Winter Cycling Tips
Autumn and winter bring even more rain and cold than the rest of the year (if that’s possible), but with a little preparation you can enjoy cycling throughout the colder months with the minimum of discomfort. Our handy tips will stop you putting your bike into hibernation and help get you and your bike ready to tackle the wintery roads this year.
In the more chilly months, you may have to adapt your route, especially in icy conditions which can make speed control difficult. Moving traffic and grit make larger roads easier to traverse, whilst smaller roads and cycle paths might not be treated. Sustrans has a facility to browse routes online, or you can download one of the many cycle route phone apps available.
Looking after your bike
It’s definitely the time to check everything’s working properly on your bike, so make sure your brakes, gears and lights are fully functional and keep everything clean and lubricated. For bumpier terrain, you might need a better tread on your tyres, and letting a small amount of air out of larger tyres increases the amount of footprint they have with the ground. The salt contained in road grit can play havoc with your bike, so giving it a good rinse will prevent any rust damage. De-icer (or WD40) can also come in handy to thaw metal bike components or an unoiled bike lock. Mudguards are also great to help keep you drier in muddy weather.
Essential (and required by law) as the nights draw in, bike lights vary from very basic to high performance, which are designed to help mountain bikers see as far ahead as possible. They go up in performance (and price) according to their weight, brightness (candlepower/lumens) and battery life.
As a general rule of thumb LED based lights are much more hardy, brighter for their size and have an outstanding battery life, whereas Halogen lights tend to offer better value for money. However much you spend it’s worth noting that by law you must have a front and rear light (that will allow you to see the road). It’s a good idea to have at least one good light set and one set of (LED) safety lights for road use, ensuring that you can see and be seen this winter.
Ice Ice Baby
Ice can be nasty stuff for a cyclist. The best thing to do if you think ice is coming up is to go slow, cycle straight, don’t brake and don’t panic. If stopping is inevitable, you need to apply the rear brake gently and might need to put a foot down to assist yourself. Walking your bike around an icy patch is an easy alternative, or know your limits and resort to alternative transport in icy weather.
Let it Snow
With a bit of preparation, you can still cycle in snow – it’s a bit more physically challenging but still achieveable. Mountain bikes cope well with the demands of snowy surfaces due to their knobbly tyres, lower gears and generous frame clearances. Folding bikes won’t cope well, but hybrids and cyclo-cross bikes will give it a good go.
Looking after yourself
Although you might be tempted with a woolly hat, rain or shine, you’ll always need to wear a helmet and extra warmth can be provided by an under-helmet or skullcap. Aside from wearing a full balaclava to keep your head, nose and ears from feeling the chill, an under helmet hat like the Altura Windproof Cycling Skullcap can keep the entire top of your head warm when the temperatures drop and the winds pick up. It’ll need to be breathable, warm and shaped to cover your ears. A headband is a great stopgap, keeping your ears and forehead warm whilst maintaining a cool head.
Visibility at distance is crucial in the colder months – the daylight hours are shorter and the sky is grey and gloomy. With good lights for your bike to be seen, high visibility clothing will make sure you are seen too.
The saying “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” might seem a cliché, but it’s absolutely true. Whilst the cold air immediately suggests a multitude of layers, you will still generate heat from exercising, so it’s a real balancing act to maintain just the right temperature whilst riding. Remember, the weather won’t remain the same, so versatility is the key to both autumn and winter cycling and where layering comes into its own.
The Upper Body
Staying totally dry on a bike in winter is impossible, but the next best thing is to remain dry for as long as possible, and comfortable when wet. A few factors can influence what you should be wearing, from personal preference, intensity of activity to the weather.
Layering is the key word that you’ll hear repeated to you in every outdoors shop throughout the land. It gives you the versatility that is essential for remaining comfortable whilst being physically active and is the best way to achieve the properties you’ll need. The traditional approach is via three layers.
Cut to be close fitting and worn tight to the skin, base layers are all about thermal insulation (keeping you warm) and wicking (moving your sweat away from you before it gets cold). A bit of choice here, from the polyester microfibre based products that offer good breathability at great value, to the more expensive and odour-free Merino wool items that’ll keep you comfortable even when wet. Don’t be tempted to use a tight fitting cotton t-shirt as a base – it’ll make you damp, cold and very uncomfortable.
|Madison Isoler Womens Long Sleeve Base Layer||Endura Baa Baa Merino baselayer|
Customarily the layer you could remove if the weather became a bit friendlier, warmth without weight is the balance you’re looking for.
Often a Roubaix type material (a fleecy, comfortable and warm lightweight fabric), or Merino wool. Standard cycling jerseys are quite regularly used for this layer, with a zip (or half zip) that’ll easily pull down to increase airflow.
|Madison Trail Sport Long Sleeve Cycling Jersey||Altura Fleece Long Sleeve Cycling Jersey|
Top Layer or Shell
Waterproof, windproof and breathable are the three features you need from an outdoor activity jacket. The best of this type will stop the ingress of all rain and have several vents to allow good airflow for high breathability. Some products get their waterproofing from being chemically treated (and may need occasional reproofing), whilst some have ‘natural’ waterproof qualities. Being the surface layer, another really important factor is how visible the jacket will make you on the road. Ideally you’d want 360 degrees of reflectivity. Arm warmers, whilst not being appropriate for colder conditions, are great at prolonging the usefulness of your summer gear in the interim period.
|Madison Stellar Waterproof Jacket||Endura Luminite Waterproof Jacket||Altura Night Vision jackets|
On a bike it’s absolutely essential that your hands are kept comfortable, your response time depends on it. As well as the standard reasons for wanting a pair of bike gloves (to cut down on blisters, cramps and discomfort), cold weather gloves need to be full finger, insulated and breathable. Winter gloves tend to be bulkier as they are made with inner and outer parts. They tend to have longer cuffs to tuck into jackets and avoid the wrists being chilled, a waterproof exterior and a layer of insulation between that and the liner or inner glove. If the weather turns really nasty you’ve got to start looking at lobster claw gloves (fewer pockets of air, so warmer but less manoeuvrable) and thin inner gloves.
|Altura Night Vision Waterproof Gloves||Giro Ambient Winter Gloves|
|Endura Deluge Gloves||Specialized Deflect D4W Women’s Gloves|
The Lower Body
The lower body doesn’t follow the same line of thinking as the upper body, mainly because your legs are the part of you that are doing all the work.
Bibs and thermal tights are a very good way to keep comfortable in winter, offering manoeuvrability, high levels of wicking and good levels of warmth. Leg warmers offer good interim protection, a great way to prolong the useful life of your summer gear and are very handy to slip on if the weather turns nastier mid-ride.
|Altura Winter Cruiser tights||Endura Stealth Lite Tights|
Cycling trousers offer a less cycle specific ‘style’ (for those with an in built fear of Lycra), but offer less wicking. Cycling over trousers are a popular option for commuters in particular, fitting over your base layer (or even work trousers) to keep whatever you’ve got on underneath from getting muddy/wet/torn and providing an extra layer of warmth. Good cycling bottoms will provide some vital reflectivity and have a cycle specific fit that will keep you from getting tangled up with your chain.
Cold feet can ruin a ride as quickly as cold hands. Thermal insulated and high wicking socks will keep your feet comfortable long after your cotton socks are sodden and cold. Shoes fall into two categories – you can either buy a pair of winter specific cycling shoes that will be highly breathable, waterproof and tough enough to shrug off mud and rocks, or invest in a pair of overshoes. Overshoes generally fit over summer cycling shoes or in some cases ordinary shoes. A good overshoe should either be waterproof or offer good insulation. Again, some reflectivity is nice as your feet are highly visible if lit up.
August 31, 2012 Bike Guides