As winter approaches, many who cycle pack their bikes away. But winter is a fantastic time to ride, it's invigorating and you won't be sweating in the summer heat. With some dedication and a few key items, winter can be an enjoyable time to get around by bike.
If you're new to winter biking or need some tips on how to stay safe when riding in cold weather conditions, we've put together a list of things you should do before heading outside into the frosty environment. Whether it's buying gear that will keep you warm and dry, taking care not to catch hypothermia or just finding routes with less traffic, being prepared for all eventualities will help make sure your next ride is an enjoyable experience!
Ease yourself into it
If you are new to winter cycling and aren't too sure about it, start off committing to 2 or 3 days a week. This way you can choose the better weather days and grow your confidence in your kit and knowledge of what to wear for different temperatures and conditions.
What do you need to cycle in winter?
First off you will need lights, the days are short so it's likely you'll be cycling in the dark. It's also a legal requirement between dusk and dawn to have lights on your bike.
There are 2 types of lights for bikes. Lights to be seen, these help other road users see you. They great for those who cycle in cities where it's well lit. The other type flights are lights to see by. These are more powerful, brighter lights for those that cycle on unlit roads or paths and need their bike light to light the way for them.
It's also good to have a backup set of lights in case your battery runs out or you forget to charge them. Or you could get a set of Reelight NOVA lights. These lights are different from any other lights because they never need to be charged, they stay on your bike, and just work when you ride using a contactless, frictionless dynamo. They are the most faff free lights we know of at a reasonable price, and that's why we love them so much.
What to wear?
In terms of clothing, you'll want to have protection from the wind and rain. The most important thing to remember is layers are key- you can always remove them if you get too hot, but it's harder to add layers when you're already cold.
Just be careful not to overdress. Expect to be a tad cool for the first few minutes of a ride until you get those legs moving and heart pumping.
Everyone is different as to how much they sweat when they ride, and depending on your route or if you ride an e-bike this can vary a lot, so it will take a little experimenting to find out what works for you, but here are the basics.
Key items to have for layering are a neckwarmer, something to cover your head or ears, a jacket with wind protection and a rainproof jacket that fits over your layers. The People's Poncho is a great option for year-round rain protection because it fits over anything and covers your legs, keeping them dry too.
Next, you'll want to make sure you have a pair of thick socks, we recommend something made with merino wool like the Defeet Woolie Boolie socks, as merino wool wicks sweat away and keeps odours to a minimum with its natural anti-odour properties.
For really wet weather waterproof boots or shoe covers like Footerienes will keep your feet dry from rain and spray from the road.
Lastly, winter biking can be hard on your hands so it's good to have gloves with good wind protection and waterproofing. Also, look for added grip on the fingers and palm to stop your fingers from slipping on your brake levers.
Tip: Keep a box with all your winter goodies in a convenient place by the door or near where you keep your bike so you can get out the door quickly and easily, with no chance of changing your mind.
Keep safe out there!
In winter, it's important to take extra precautions to stay safe on your bike. Make sure your bike is in good condition and that all the parts are working properly. Having your bike serviced when the clocks go back is a good way to make sure all is in working order for the winter months because let's face it, no one wants a mechanical on a cold dark night.
Speaking of mechanicals be sure to have a multi-tool and puncture repair kit in your pannier. Or have a plan B of how to get home should something break. Someone you can call for help or a taxi number or app.
In winter when conditions are slipperier it's a good idea to lower your tire pressure a little as this will give you better traction. Don't go too overboard though as if your tyre pressure isn't in the recommended range (found on the sidewall of your tyre) you will up your risk of a pinch puncture should you hit a pothole or bump in the road.
If it's really icy and you aren't comfortable take it slow, walk your bike or leave it behind that day. You know your bike and your skill level, there's no need to get injured. If you live somewhere that gets a lot of snow or ice it might be worth looking into studded tires to help keep you riding through the worst of the winter months.
It can also be good to plan alternative quieter routes so you can minimize interaction with cars in bad weather like heavy rain, making for a less stressful, more enjoyable ride. Though this may seem contradictory to the previous, riding on main roads can be your best bet when snow and ice are around as they are cleared and gritted first.
If you do opt for riding on the main roads make sure to ride out from the icy, slushy edges and assert your position in the lane so cars aren't tempted to squeeze past you.
Most cycling specific jackets will have reflective details, and you can also add reflective details to you and your bike to help make you more visible. They are particularly effective on moving parts like your legs, feet and pedals as they catch the eye better due to the movement. There are loads of ways to add reflective detail to you or your bike, from tape and fun shaped decals to cuffs and clip-on refelectives.
Tip: If you find yourself cycling on ice, don't turn, keep your front wheel straight, stop pedalling, and try not to brake as this could cause you to skid and fall. Slow and steady is key, avoid sudden changes in speed or direction.
Look after your bike
Winter can be harsh on your bike with the wet weather and grit put on the roads, salt is no friend of a bike. Now, no one likes to clean their bike outside in the cold but keeping an old towel near where you store your bike to wipe down your bike can help. If you do nothing else make sure to give the chain a wipe off and re-lube occasionally, it will prevent rust and build-up of grime, your bike will thank you for it by running a bit smoother and more quietly.
Then when the clocks go back in spring, give your bike a good clean and book in for a service and you'll be ready for summer riding!
Tip: if you want to keep your bike mechanic happy (and trust us you do!) when you bring your bike in for a service give it a wipe down to make sure it's reasonably clean.
We hope this article has convinced you to get out there and see how invigorating cycling in the winter can be. As an added bonus you will save money, avoid the dreaded return to sitting traffic jams or crowded stuffy trains and avoid delays due to things like leaves on the track. It just requires a little preparation.