Cycling in the winter can be tough on the mind and body, but provided you are adequately prepared, cycling at this time of year doesn't need to be full of suffering: it can actually be enjoyable. Here are six tips to help you prepare for a winter of cycling. And you never know, you might actually enjoy it.
Keeping wrapped up against the cold is obviously high on the agenda at this time of year. Cycle clothing has improved significantly over the last couple of decades, with more advanced fabrics and better design making it easier to tackle the wide range of conditions that cyclists have to cope with. Layering up, with a base layer, mid-layer and jacket a good way to tackle the cold. A good winter jacket is a smart investment if you plan a winter of cycling, and one that keeps the cold and wind at bay will make cycling much more comfortable. Don't forget the extremities; winter gloves for the hands, thick socks over the feet and overshoes, a hat under your helmet and a Buff around the neck to keep icy draughts out will all keep you wrapped up against the bitter cold.
Wet weather can pose a challenge to cyclists, staying dry isn't easy. There are several steps you can take, but while they might not eliminate the risk of getting damp, will delay the inevitable. Mudguards are a favourite at road.cc, from simple clip-on ‘guards to proper full-length mudguards. They keep much of the road spray from soaking your shoes, legs and bum. Mudguards don’t protect you from falling rain, so look for a waterproof jacket that can be worn over your other layers. There are many different waterproof fabrics and they all claim different levels of waterproofness and breathability, and typically the more you pay, the better the performance. Don’t forget essentials like waterproof gloves, socks and tights or trousers as well if you’re determined to not let the wet weather prevent you getting out on the bike.
Bikes are very sturdy things but riding one through typical winter weather can soon take its toll on all those moving parts. Our advice is to regularly clean your bike and preferably as soon after a ride as you can. The roads are generally covered in grit, mud, salt and oil at this time of year, and that all mixes together to form a grinding paste that can quickly lead to a deterioration in performance, with gears, brakes and bearings at the mercy of the winter weather. After a wash with some hot soapy water and a brush and sponge, treat all the moving parts, like the chain and derailleurs, to some good quality chain oil. It’s a small investment of time and money but one that will help to keep your expensive bicycle working smoothly, and means that next time you want to go for a ride, your bike won't be seized up.
Riding in the winter can really challenge your love for cycling, so one method to boost your motivation is to get on a social training website like Strava (other websites are available). Logging your rides can help you keep track of your weekly distance and riding pace and gives you a goal that helps you find the motivation to head outdoors when you might otherwise be tempted to cancel. The social comradery can really help motivate you to keep cycling through the winter, with challenges like the now famous Rapha Festive 500 a proven way to help you cycle through the winter.
It’s likely you’ll be doing the majority of your riding in the dark at this time of year, especially if you commute to work most days. It doesn’t cost a lot for a decent set of lights these days and most can easily be charged from a computer, so you need never get caught short without any lights. As well as lighting yourself up, clothing with lots of reflective details is a sensible idea as it helps you to stand out and ensure other road users (hopefully) see you. Overshoes and gloves designed for winter often come with reflective details. You can also add reflective tape to your bicycle - mudguards are an ideal place to add some reflective tape.
If you really can’t face the winter weather, then you can take your cycling indoors. Sometimes, when the weather is really bad, especially if the roads are icy, it can be safest to skip an outdoor bike road and do a session in the comfort of your living room/kitchen/shed/garage. Turbo trainers and rollers, which allow you to ride on the spot, don’t have to cost a fortune and allow you to keep up your riding even if you can’t face cold/dark/ice/snow/rain one more time. And with new apps like Zwift and the popular Sufferfest, training indoors needn't be boring or dull.
What gets you through the winter?
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.