Yes, you can cycle through winter!
It’s all too easy to abandon your bike in the rainy months – December and January we’re looking at you – but with the right prep, there’s what you might call a perverse pleasure in riding in the cold and rain.
And while they may be slim pickings, there are some advantages, such as fewer cyclists on busy routes, gloriously empty bike racks and, OK, feeling smug when you get to work.
Check the weather the night before
Living in the UK, we’re preoccupied with the weather because it’s so changeable. Forewarned is forearmed so check the local forecast and pack accordingly the night before to avoid early morning panics and the underdressing/overheating dilemma.
Lightweight, breathable, reflective waterproof jackets are an investment you’ll be grateful for time and again. You’ll want to balance the level of waterproofing with bulk and breathability and the same goes for trousers. Nobody wants to spend a day with damp feet, so treat yourself to overshoes. Neoprene is a good choice and you’ll find many have cut-outs for cleats and handy pull-on tabs. Make sure your bag or pannier is waterproof too.
Your hands, feet, neck and ears will feel the cold most, so keep them snug. Choose waterproof, insulated gloves that aren’t so bulky they affect braking and gear changes. Neoprene is good for flexibility but some cyclists find their hands get a bit sweaty. If it’s really chilly, silk liner gloves will help. Many cyclists double up on socks but that can make your shoes a tight fit and add to the numbness. You’re better off with thermal socks – ideally merino – and really good ones have extra padding and wind resistance around the toes. Last but not least, a neck tube/warmer is a great multi-functional choice that can be a scarf or hat or both. If it’s just your ears that feel the cold, a merino headband will fit nicely under your helmet.
Light up the night
It’s the law to have front and rear bike lights and carrying a spare set is always a good idea. If yours are retina-piercingly bright, do tip them downwards so you don’t dazzle people. And go for a strong front beam to help you avoid potholes.
Check your brakes
As with cars, braking time is reduced in wet weather. Check your brake pads are working well and try to brake a little earlier than you would in dry weather.
Consider winter tyres
Punctures are more common during winter, partly because rain washes more sharp flints and pieces of glass on to the road but also because the water makes them stick to your tyres. It’s well worth switching to winter tyres, which have a thick reinforced breaker belt sandwiched between the rubber tread and carcass. Keep your tyres pumped too but remember that lower pressure will give you a better grip better in wet conditions.
They may not look cool but mudguards really are a winter essential unless you want your rear splattered with muck and dirt. And fellow riders will appreciate them too!