Winter is coming. Daylight is becoming a precious commodity and for cyclists, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, opportunities to get out on the bike are becoming rarer and rarer.
Winter is a time when an indoor turbo trainer comes into its own or even indulging in other sports such as running. Sometimes, the weather outside is not only grim but ultimately too dangerous to rely on 25mm tires.
Attempting to cycle in icy conditions is a mistake everyone learns the hard and painful way. I have already spoken about slipping on the ice in a previous blog where my face looked like it had been donated to a boxing ring.
Another time I was cycling to work before even the roosters had crowd and as soon as hit the brakes, time slowed down to allow me to fully realise that I was about to hit the deck at speed and there was nothing I could do about it. After slaloming to a stop I checked my bike and checked myself and happy that everything was in working order I gingerly continued to work. Those remaining miles were fuelled by adrenaline because when I finally got to the shower and stripped off, it was clear that I had taken quite a knock. I downed a horse portion of painkillers before sitting uncomfortably through the usual bullshit meetings. My trousers were sticking to my wounds.
I cannot stress enough that if there is even a hint of ice on the ground then leave the bike at home and do some other exercise. That being said, winter in general does not mean that you have to hang-up your Lycra. With the right equipment you can still get outside and enjoy the clean, crisp air of winter.
Here I will divulge my secrets to a happy winter cycle, born through miserable hours of trial and error.
Your comfort out on the bike in winter is directly related to your ability to stay warm on those cold, crisp days and nothing will make you more miserable than hands and feet more similar to blocks and ice with the associated mobility. With your hands in the wind it does not take long for them to freeze without the proper protection. My main piece of advice is to never let your hands get cold to begin with because then it is too late, you will never be able to get them warm no matter how good your gloves are. Invest in the best gloves that you can afford and I also bought a pair on thinner lining gloves to double the layers.
With your feet clipped in and no doubt wearing cycling shoes designed for use in balmy summer climes, the cold will get in there and convince you that your toes are mere seconds from falling off. A good pair of shoe covers is a necessary investment to make sure that you return with all ten toes. I typically also double-sock and on top of that I fashion what can only be described as a “toe condom” out of kitchen foil.
Typically in winter the roads are also wet so the shoe covers will do a good job of keeping the water out of your shoes. One does not even need to know that water has a high thermal conductivity to understand that wet feet are cold feet. I do know that though. That’s why I mention it.
Hands and feet taken care of (at least for a few hours of cycling in winter) you need to then pay attention to the rest of your body.
Everyone knows that a lot of heat is lost through the head. Those vents in your helmet are great in summer for keeping you cool and cultivating interesting hair patterns but they are your enemy in winter. My solution to this was to take a hat and cut the top off so that is can cover my ears but allows an element of cooling when putting in a big effort.
Investing in a decent merino base layer will help to keep your torso warm and depending on the temperature I will either wear a gilet (autumn) or a good waterproof yet breathable jacket (winter). Take your time picking a jacket to avoid becoming a boil-in-the-bag chicken.
To finish it off, a good pair of fleece-lined bib tights will keep your legs warm. Pedalling harder will also have the same effect. The bib style is vital as the extra layer across the kidneys is hugely beneficial, especially if your jersey and jacket ride up your back when getting low on the bike.
Front and rear mud guards are an absolute essential. I used to be firmly in the camp of hating them from a purely aesthetic point of view. When I finally relented and bought some for my bike I cursed myself for not doing it sooner. No one wet bum. No more wet feet. As an added bonus they also go a long way to keeping all the salt and general dirt off your wet but otherwise lovely drivetrain. Anyone cycling with you will be eternally grateful that you have them also.
In extreme cases I have also be known to fill one of my water bottles with hot cordial and though it won’t really warm you up on a long ride, it is a nice physiological boost.
With all of the above there is still every chance that the cold will eventually get you and when this happens the only option is to harden the fuck up and get on with it safe in the knowledge that everyone in the passing cars thinks you are insane.
When you do eventually get home avoid the very strong temptation to immediately run your hands under a hot tap. Painful.
And before you even put the kettle on, you need to give your bike some love and attention because it hates the winter almost as much as you do. The winter roads are typically coated in a crust of salt that is like a parasite to anything metal. Giving your bike a quick clean after a winter ride will keep it on the road for a lot longer. It is better to do this when you are still cold and before you get inside and have a nice warm shower. By this point there is no chance that you will venture back outside.