Home | Featured | Winter Cycling IN WATERLOO REGION: There’s Snow Reason not to!
by Joe Meissner | February 2022

Here we are in the midst of our southwestern Ontario winter: wind and snow, cold and repeat. Our activities have been restricted to scraping car windows, shovelling snow, maybe a walk around the block or to the mailbox. What else is there to do? Well, if you have a bicycle, how about getting out for a ride? 

I have to admit that I take some enjoyment in the reactions from people who ask me, “Do you ride all winter long?” Anyone who knows me at all understands that cycling is an integral part of my life. Everyone in my immediate family–my partner and our three children–all cycle. There is no room in the garage for a vehicle given the number of bicycles stored there, and few are the days when I’m not on a bicycle, which includes riding to work in the winter. I commute to work all year long, and while a commute might not be feasible for everyone, my goal is to encourage people to at least give winter riding a go. 

Winter Cycling is for Everyone

The first thing I tell people who are shocked that I cycle in the snow is that you don’t need to be hardcore in order to go out for a ride. And you don’t have to have any special equipment, although I should probably note that if you’re a dedicated roadie, those skinny tires might give you a little trouble on some of the slicker parts of the road. Yes, you might want to invest in a pair of winter booties, or bar mitts, and maybe a balaclava. But for the most part all you need are a few layers of clothing, some mitts, a bike, and you’re all set to go explore. 

For the kind of winter riding that I’m suggesting here and that I enjoy the most, finding a local trail or seeking out the myriad gravel roads that surround most small towns is really the first step in a winter adventure. In my area, some of the trails are actually winter maintained, including the Spurline Trail and the Iron Horse Trail. As well, a number of community trails are interesting to ride–the Health Valley Trail and the Kissing Bridge Trail come to mind–but because of foot traffic, some of these trails might be a little rough, and I’d suggest using a mountain bike or fat bike in order to soak up some of the bumps. 

While I enjoy riding these trails, my go-to winter rides are geared toward the gravel roads. They are quiet (i.e. few cars) and even when these roads are snow-covered, they offer enough grip to keep the rubber side down. The scenery tends to have a pristine quality, and whether you’re riding solo or with a group, the silence can be wonderfully surreal. However, there are a couple of caveats: after a big snowfall, you might consider waiting a couple of days for the plows to do their thing and the sun to melt any residual snow. After a day or two these roads are then truly wonderful to ride on. Also, keep in mind that if we have a very warm day followed by a sudden freeze, gravel roads can be icy until the next sunny day, so choose your days wisely. Cold days are typically better than warm days–once the gravel roads thaw the going gets slow and squishy. 

While getting out and riding in the winter is enough of a reward in itself, there is another reason to get out and ride – having a destination in mind to stop for a hot beverage and a baked good or two . Generally in the small towns you will ride through, you can find a café or small restaurant with good hot coffee and locally made treats–Bonnie Lou’s Cafe  in Floradale or Anna Mae’s in Millbank come to mind. Even in town along the maintained trails, you can find a number of places to stop and refresh before getting back out in the cool air. In my case, I’ve discovered Lady Glaze Doughnuts in Belmont Village, Cafe Pyrus Outpost or CE Food Experience both along the Spurline Trail, and Smile Tiger Coffee. The list becomes quite personal, so I’ll leave you to discover your own. I am also planning a ride to Lucio’s Bakery in Kitchener. Comment below to add your favourite stop to the list – we all need a destination!

Getting Started: A beginner’s Itinerary

For anyone looking to try out winter cycling for the first time, feel free to try out this loop

This loop starts at Waterloo Square, takes you along the Iron Horse Trail. This trail passes right by Belmont Village, so it would be a good opportunity for an early stop at Lady Glaze Doughnuts. You can then continue along the Iron Horse Trail towards  Victoria Park, and if you didn’t stop already you could make a pit stop at City Café Bakery before continuing into the park.  After making your way through the park you will leave via Water Street. Here you will ride some protected bike lanes that continue along Weber Street until you reach the Spurline Trail at Wilhelm Street. You can then take the Spurline trail straight back to Waterloo Square, unless you make a pit stop at the Café Pyrus Outpost or CE Food Experience & Bakery

If you are looking for a slightly longer ride to see more of what Downtown Kitchener has to offer, after Victoria Park you could continue a little further along this route.

Gearing Up for your Winter Ride

If you do give winter riding a try, my suggestion is not bite off too much the first go-round. Figure out the layers you’ll want to wear–yes, you begin cold, but trust me – you’re going to warm up quickly. In the snow you won’t be going very fast and there’s no reason to ride any great distance. Go slow in the corners and let some air out of your tires–not so much that you hit your rim when you ride over a bump, but softer than what you might use in other seasons of the year. Remember, the bigger the tires you have on your bike the better grip you’ll have on the surface you’re riding on (a hybrid is good, a gravel bike with knobby tires works well, a mountain bike is great, and a fat bike might be in your future if you really want to tackle some big obstacles). Finally, because salt is cruel to bike chains, when you return from your ride, be ready with a bucket of warm water to rinse off your bicycle.   

So, what is there to do during these long winter months? I hope that I’ve convinced you to consider going for a winter ride. For me, being outside on a bike in this coldest season has been very therapeutic. There are so many places to see and the rewards (in the form of fresh air, exercise and delicious coffee and treats) are all worth the effort. Enjoy your explorations!

Black Bridge over the Speed River in Cambridge (Photo: Joe Meissner)


Joe Meissner is a cyclist living in Woolwich Township in Waterloo Region. He prefers life on two, human-powered and pedal driven wheels and is always on the hunt for new roads and trails to ride. You might find him exploring uncharted dirt roads, embarking on family cycling adventures with his wife and three kids, training for an epic ride, or simply commuting by bicycle to work. You can find him on facebook and twitter, but check out him out instagram for daily two-wheeled inspiration.


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