Riding through winter
Unfortunately for us all the days of riding after work till gone 9 start to disappear as winter takes its grip. For some, the lucky Aussies and South Africans, the winter means a midday temperature of 25 degrees. For the USA and the UK winter often means numerous days of the sun barely rising above the horizon, and the temperature staying below zero all day which can make riding a lot more interesting and dangerous.
Wherever you live, however, the change is noticeable and changes have to be made.
Some have to ride whatever the weather. After a few weeks of this you become the hardiest biker around, so it’s raining horizontally and 2 degrees? Nothing can or will stop you from riding the hour and half to work in the dark, also the strange thrill from the rear and front wheel sliding on different ice patches in different directions certainly keeps you alert. One great thing about winter riding is that your bottles get colder the longer you ride – getting frozen blocks along with a frozen mouthpiece deserves ultimate respect. For you, good equipment that will stand by you and perform is vital. I’ll delve into bikes and kit later on.
The fact is that there will be times when you want to stop, curl up and cry to get away from the pain of riding the last hour home with frozen feet, however this can be avoided and there is also nothing that can beat a zippy ride down your favourite lanes on a crisp, sunny morning. That thought genuinely keeps me going, the silence, the stillness, the clean dense air with no midges and flies to swallow!
Whether commuting or training throughout winter, you need to plan ahead. Providing you have somewhere at work to store and dry out your clothing, the miles you put in here can be very beneficial. Early and late rides are bound to be chilly, on dry days arm and leg warmers will be perfect with your usual summer kit and a base layer – lightweight, easy to dry and can be taken off if you get too warm. On cold days you’ll want a pair of thermal bib tights or ¾ lengths if you don’t feel the cold. The fleece lining works wonders in keeping heat in. Most now also have great knee protection which is comfy with its multi-panel construction and keeps your delicate knee muscles warm. On top you’ll want a long sleeve jacket/winter jacket. You then need to be prepared for a wet day; this is where having somewhere to dry kit at work is great. All you need to add to your wardrobe is a lightweight and breathable jacket. You can then wear whatever you feel appropriate underneath.
Gloves are a great investment if you intend to ride seriously. Full fingers are nice and warm and providing they have grip on the underside you won’t have any problems braking and changing gear. Very few gloves, even ones which claim to be waterproof will keep your hands bone dry on a long ride and often the cuffs are still too short which provide a route in for water. The same goes for overshoes; as waterproof as the sock part may be there is no getting around the 4” diameter ankle hole for water to enter in. The worst thing you can do though is wear gloves and overshoes which will soak up a ton of water and hold onto it all the way home. If you find yourself out and your hands are suffering, wring as much water from the glove as possible and ride the rest with clenched fists on the top, behind the hoods to keep water and wind off. Other kit you should consider is a cap for underneath your helmet and orange/yellow coloured glasses to enhance the surroundings. With helmets being so good at keeping your head cool in summer when the temperature drops they can be your worst enemy. A cotton cap will keep you warm and stops sweat from dripping from the pads into your eyes/onto the bike. Orange glasses make the world look like such a nice place, whatever the weather I’m sure they improve your mood by 50% (if mood can be measured) by making everything look bright and warm.
To ride through winter you need to treat your bike well for it to survive. As we all know road salt is very harsh on everything bike related. After a ride in it swill your bike with a hose pipe and at weekends have a proper clean. There are all sorts of spray on cleaners which will help you do this.
If you’re riding often with others a set of mudguards is a polite touch. They are available to fit all bikes, race blades are cheap and work well at keeping road muck off you and people behind.
Tyres for winter need to be tough and grippy in cold temperatures. Continental do the renowned Gatorskins which aren’t expensive and have featured on most of our staff winter bikes. Michelin have the Kryllion which is their alternative, again tough and happy to ride through all conditions.
Lights are vital for safety if you’re riding regularly in the dusk/dark. Rechargeable lights are now affordable and they don’t loose their charge after 8 cycles. With USB charging you can charge them for free at work! Even if not commuting, when training early or late a couple of the electron or KNOG ‘key ring’ lights will do an emergency job if you’re caught out. As a responsible rider here who’s been caught without lights it is very daunting not knowing if that car coming up behind you can/has seen you. A tenner spent on lights now is more than worth being off the bike for 3 weeks with something broken.
On an up-note, riding through winter will make you tougher, wiser and hopefully faster than those who hibernate in the gym singing the praises of spinning classes (although I have to admit they can be useful training every so often!). Treat your commute as a time trial and keep a diary, with head and tail winds changing so often PB’s are entirely possible and even more rewarding when you have a hot shower waiting.
As most of us work, using the weekdays for short, quick rides and then long rides at weekends seems to be the popular/only choice. Extra cake at the café stop is also an unwritten rule in winter…
So enjoy the upcoming chills and spills. The light at the end of the tunnel is next spring when the training and hard earned miles pay off. When you can turn up to the club run on your winter/work bike and stick it to the fair weather riders on their newly rebuilt superbikes and eat 3 times more cake than them at the stop.