The winter cyclists survival guide
Posted - October 16, 2018
Cycling in winter is more than possible, it can be truly exhilarating on a crisp sunny day, but it takes some preparation and organisation to keep you warm, dry and safe
If you want to take your bicycle for a spin on those misty mornings or commute to work without the chill setting in, you need to make sure that both you and your bike are winter ready.
Here, cycle to work expert Steve Edgell of Cycle Solutions lists 18 things you can do to become an all-season, rather than a fairweather, cyclist:
Being ready for the cold doesn’t just mean having the right gear on. It’ll be a miserable journey if you are feeling the chill before you even get riding. Have a warm drink and eat something before leaving the house.
Winter isn’t the best time to test out new routes as you’ll already be tackling low visibility, icy or slippery patches, sun glare off the wet tarmac and extra road hazards like potholes. Stick to known routes if you’re short on time.
Don’t cycle like it’s summer. You know the limits of your bike. Stay well away from painted road markings, manhole covers and piles of leaves in the gutter that could be concealing potential hazards.
If you plan to cycle to work in the morning, charge your lights the night before and pump your tyres. And always test your brakes before starting a journey. Preparation is key and having everything ready to go can be a great motivator for those times when you look out the window and start to feel doubt creeping in.
Don’t over inflate your tyres. In winter conditions you need a lower pressure to give you more grip against wet or icy roads. When it’s icy, some cyclists will use proper ice tyres or cable ties wrapped at intervals around their tyres, but if conditions warrant such things it’s probably safer not to cycle at all.
Keep your rests short or the hard-earned heat in your body will rapidly escape. Also, watch your footing when you dismount. Your tyres may have extra grip but your shoes may not! If you’re a road rider, wear mountain bike shoes as these have recessed cleats allowing you to walk more easily when off the bike.
Clean your bike as often as possible during the winter, degreasing and re-oiling the chain whenever possible to remove grit and debris from the road. Also, use weather-specific oil to lube your chain. Wet oil is much stickier so it won’t come off when it starts raining sideways.
The more lit up you and your bike are the better. Lights with 100-200 lumens are plenty, but if you’re cycling in the dark or fog, you’ll need something more powerful. Make sure the lights are secure and not obscured by your jacket, bag or are pointing in the wrong direction.
If you plan to cycle to work, USB charging lights are great. Plug these into your computer at the office and they will be fully charged by the time you go home.
When buying new kit, choose fluorescent colours or white and look for reflective bits that will really light you up on the road. You can buy clothes, helmets and rucksack covers made entirely of reflective material. Reflective socks or waterproof overshoes will obviously move as you pedal, so these can be great for visibility.
Grab two sets of waterproofs – tops and bottoms – for the ride into the office and for the ride home. There is nothing more miserable than putting damp clothes on and going outside. It could also be worth lobbying your employer to create a drying space or install a tumble dryer at the office.
Merino base layers are natural and dry super fast. Layer up on top of this with multiple layers rather than single bulky items. This will give you more options to regulate your temperature.
In wet weather, use overshoes or waterproof socks to keep your feet dry. In theory, you could save a few pounds by simply wrapping plastic bags over your socks before putting your shoes on, but it’d be better to invest in a good quality pair of SealSkinz socks. When your ride is finished, stuff newspaper inside your shoes to draw water out.
Never cycle without gloves. Neoprene is best: it gets wet through but still keeps you warm, much like a wetsuit. Gloves will also provide warmth and extra protection if you fall.
Invest in a neckwarmer. This can be pulled up over your nose and ears in biting wind or used as a headband. Your lungs can really take a beating from the cold winter air and this really helps.
Never leave without a tool kit, a spare inner tube and a puncture repair kit. Road debris sticks more in wet weather, so punctures are more likely.
Eyewear is critical for a comfortable, safe ride. Winter sun glare reflecting off wet roads can be dangerous as there is a great deal more grit, mud and rain spraying upwards. You can buy cycling glasses with several different types of lenses you can swap in for different conditions, year round.
Be more understanding of your body and more relaxed about training in winter as you’ll need more rest. Doing a specific hard session may leave you demotivated and stop you riding at all. Remember, if you’re out on your bike in bad weather conditions, you’re already doing more than the vast majority of people.