Like me, before moving to Berlin you probably heard story after story of how brutally cold winter can be. You probably imagined weather Siberian in severity: frozen lakes and canals, deep snow and frostbitten fingers. But while Berlin’s winters are cold, they’re not that cold.
Cycling throughout the winter needn’t be unpleasant, and I would personally rather cycle in the sub-zero than pay to be crammed into a smelly U-Bahn carriage day after day. Plus, cycling through the winter gains you the respect of your not-so-tough fair-weather cyclist friends.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure that cycling in winter in Berlin isn’t as perilous and traumatising as you might fear:
1) Layer up
Cycling in a big coat over light clothes is a rookie mistake. Not only are you weighed-down and less agile, but you’re also going to get very hot, very quickly. Wearing a few thinner layers gives you a lot more options and enables you to easily remove one or two and stuff them in your backpack: try doing that with your goose-down parka. Fabrics have come on a long way, and you can buy ultra-light, surprisingly warm down layers pretty reasonably these days.
Knowing the right routes to ride is key to safer winter cycling. Avoid super-busy, dangerous roads and stick to roads with good-condition, adequate bike lanes. We would also avoid streets with cobblestones as much as possible: they are murder in the winter.
3) Go into your shell
Waterproof shell, that is. If there’s one item that is absolutely essential for urban winter cycling, it’s a good waterproof jacket – it rains quite a lot in Berlin. Invest the most money you can in it, because it’ll save your ass. Something with a hoodie is highly recommended. And as anyone who’s bought a cheap ‘waterproof’ jacket knows, not all are created equally.
4) Leave your hat on
We are big helmet people. Wearing one of these ugly plastic things is even more crucial in the winter, for obvious reasons. Snow/ice/rain etc.
5) Look after your extremities
Your extremities are the most essential bits to keep warm. That is, your head, your hands and your feet. Wearing canvas sneakers probably isn’t going to cut it, so get some (long) woollen socks and leather boots or shoes. Get some gore-tex, waterproof gloves. It won’t take long for your hands to get absolutely freezing, stuck out front on your handlebars. If it’s seriously cold, you will want to cover your face with a balaclava, or fleecy facemask. Or just grow a beard, if you can. Last but not least, keep something warm on yer noggin, like a beanie or fleecy skull cap to wear under your helmet.
6) Get lit
Lights, and good ones. There’s a lot less daylight in winter, and the Berlin fog can be killer. You also want as many cars to see you as possible.
7) Burn (more) rubber
The biggest tires your bike can handle are what you should be riding during the bad weather. It’s baffling how many people ride thin tires when it’s wet, let alone when it’s rainy or snowy. Skinny tires might get you there faster (although the jury’s out on that) but on wet, cobble-stoned streets, you’re just asking for trouble. More surface area on your tire increases contact and grip on the ground, and that’s exactly what you need when the weather is bad. What’s more: air those tyres down a touch for cycling in the winter. It makes them a little grippier.
8) Always be on guard
If you don’t already have them, you could do far worse than fit your bike with fenders, or mudguards. You can get away without them, if you’re prepared to get very wet when it rains. It doesn’t mean completely overhauling your bike; there are many decent clip-on options available. However, if you ask us, full length fitted mudguards are the way to go for any serious all-weather cyclist.
9) Ride safe
You can get away with a lot less in the winter than you can in the warmer months. So, maybe decrease your Schwindigkeit (that’s Deutsch for speed) a touch. Think before riding like a maniac, because stopping times on slippery roads are a lot longer than when it’s dry.
10) Know when to give it a rest.
Just because you’re A Serious Cyclist, doesn’t mean you have to put yourself in danger just for the sake of getting to work on two wheels. There are times when it’s just stupid to ride your bike, and Berlin does have a cheap and (relatively) reliable transport system. There are days when you’re allowed to use it.