By Simon Bone, Founder, BikeUp
6 November 2017
Hitting the open road in winter
While some people prefer to stick to Zwift in the winter these days, others (i.e. real cyclists :p) still like to brave the British winter roads. Good on ‘em, we say.
Winter riding takes a little bit more preparation, but you can’t beat the feeling of the cold, fresh air in your lungs, and a hot shower when you get home.
If you’re new to winter cycling, we’ve compiled a guide to help you ensure you are prepared to do battle with the elements.
Picking the right clothing
How much clothing you wear will vary person-by-person, as everyone’s body reacts differently to cold weather. The key to riding in cooler weather is to ‘layer up’ – this is particularly useful in moderately cold weather as it means you can add or remove layers during the ride as required, and keep them in your jersey or jacket pocket.
Merino wool is all the rage these days – its moisture wicking qualities help to keep you warm and dry, and it can be used in anything but the warmest temperatures. We always like to wear a (long sleeve) merino base layer in the winter, no matter what else we choose to wear over it.
If it’s cold but dry, you can usually get away with a long sleeve jersey instead of a jacket. Combine that with a windproof gilet, and you’ll be well protected from the cold (just remember to pack a waterproof jacket if it looks like it might rain).
A ‘softshell’ or ‘hardshell’ jacket will give you the maximum warmth and protection, but unless you enjoy that ‘boil in the bag’ feeling when you’re riding (some do, weirdly), we recommend you only opt for these when the temperatures are particularly low, or it is wet and windy.
Thermal tights are a must in the winter, and you would also do well to invest in a Buff (or similar snood-type garment) for your neck and head.
Looking after your feet
Keeping the feet warm and dry in the winter is crucial for ensuring an enjoyable ride. Whilst the Great British weather can be extremely persistent beast, there are solutions which will help to keep it out of your shoes.
Winter shoes offer the best protection from the elements, and there are a number of options on the market. If you plan to get out on the road in all conditions during the winter, these would probably be a wise investment.
There is a raft of different overshoes on the market, and although they are rarely able to complete your feet completely dry during a long ride, they will help keep the wind out. Combine them with some waterproof socks, and you should be in good shape.
Similar to the feet, keeping the hands warm and dry is essential during the winter. You’re probably going to need a couple of different types of gloves in your armoury, and you also ‘layer up’ with a merino liner and a waterproof outer layer. But when the deep freeze arrives, you’ll want a nice thick pair of thermal gloves to keep out the chill.
With winter comes darkness. Whilst it’s critical to make yourself as visible as possible on the road all your round, in the winter it is absolutely crucial. So light yourself up like a Christmas tree – that means attaching as many lights to you and your bike as possible.
It sounds obvious, but making sure your phone is charged, and you’re carrying cash is of particular importance in the winter – in the event of a breakdown, you will find that you get very cold, very quickly, so you want to be able to send out an SOS to your other half/mum/dad/willing other if required.
And it goes without saying that before any ride you should make sure your bike is safe to ride, and properly maintained. The wet, salty roads will quickly erode your components and strip out the grease in bearings, so it’s a good idea to have your winter bike serviced at the start of the season and carry out some basic maintenance as often as possible.
In summary, winter riding can be a lot of fun, and great way to keep yourself fit and motivated during the darker months. Being well prepared is crucial for your safety and enjoyment, so take the time to plan your rides and you’ll find you get a lot more enjoyment from them. If you’re looking for some new places to challenge yourself on the bike, check our our free eBook, ’10 of the Best Scottish Hill Climbs for Cyclists’.