Whether you commute by bike, or like to ride for leisure, winter does not mean you need to stop cycling. Instead, with a little consideration given to your comfort and safety, you can cycle right through the winter months.
The right clothing
As the saying goes, ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes’.
So, what are the right clothes? There is a vast range of cycling clothing on the market to keep you warm and dry, and whilst some of it can be very expensive you do not need invest in something designed for a pro-cyclist as there are many cheaper options available both in shops and online.
The main things to consider are:
The chill factor from the wind is increased when you cycle and a windproof outer layer is essential in ensuring your natural body heat is not lost to the colder air around you.
Wind resistant clothing is labelled as such, however many everyday jackets that have a coated outer layer are also likely to be windproof and could do a perfectly good job even if not cycling specific (and waterproof jackets will also be windproof).
Once you are wet you will get cold very quickly so a decent waterproof outer layer is essential for wet days.
Water 'resistant' or 'repellent' jackets can be useful for short journeys or very light rain, but for heavier downpours, a fully waterproof jacket is called for. Such jackets offer a range of waterproofing, measured in mm, with the higher the number meaning the longer the jacket will remain waterproof for. Usually anything around 5,000mm is perfectly sufficient but if you cycle in your work clothes then you might prefer something around 10,000mm.
Keep your head, hands and feet warm!
There is nothing like getting cold hands to ruin a ride, so a good pair of gloves is a must. Likewise, getting wet and cold feet is not particularly pleasant. You may want to invest in overshoes, which are waterproof sleeves that go over your normal shoes and keep the cold and wet out, although as a cheaper solution, particularly for shorter rides, you could use a sandwich bag between your socks and shoes.
Punctures - prevention is better than cure
Punctures are more likely in winter with a greater concentration of dirt and grit on the roads and paths. There are plenty of tyres that offer a high level of puncture protection and, by shopping around for the best deals, they are a very worthwhile investment. With or without these on your bike, just keeping the tyres at the recommended pressure will help to reduce the risk of punctures.
Beware of skating on thin ice
The colder mornings can often mean icy roads and paths, so it is always a good idea to take things a bit more carefully by reducing speed when cycling, braking sooner and with less pressure, and by taking corners slower that you normally would.
Changing when you are out on the bike so as to miss the worst of icy conditions or changing your route to use roads that are more likely to have been gritted may also be sensible options.
Be wary of the dark side
The dark mornings and evenings mean you are more likely to be cycling in low light conditions or darkness.
It is a legal requirement to have a white front light and red rear light on your bike when riding in the dark, so get in the habit of keeping them fully charged or carry replacement batteries throughout the winter. We would also recommend switching your lights on when riding in overcast or foggy conditions during the day.
What type of lights should you choose? It largely depends on what type of cycling you are doing, but generally speaking there are two types of lights: those that help you to be seen by others and those that help you to see where you are going. For most urban situations the former should be sufficient, but in areas that are very dark, such as country lanes, you will need a more powerful front light to help you see the road ahead of you.
There are some very useful guides online to help you decide which lights are best for you. Here are just a couple:
When cycling in the dark, it is also a good idea to wear clothing or accessories that help you to be seen more easily by other road users. Particularly important is to include a reflective component that will make you stand out in the beam of car headlights.
Keep it clean
It is important to look after your bike all year, but having to make emergency repairs in the dark, in winter, takes on an extra level of complexity. The best way to help prevent mechanical problems developing in the first place is to ensure to keep your bike clean. Pay particular attention to the drive train (gears and chain), wheel rims and brakes.
If you have been out in wet conditions it is worth taking a few moments to wipe your wheel rims to remove any grit and dirt that may damage the wheels or cause the brakes to wear prematurely.
Also, clean your bike’s drive train with a water displacement spray (such as GT85); the components can otherwise rust alarmingly quickly. Once clean, make sure to re-lubricate them with a suitable bike oil.
The Bike Radar website has produced an excellent video showing you how to quickly and effectively clean your bike:
Cleaning your bike