Autumn has arrived; and with it, bringing darker days, colder weather, and frequent rain. It’s a season that divides people, but the truth is, there’s something in the autumn air that captivates us every year! When the green leaves turn into shade of orange, gold and red, our cycling routes can be seen in a different light. Paths and trails are usually quieter too, another win!
To fully enjoy it, there are a few things to consider, just as any other season has its own weather conditions that you need to be prepared for.
It’s time to start planning ahead.
Layers, layers and more layers
We Brits really do like to complain about the weather. And it’s little wonder, when over the course of a single day in autumn, we can experience all four seasons – so it can be difficult to choose what to wear when cycling. A proper system of layering will make cold weather riding much more comfortable and enjoyable, rather than something to be endured.
Choosing the right clothing can mean the difference between an epic ride and a soaked-to-the-bone nightmare you’d rather forget. But the idea isn’t to just pile on thick clothing. Apart from slowing you down and making you feel like a marshmallow, you’ll also overheat, sweat then feel the damp pinch of wind chill. Thin layers of technical fabrics that trap heat before dissipating, while letting your skin breathe is the holy grail. Prioritise breathability, versatility, ease of removal and storing, and try to stick to waterproof and windproof options.
When layering your upper body, you just need to remember the three layers: base layer, mid layer and outer shell.
The base layer is the staple of any layering system. It’s main function is to be worn next to your skin and transfer sweat away.
The mid layer is your defence against the cold. Typically, a long sleeve jersey with a fleece lining, a mid layer will trap air to keep you warm.
The outer shell is your armour against the elements. Usually, a cycling jacket with windproof and/or waterproof fabrics.
The clocks will go back an hour on October 30th and before you know it, your entire daily commute will be carried out in the dark. Even if you head out for a ride in the middle of the day, you should still expect gloomy conditions.
Remember that using front and back lights and reflectors on your bike at night is a legal requirement. They keep you visible to motorists and other cyclists and pedestrians if you’re heading off road. But you don’t have to stop at the basics! Some riders add them to their rucksacks or helmets, either way, the more lights you have, the more visible you’ll be.
Have a look out for the lumen rating of a bike light. Lumens are a way of measuring how bright a light is: the more lumens, the brighter the light.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to dress like a highlighter on wheels to get noticed on the bike. Try to combine bright colours with retro-reflective elements, these look silver or grey in daylight but glow up when light is shined upon them, making it easier for cars and other road users to see you when it’s dark outside.
Placement of colour, as well as contrast and even the choice of colour itself, can help other road users immediately recognise you as a human (and therefore best avoided). For example, fluro colours and reflective decals on the lower legs are hard to miss because your legs are constantly moving.
Fluro green might stand out in the big towns and cities, but if you’re zipping down country lanes, it could have the opposite effect. Consider where and when you’ll be riding so you can tailor your look for maximum contrast and maximum impact.
Be prepared for more punctures
There’s no escaping those pesky punctures, and unfortunately, it’s even easier to get one in autumn and winter. Small stones find their way onto roads and trails, and water acts as a lubricant between any sharp object and your bikes’ tyres.
Make sure to check them regularly, always carry a multi-tool, pump and at least one spare tube.
Consider opting for tubeless tyres. As road conditions start to deteriorate with slippery leaves and frost, tubeless tyres will have just enough tread to help on greasy terrain but are low enough that you won’t lose much speed as a result.
Don’t ride in the gutter, as there will be more debris and muck on the side of the road, you’ll also be harder to spot by motorists. Don’t ride in the centre either as that’s another area that wheels don’t usually pass, which causes a debris-build up in the centre of carriageways; especially single carriageways.
The old chestnut ‘Take care of your bike and it will take care of you’ stands true. You should pay more attention to cleaning your bike as it will get much dirtier than it would in any other season. Grease regularly to avoid friction and creaks, using oil-based lubricants which work best in rainy seasons.
Otherwise, the changes you should make to your bike in autumn are basic. It’s enough to change tyres to ones that are more suitable for rain, get some mudguards to avoid splashes, and, most importantly, reduce the pressure of the wheels to give them more grip and allow the rubber to heat up more easily.
Maintenance is important too. Don’t condemn your bike to poor storage life, with rust and cobwebs throughout autumn and winter. Wait for spring and the bike shops may be overwhelmed with queueing cyclists eager to hit the roads, and you’ll find yourself in a very long line!
Taking care of your bike throughout the colder months will mean that you’re able to hit the road without missing a beat come spring. Read our article for further tips on how to give your bike an ‘MOT’ on bike maintenance.