Winter is on its way, the temperatures have dropped, the daylight hours are limited and this usually means one thing; the bike has a long earned hibernation in the garage or shed until the first glimpses of spring. However it doesn’t have to be this way, with some carefully selected products and planning there is no reason to not explore the winter months comfortably and happily. I am forever quoting the following ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’ and it is true, if you wrap up warm and wear suitable clothing, the fun is endless.
I have decided to put together a guide to help you get through the winter months unhindered and hassle-free, well that’s the hope!
How to deal with different weather conditions
If you choose the right equipment then you can comfortably continue pedalling through any conditions the UK weather has to offer. On a gloomy winter morning when the rain is persistent, it can be difficult to summon any enthusiasm to get out on your bike. However with a little careful planning and preparation then there’s no reason why the weather should impact on your cycling.
Rain and showers are common, so the odds of getting wet are quite high. Wet roads will get you drenched if you don’t possess mudguards. I recommend you utilise full length mudguards to offset the effects of water and mud. Staying dry is again paramount, get yourself a good quality waterproof jacket, overshoes or waterproof socks and a pair of sturdy gloves. The road surface will be dangerous especially just after the onset of rain when any oil build up will rise to the surface causing the conditions to be slick. It’s best to keep an eye out for rainbow-edged patches as it’s a sign of an oil patch and avoid, as best as possible.
We all love puddles but its recommended to avoid them as they are great at concealing a selection of hazards, including manhole covers and potholes (a cyclist pet hate). Leaning into corners is definitely not a good idea. Its best to keep your head up ensuring you look further forward then normal with your weight centred more over the back wheel.
I hate wind, every cyclists hates the wind. Riding into a headwind is de-moralising, I’m reminded of a 70km trek between Burgos and Leon where the wind was so strong I was literally going backwards and the sense of achievement was negligible. It cuts your speed significantly and will expend your energy much quicker than normal. I find that dropping the gears is effective in allowing a more efficient spinning and definitely reduces the impact on the body. Another obvious factor is your ride position, if you have drop bars, use them as it makes you far more aerodynamic and simply gets you out of the wind which limits any drag. Wear tight clothing, close fitting garments will reduce the parachute effect and the subsequent dragging.
Crosswinds can also create problems, so I suggest you learn to lean into the wind and be prepared and brace yourself sufficiently to offset the effects and try to shelter yourself as best as possible by using hedgerows and buildings, if possible. A good quality windproof jacket will counteract the effects and a pair of windproof gloves will ensure your hands are kept warm and comfortable.
Any cyclist will tell you it’s not that difficult to remain warm whilst riding, as long as you wear a windproof layer. In the midst of winter, I usually only wear a wicking thermal base layer, a long sleeved t-shirt and a windproof jacket and it allows me to maintain a warmth throughout any length of ride. However if your extremities are exposed then you will feel the effects of the cold especially with wind chill. Ears, fingers and toes personally bear the worst effects but with some quality clothing choices the cold weather conditions can be overcome. Wearing a buff cap under your helmet and purchasing a quality pair of winter gloves will help. Another area of the body which will take the brunt is the lips so I suggest you use a lip balm before your ride to prevent cracked lips.
The risk of ice is always likely throughout the autumn and winter months and a consideration should be made to change how you approach your cycling. It might be worth investing in metal studded tyres to increase grip or just pedal with added caution, utilising main thoroughfares over rural lanes as they are more likely to have been gritted. Similar to snow, gradual braking and turning is recommended but if you have any concerns, then just leave the bike at home.
The main hazard with fog is the obvious deterioration in visibility but it’s very different to darkness. If you shine a light down a dark lane, the light will make you adequately visible not only forwards but also the beam will enable you to be seen by other road users some distance away (dependent on power output of your light). This doesn’t apply in fog as the effectiveness of the light is significantly reduced resulting in less visibility and impacting on the reaction times of other road users.
If had a choice I would always avoid riding in fog but if you need to go out on the bike then the best measure to increase you safety is to try and make yourself seen. Good quality lights, especially those with strong flashing LED’s, are great at breaking through the fog and warning drivers. Another good option is Hi-Viz clothing which will increase your visibility against the grey backdrop.
Everybody loves the snow but as a cyclist it presents several problems. Falling snow reduces visibility for both the rider and other road users. So it’s recommended that your turn your lights on regardless of the time of day. The road surface will be slippery and compacts into ice so gradual braking is a necessity. Riding on fallen snow is great fun but you will benefit from fatter tyres and bigger wheels (a MTB is by far a better and safer option then a road bike). Consider letting some air out of your tyres, if you ride them soft it will enhance the grip and steer using your hips, rather than your hands which creates a slow more fluid movement reducing sudden sharp steering and increasing adhesion. Windproof and waterproof gloves are a basic requirement, as well as a robust jacket.
For the next instalment I look at the essential pieces of equipment to battle the Winter elements.
Whether commuting or trying to keep fit, the winter is a great time to maintain year round cycling. However due to the shorter days, it’s more than likely you will be cycling in low levels of light or even darkness, therefore it’s essential you make yourself visible to other road users to ensure safety for all.
The law states that if you are riding on public roads in the hours of darkness, then you are legally obliged to have lights and reflectors. Since 2005 the front light has to be white and can be flashing and the rear light has to be red and likewise can be flashing. Where some people fall down is with
the degree of visibility on the front which has to be 110 degrees, especially if they purchase a sub-standard set of lights.
My suggestion is to have as many lights as possible, don’t just conform to the legal requirements, especially rear lights which obviously lessen the chances of being hit from behind. Also I advise that you use lights on your body, clip-LED’s, helmet lights, any moving light is ideal.
The fabric is a key consideration, I have found the best piece of advice is not to skimp on quality; you really do get what you pay for. Waterproof and breathable is ideal but not cheap. There are plenty of products on the market which claim to be waterproof but to actually be considered waterproof, a jacket must not only be made with a waterproof fabric but have taped seams.
It’s also a good option to purchase a jacket with dropped tails which will keep your bottom and lower back covered whilst pedalling. Water vapour escape is essential especially if you are putting the effort in, some jackets have several ingenious features like zips in the arm pits to allow moist air to escape. Increased visibility is also important, Hi-Viz options are essential for the winter months or if you spend a lot of time riding at night.
In my opinion there is nothing worse than cold hands whilst pedalling, I have even on occasions had to utilise a slightly grubby pair of socks as a temporary makeshift alternative. So with the onset of the chilly early mornings, it’s a great time to go out and purchase a good pair of winter gloves, if you’re like me and always looking out for a quality produced, affordable, yet comfortable items, here are some features to consider…..?
Insulation is key to maintain the warmth; most manufacturers will specify what temperature ranges their product work best within. Ideally you need them waterproof and windproof. Freedom of movement also alleviates the effects of weather conditions as you can keep the fingers moving and increase the blood flow. They also need to prevent heat escaping so an essential feature is adjustable Velcro cuffs or draw-cords. Insulated liners are another good option but I have found to my detriment that on occasions the whole glove prolapses whilst removing and its then immensely difficult to get them back in.
Increased padding helps to decrease any impact on the hand, manufacturers recognise this is important and design gloves with strategically positioned pads to align with the common pressure points.
So you don’t have to let the winter month’s impact on your cycling routine and result in a loss of fitness which you probably accumulated throughout the summer. We all acknowledge that it can be hard to sustain the motivation to pedal when it’s cold, wet, windy and dark but the UK’s weather is never that bad and if you apply a modicum of common sense, then you really can pedal all year round.
Scot Whitlock Editor, CADENCE Cycling Magazine (coming soon)
Author ‘Simple Words from the Saddle’ & ‘Simply More Words from the Saddle’
Kazakhstan trip: www.pedaltheunknown.com