you don’t want to do is to store the battery “dead” or close to it, or let it run down to a very low state of charge while in storage. Very often, if a large lithium-ion battery becomes overly discharged for a long period (more than a week), it can become unrecoverable or won’t take much of a charge again. As you are likely aware, e-bike batteries are very expensive to replace.
Check Your Battery Monthly
Set a reminder on your phone to check the battery each month by installing it back onto your e-bike and powering it on to check the status. Some bikes show the charge in percentage, so shoot for 50 to 80 percent.
If you need to add some charge, use a timer to avoid a full charge. Some e-bike apps will also allow you to limit how much you charge your battery. If your e-bike has a display with just a battery charge level meter, half to three-quarters charged is a good target.
If you do accidentally charge the battery all the way up, try to get a ride in with maximum assist or heavy throttle to use some of the charge. Then, repeat the storage steps above.
Some e-bike batteries include USB ports for charging devices, and you can draw them down by using them that way. NEVER open a battery up or try to connect anything to the battery terminals themselves — you run the risk of battery damage, a fire, or even electrocution.
If you can find a way to ride your bike for 30 minutes, you should be good.
Conduct Regular Maintenance On Your E-Bike
Over the winter, your tires will slowly lose air and the battery will slowly lose some charge; that’s normal.
Depending on the e-bike, it’s also a good idea to lubricate derailleurs and the chain before storage, and again when spring arrives. E-bikes with carbon belt drives do not need lubrication; it’s actually bad for them.
Follow these steps and, when warm (or just warm enough) weather arrives, you and your e-bike will be ready to ride. Just remember to do a general inspection for things like axle tightness, handlebar position, tire pressure, seat height, and head or tail light function.
What’s the Best Kind of Electric Bike for Riding in the Snow?
Don’t have an electric bike and want to get one for some snow riding? Look no further than a “fat tire” e-bike.
Those big tires, which typically have aggressive tread, are your best bet for traction, a smooth ride, and surmounting unseen small obstacles in the snow. All that contact area lets many fat tire bikes “float” a bit on the snow, where traction is best — at least for snow.
Typically, e-bikes with mid-drive motors have a torque advantage over hub-drive e-bikes, but e-bikes with “internally geared” hub motors are pretty close in power, so it’s tough to go wrong with either kind. We advise choosing bikes with hydraulic brakes instead of cable-operated systems; they just have better power, a better feel, and little to no need for maintenance or adjustment.
As always, make sure you’ve got a good bike or motorcycle helmet on when riding in the snow. We advise all riders to wear a helmet while riding in any kind of weather, especially so in snow or any slippery conditions. Head injuries can be debilitating, career-ending, and even fatal. Protect yourself while having fun on your e-bike so you can ride again on another snowy day.