Cycling in Winter
Harsh conditions when cycling through winter is an inevitability of living in the northern hemisphere. It goes with the territory. Clocks change, leaves fall and suddenly, seemingly without warning, we’re shivering in the wrong kit or getting caught out with insufficient lights. As the seasons transition and temperatures swing teasingly back-and-forth from sharp and frosty to humid and wet, so we should also be making adjustments to how we ride and how we prepare our kit to deal with the short days and unpredictable conditions. Set yourself up properly for riding in winter and you will stay safe, stay fit and lay down a great base for the season ahead.
Keep the Extremities Warm
Before even setting off, ensuring the extremities are protected, ready for whatever conditions come your way is key to an enjoyable and safe ride. There is no fun in having numb toes and, more seriously, it could also compromise your handling and safety if your fingers are too cold to control the bike. Layers are one thing, correct clothing choice and some useful hacks are going to make all the difference though, ensuring you can stay on the bike and avoid resorting to an early shower.
Read our guide to keeping the extremities comfortable and protected here.
Light up Your Ride
It goes without saying that you should always have lights on, to see and be seen. Even during a murky day in winter, and certainly during heavy rain when car windscreens could be fogged up, you should be as visible as possible. On cloudy days, in the absence of a sunset, it will feel darker even earlier, so make sure your lights are well charged. Remember also, when riding into a low and glaring winter sun, and especially when roads are wet, to consider your position in the road so that you are safe and visible to fellow road users.
Read our guide to choosing the right light for you this season.
Tyre choice and pressure
If the roads are likely to be wet or there is a risk of ice then you can consider reducing tyre pressure, but only by a very small amount so as not to dramatically affect the way your bike handles or increase the risk of pinch punctures; to ride safely in winter you need a bike that responds predictably in the cold and wet. Consider changing to a wider tyre instead that will naturally feel more stable at a lower pressure. The wider tread will have a bigger contact point with the road and provide you with more stability and confidence in poor conditions.
Stop the Spray with Mudguards
Riding behind a fellow cyclist in the wet who hasn’t fitted mudguards, with flaps, can be particularly unpleasant, especially if you are not wearing cycling glasses. More than simply being a sociable addition to your bike, mudguards will keep clothing cleaner and prevent dirt from building up on your bike, protecting components and vulnerable cables from mud and road grime.
Matt Stephens Winterises Himself and His Bike
Look Out For Your Fellow Cyclists
Winter weather will put a strain on road surfaces as well, causing potholes and cracks to open up overnight. Add rain, the great pothole disguiser and front wheel destroyer, and a route you know well can quickly become treacherous. To avoid the possibility of damage to your bike, or yourself, never ride through puddles that could be concealing a hole in the road or a blocked drain. Instead, check over your right shoulder, signal to other road users, including your ride mates, and manoeuvre around it.
Similarly, take extra caution when cornering over painted road markings or drain covers that can become as slick as ice in wet weather. Curtail your speed well in advance and don’t lean the bike too far over, or you risk the bike sliding out from underneath you.
Whether it is summer or winter, our handy guide to riding in a group will ensure you and your fellow riders have a safe and enjoyable ride. Read the guide here.
Ride with Caution
During winter, roads are more likely to stay wet, especially underneath trees, and with extra debris, leaves, mud and grit being washed into the road, commonly in a cyclist’s riding line, you need to take extra care with handling your bike. Cover your brakes with your fingers and start to slow down well in advance of corners so that you are not braking hard or grabbing the levers suddenly once the bike has started to turn. Enter the corner as wide as possible in order to slacken the turning angle and to hold a more consistent speed. Keep the pressure on the outside pedal, point the inside knee into the corner and keep your eyes up, looking out through the exit.
Cleaning your Bike
Finally, perhaps the most important part of any winter ride…
Not everyone has the luxury of a winter bike, and with winter putting additional strain on your kit you could quickly find your bike spending more time in the workshop than out on the road. To keep your gears shifting crisply, headset handling precisely and brakes operating smoothly, ensure that you rinse your bike after every ride, without fail, whether it has rained or not.
Throughout winter the roads are sprayed with grit and salt that will eat away at, and weaken, your drivetrain and bearings if your bike is left unwashed. After washing, lightly spray a water dispersant onto key moving parts to prevent rust and dirt adhesion. As a final check before you put your feet up and bask in the glory of another excellent winter ride, check your tyres for wear or deep slashes, changing them if required, and carefully remove any embedded sharp debris that could cause a puncture early on your next outing.
Cleaning your bike does not need to be an ordeal. Read our guide to cleaning yours in less than ten minutes here.
With a little thought put into making sure both you and your bike are winter ready and adjusting your riding style to accommodate the conditions, there is no reason why you can't get the most out of those winter miles. Do you have any winter riding tips? Leave yours in the comments section below.