When we say “winter cycling in the UK”, what we actually mean is “cycling conditions for two-thirds of the year in the UK”
Let’s face it. We aren’t always blessed with the best conditions in good ol’ Blighty. So embracing the changeability can really help you get the most out of your outdoor cycling game.
The first hurdle is getting yourself out of the door on those colder, wetter days. Dressing right for winter is key and, although how you dress is largely down to personal preference, a great start point is donning full leg and arm coverings. This can be achieved by either a mix of regular jersey and bibs combined with leg and arm warmers or full-length bib tights and long sleeve jersey. Arm and leg warmers give you that extra flexibility for removal mid-ride if the conditions warm up. For those windier days or intermittent showers, you can get away with a packable lightweight rain jacket or gilet. And on the wetter or colder days, an insulated and waterproof winter jacket is definitely recommended. All of the above can be paired with a base layer to improve heat retention. Layering clothing really works to keep your temperature up, letting you ride for longer. Final parts of your winter kit should include a snood/headband/cycling cap to keep your ears from dropping off and rain from your head, some gloves, and some overshoes to stop your fingers and toes from freezing/getting soaked. You would be amazed at how quickly your extremities catch a chill at speed, a breeze is blissful in summer yet punishing in winter. To summarise, master your layering, keep your extremities warm and you won’t even know its winter.
So you’ve made it outside. Awesome! Now, how is your bike? Is it winter ready? A few simple changes and additions will keep you safe and your bike rolling in those tough conditions.
The first step would be a set of mudguards. They help to keep you dry and keep your bike clean. Getting soaked within the first five minutes of your ride from road spray is never fun, and having to clean your bike after every ride just to stop it from rotting is no fun whatsoever. Plus have you ever tried to drink from a bidon that’s covered in tyre spray? Disgusting! Final, but no less important, a point on mudguards is group rides: most cycling clubs won’t let you join winter rides without them, this is for the simple reason that no one wants to follow in someone else’s spray. They aren’t just for protecting you!
Next form of protection your bike will need in winter is chain lube, wet weather will wash it away faster. Keeping on top of this is key to a reliable bike and help toward mitigating the cost of replacing components. There is plenty of wet weather specific lubes on the market and it’s a good idea to switch to one. They suffer the damp better, last a little longer, and work better in colder temperatures. Some can attract/hold dirt though and cause accelerated drivetrain wear if left too long, its good idea to halve the time of your chain clean routine during winter. And if you don’t have a chain cleaning routine, then it’s time to introduce one! A quick chain clean and re-lube every other week will really extend your chain and cassettes life. Most lube manufacturers will produce an easy to use a degreaser and they are well worth investing in.
With an increase in the rain comes an increase in road wash. With an increase in road wash, comes an increased chance of punctures. Cyclist kryptonite. We don’t know anyone who enjoys being stuck at the side of the road in the rain trying to thumb in a wet tube that’s covered in grit. We don’t need to tell you that’s something you really want to avoid. The good news is you can reduce your chances though by swapping your summer rubber out for some winter or reinforced tyres, going tubeless and using a liquid sealant, or using self-sealing innertubes. Yes, you will sacrifice a little speed but its a hell of a lot faster than stopping and making a repair.
The final tip for winter bike preparation is lights. A winter riding essential. The sun is rising later and setting faster, skies are darker. Couple that with road spray/mist/fog all combining to obscure drivers vision it good practice to make ourselves as visible as possible. Adding a set of lights to the bike can help to keep you safe and seen. Hey, if you invest in a powerful front light you can open up a whole new world of night riding. Your normal cycle route can take on a surprising new look at night, taking a break from the turbo and riding on a cool crisp night under city lights can be a real adventure.
Ok, so you have your kit and bike ready, no excuses now! Get out there and enjoy it. If it’s your first winter on the road take it easier and be honest with your bike handling skills, the roads will be more treacherous than you are used to. You won’t be able to lean into the corners like dry weather, your brakes won’t be as efficient, and it will be easier to break traction on the road. As the approach to stopping punctures above, it’s better to lose a bit of speed and keep rolling rubber side down than have a tumble and be benched for a month. Most seasoned pros have learned this lesson the hard way. You have to have some limits to winter riding though, the line is normally drawn well before extreme weather warnings. If the winds are galeforce, the roads are underwater or covered in sheet ice it’s really not worth it.
Take a break, watch some tour repeats, maybe go for that once a year run, and plan your next trip with epico.