Winter (for the northern hemisphere that is) is just around the corner, so if you commute to work on a bike your life is about to change!
Rides are likely to begin and end in the dark, weekend rides will generally be shorter, and when you finally arrive back indoors you will feel the burn as your toes and fingers slowly thaw out. Rosy cheeks, red noses, and in extreme cases, icicles on our helmets; along with slipping and sliding on black ice, spiky tires, and awkward, desperate fixing of punctures before your fingers fall off.
Wearing 3000 layers of clothes and uncomfortable comfort breaks behind the farmer’s fence are not the things a cyclist’s dreams are made of! A lot of us will be heads down with our nose’s running and wondering why we haven’t taken the car.
A cyclist in winter experiences all these things and more. But we continue to ride our bikes, some out of dedication, some as it’s their only mode of transport, some are full of passion and well, some are just plain crazy.
Lucky for us, manufacturers are trying to make winter riding a bit less risky. This season’s colour pallet is fluorescent yellow, and warmer gloves, thicker tights, and woollier socks are all making an appearance on our shelves. Even the women specific kit has grown as manufacturers have finally realised that not all females are just fair weather riders.
Getting ready for winter is important. For those that have a winter specific bike it’s time to clean up the summer carbon, take it all apart, grease it and hang it up until spring. The winter bike will need inspecting too. Chain needs oiling, mudguards fitted, lights mounted and saddlebag packed with the essentials.
Lights are generally the most important part of your winter ride. In the UK the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989 (amended in 1994, 1996, 2001, 2005, again in 2005 and 2009) “require pedal cycles to have various lights and reflectors fitted, clean and working properly, when being ridden on a public road between sunset and sunrise. Cyclists may also be required to light up in conditions of seriously reduced visibility during the day, but only if they have functional lights already fitted. Lights are not required when the cycle is stationary or being pushed along the roadside”
If you are unlucky enough to be involved in an accident at night, any slight illegality with respect to your lights or reflectors may be regarded as contributory negligence. As these laws will vary throughout the world it is important that you check the requirements of the country you ride in before setting off.
It can be lonely and dreary for those that commute on wet, black nights on farm roads with no street lights to guide your way. These commuters will need a light with a lot of power to see and to be seen. The Gemini range is a great investment and their lights can be mounted on your bars or helmet, so you can use them for more than riding your bike. The Gemini Olympia LED 6 Cell light has a 1700 Lumen Output at full charge and is bright enough to guide Santa right to your chimney during a winter snow storm.
Lighting up the road is one thing; lighting up your rear end is another. A good and bright rear light gives cars plenty of warning and would stop them from being able to use the excuse “Sorry Guv, I just didn’t see them”. Light and Motions Vis 180 offers SUV sized output combined with four different modes and amber side lights.
For those who commute on lit streets a light that makes you visible to the traffic is more important. Smart lights offer some very affordable packages that will last through all types of weather conditions. The Smart Lunar 35 with ½ watt rear lightset gives you plenty of light for both the front and back and removes easily so you can take it inside with you when you are parked up.
It’s not only lights that help you to be seen, neon colours and reflective clothing will also warn traffic of your presence on the road and give you more of a chance of keeping safe. Sportful have launched a jacket especially designed for commuters this year. The Commute Rain jacket has 360 degrees of reflectivity to make you visible in low light conditions and is 100% waterproof and breathable. It comes in Yellow High Vis as well as black.
Gore Bike Wear have done their part for the night riders as well and PBKs personal favourite is the Road SO Cycling Overshoes in Neon Yellow. These boot covers can be seen from miles away and they will keep your feet warm and relatively dry too! Add some Sealskinz waterproof neon gloves to your wardrobe and you become visible even from space. *Ok so you can’t actually be seen from space, and maybe not even from miles away, but you will be seen.
Altura’s Night Vision range has dressed commuters for years, but not everyone wants to be covered head to toe in fluorescent yellow. An alternative to committing to a bright yellow jacket is the Altura Night Vision Evo Cycling Vest. It packs up small enough to fit in your back pocket in case you get caught out in the dark and will fit over your clothing. Not only for the commuter it’s perfect for weekend rides in low light or foggy conditions too.
But you don’t have to buy new clothes to brighten yourself up; you can decorate yourself and your bike with high viz reflective stickers, sashes, rucsac covers and more, be creative and get noticed as hiding in the shadows won’t get you anywhere.
Lighting yourself up like a Christmas tree is important, but if your bikes not prepared for the cold weather your clothes will be useless.
A good set of puncture resistant tyres will help you from freezing your fingers off on the roadside. In our experience, a flat always occurs just as the rain gets harder and you are engulfed in darkness so avoiding roadside tyre changes is essential. Continental Gatorskin Hardshell Tyres are a winter training favourite, they are tough and durable and they also are designed to grip well in wet, wintery conditions.
Make sure your bike is well lubed and working properly before setting off and always make sure your saddlebag has the essentials required for any emergency. Recently a group of us were caught out on a long ride when one rider’s chain broke. Without the means to fix it the rider had to call in a favour and get someone to take them to the nearest bike shop for a repair. So a multi-tool with a chain breaker and a quick link is ideal, throw in an emergency fiver, a puncture repair kit and even an emergency blanket. Sounding a bit extreme, well just think how happy you will be when you are standing on a roadside 40 miles from home to have all those things at arm’s reach.
Winter riding can be very rewarding, not only can you save money on petrol but you will keep fit enough to make the transition into longer summer rides easy. Even in the harshest of conditions commuters’ power on and in some cases have managed to get places that cars can’t manage in snow and ice. It can be dangerous but preparation and the right kit will help ensure that you make it to work and home every time. Alternatively you can just invest in a good turbo trainer and hide by the fire.