Don’t leave your bike to collect dust in your garage at the first sign of winter. Embrace cold-weather riding and stay warm on the bike with these winter cycling tips for beginners.
This time last year, I was gearing up for my first winter as a cyclist.
I was pretty confused by all the conflicting information about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Not to mention all the new gear I apparently needed. I didn’t want to be sold a load of stuff I wouldn’t use, so I decided to ignore advice and just go for it.
And “going for it” meant putting gym leggings under bib shorts, throwing on a jumper and wearing a pair of large fingerless gloves my Dad said he no longer wanted. I figured I could wrap up and I’d be good to go! Right?
My approach was pathetic. But probably normal for many unknowing new cyclists out there.
I suffered a few really miserable rides (one or two left me nearly hanging up my bike until the warm weather returned) and ultimately, doing zero prep for cycling in cold and wet conditions had a negative impact on my cycling confidence.
As it turns out though, a few cycle wardrobe upgrades and a little brushing up on your knowledge is all it takes to enjoy riding in winter.
Because honestly, cycling at this time of year can be really rewarding. The health benefits of cycling are boosted during the colder months, you burn more calories, AND you’re avoiding public transport where every other traveller has a cold. Not to mention the satisfying feeling of being out in the crisp morning air with the winter sunshine on your back.
So, to help the thousands of other new cyclists who’ll be experiencing their first winter on the bike this year, I asked three cycling experts who’ve braved many a winter ride for their advice – and it’s well worth paying attention to.
So, get prepared for winter like a pro, with these practical and easy-to-follow tips. Think of this as your quick start guide to winter cycling.
DO invest in winter cycle clothing
First thing’s first, buy yourself some decent winter cycling kit. Don’t be tempted to throw on a thick fleece or raid your other sportswear. Cycle clothing is built for your position on the bike and comfort and over long rides.
Your usual sportswear won’t cut it, agrees Sealskinz ambassador Jessica Strange: “It’s important to keep your muscles warm while riding, both for performance and comfort. Cycling, unlike activities such as running, keeps your body in a fixed position, meaning layering and choosing winter-specific apparel is the best bet when the temperature is low.”
“The key things to look out for in cycling clothing for winter are windproof, waterproof, thermal and breathability properties,” says Gethin Jones at Sigma Sports.
Rob, aka The English Cyclist, adds: “Layers really help to trap some warm air in so if it’s freezing outside I’ll go for a base layer like the Le Col Pro Mesh and then grab either a long-sleeved warm jersey or a thick winter jersey/jacket on such as the ASSOS Mille GT.”
DON’T neglect your hands and feet
It’s probably no surprise that the first parts of your body to feel the cold are your hands and feet. Trust me, chilly toes are the worst, especially when they start to throb and you’re miles away from home.
Rob, The English Cyclist, suggests: “For general winter cycling (not sub-zero) I am a big fan of just keeping my feet, hands and ears dry and warm. If those appendages are cosy, the rest of my body tends to stay warm.”
The best ways to keep your feet warm are by using overshoes. I swear by my Sealskinz Waterproof Cycle Oversock. They’re a thick, snuggly sock designed to be worn over your cycling shoes and they’re waterproof. For an even better combo, pair them with the Sealskinz Waterproof All Weather Sock which can be used for hiking and running too.
DO upgrade your tyres
Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s worth considering a few essential winter upgrades for your bike.
Sigma Sports’ Gethin Jones says: “The change to colder and wetter conditions definitely warrants a new set of tyres to manage the grip in trickier conditions. Speaking from experience, the last thing you want to be doing on a cold morning is sliding down a decent on your new tights because you didn’t make the investment. Great tyres to opt for would be Continental Grand Prix 4 season, Goodyear Vector 4 Season, Specialized All Condition Armadillo or Hutchinson Fusion 5 11 Storm HR.”
I seriously advise following Gethin’s advice. Last winter, I had a puncture almost every week until I got so fed up with buying inner tubes that I decided to invest in some decent tyres. And I haven’t looked back since! I have the Continental Grand Prix 4 Season on my bike which are a popular choice among cyclists. I chose a slightly wider width (28mm) which give you more grip and stability.
Another upgrade worth considering is mudguards, adds Jessica Strange: “Wetter and grittier surface conditions will kick up some spray – so be sure to consider adding mudguards! These will keep your face and bum (a little bit) dryer and cleaner. Whether you’re cycling to the office or supermarket or heading for a long ride on the weekend, the dryer you can stay in that department, the better.”
DON’T skip bike cleaning
Jessica Strange stresses the importance of keeping on top of bike maintenance: “Your bike will probably get a lot dirtier in the winter, even if you’re riding the exact same routes as in the summer. Grit and grime can build up on the bike, especially around the moving parts like the drivetrain. If you don’t clean this off properly, then it’ll cause your components to wear out a lot quicker and may lead to a bike’s worst ailment…rust! Keep on top of maintenance and ensure you don’t let this slop over winter and your bike will reward you.”
Wash your bike after every ride advises Rob, The English Cyclist: “When you are riding in the winter it is so easy to jump off the bike and run straight into the house. Try and put some time aside each week for a bit of cleaning/maintenance. It will help reduce the number of problems when you are out and about if you have spotted them early.”
Sigma Sports’ Gethin Jones adds: “Wetter conditions will cause some strain on the drivetrain of the bike, so it’s best to apply wet lube before and wipe your drivetrain down after every ride. This will stop corrosion of your cassette and chain, and it will save you money in the long run.”
DO carry an insulated bottle
The cake stop is one of the highlights of a long ride. Braving tough conditions definitely warrants a brick-sized slice of flapjack.
You may not be able to stop at a café at the moment due to the pandemic, but a good alternative is an insulated bottle.
“There are people who will get an insulated bottle with hot tea to help them keep warm on rides. Mission Teas are a great training supplement which can be used before as well as during sessions,” says Sigma Sports’s Gethin.
The Ocean Bottle is a great option. It’s leak-proof, can be popped into a rucksack or bike bag and better yet, every bottle sold funds the collection of 1,000 plastic bottles from the ocean.
DON’T forget to charge your lights
“It is so important to be seen when riding as it’ll boost your confidence on the bike and help you to enjoy your ride,” Jessica Strange advises.
This sounds like an obvious one, but it’s easier than you think to forget to charge your lights in the hurriedness of trying to get out the door before a winter ride, so try to do this the night before. Positioning counts too. Check your lights are in a position where drivers will deﬁnitely see them and not hidden under your jacket.
“Place your lights in a beam pattern or in the flash mode you can increase your visibility to others significantly,” says Gethin Jones.
DO stick to routes you know
If you’re planning a longer ride, it’s a good idea to stick to well-used and grit-treated roads in winter.
Gethin Jones agrees: “Personally, I would also look at changing the routes I ride and stick to those I am more familiar with and with fewer descents and ascents. It is in those technical sections that you are at risk of hurting yourself or hurting others. Get in the mindset that it is not about racing in winter and that cycling is about building that base fitness and the enjoyment of riding in winter conditions.”
He adds: “Try to think further ahead and be prepared to brake earlier. The damper conditions will hinder braking performance so you can’t expect to be stopping as quickly.”
Rob, The English Cyclist, agrees: “Ride to your limits and stay safe. Even on your regular routes, new potholes can open up quickly, leaves can get pretty slippery, and oil can be harder to spot if you are riding in the dark. Nothing hurts more than falling when it’s dark and wet, so try your best to avoid it.”
DON’T underestimate the mental side of things
“It can be so difficult to get motivated for a ride sometimes, especially when it’s cold and dreary outside,” says Jessica Strange.
“But if you prepare for your ride, dress appropriately and remember that skin is waterproof too, then there’s no reason not to be bold, brave and confident and embrace the fun, excitement and challenges that outdoor adventuring in the colder months will bring.”
She adds: “Adopting a positive attitude and building your ride into your routine will help you get out the door, even when everything inside is telling you not to! While it’s never possible to completely block out the worst of the weather in the UK, there really is a positively challenging side to cycling in the winter months and enjoying it.”
Imagery supplied by Sigma Sports, The English Cyclist and Jessica Strange.
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