Winter is upon us! Each day is shorter, mornings are becoming cooler and cold fronts threaten the outdoor fun for everyone.
As a result many new and inexperienced cycle commuters face a raft of anxieties and challenges brought on by this change in season.
Do not fear. I’ve spent the past decade cycle commuting and touring throughout the seasons: rain, hail and shine. No matter the weather I would be out there on my bike, riding to wherever I needed to go. So it stands to reason that I have learnt a few hard lessons and picked a few handy tips from fellow cycle commuters in this time.
In the interest of promoting year-round cycling, these are my top 10 tips on how to survive winter.
1. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing
I highly recommend investing in a cycling-specific rain jacket, a sweat-wicking merino base layer, rain pants and waterproof shoes or shoe covers if your area is prone to sudden downpours. Be warned that even the best waterproof clothing will get steamy once you’re moving, so it’s best to pick something with plenty of ventilation zippers and avoid using waterproof gear in warmer conditions. Layering windproof jackets or vests, arm warmers and full length tights will help keep you comfortable on those particularly cold days.
2. Start the ride feeling cold
A common mistake for new cyclists is to leave the house rugged up and feeling warm. Why? Because after five minutes of riding they will be drenched with sweat and overheating as they warm up. It’s a delicate balance and will take a few test rides to perfect.
The secret is generally to leave the house feeling cold and then, once you are moving, you will be warm and comfortable.
3. Wear a cap
My number one favourite piece of cycle clothing is the humble cycle cap. I have a collection of caps to suit different seasons and weather conditions. In winter I usually wear a cotton or woollen cap. The cap will help keep you warm and also reduce sun glare and rain from obstructing your vision as you ride.
4. Use puncture-resistant tyres and mudguards
Rain often washes grit and debris onto the road shoulders and paths, which can cause punctures and increased wear on your drivetrain. Mudguards also help reduce spray on your shoes and back, not to mention keep fellow cyclists riding behind you happier too!
5. Increase your service frequency
As mentioned previously, wet months are tough on bikes because of all the road grit, sand and water that contaminate your delicate components – even on a fully kitted winter bike. In order to keep your bike running smoothly you’ll need to increase how frequently you service your bike.
I usually will wash and clean the whole bike, and then degrease and apply fresh oil to the chain and other moving parts once a week during the wettest weeks of the season.
6. Always be prepared
Because of the increased risk of puncture, I always recommend that people carry a spare tube, bike multi tool, tyre repair kit and portable pump with them when cycling in winter.
7. Protect your gear
Good quality waterproof pannier bags or backpacks will make life significantly easier when cycling through wet weather. In a pinch, you can also wrap your clothes and other belongings in zip lock plastic bags to keep them dry.
8. Light up and be seen
Winter months mean shorter days and often grey, overcast conditions. Each season I am shocked to see cyclists riding on busy streets or paths with no lights or inadequate lights.
It’s crucial and a legal requirement that cyclist have bright, visible front and rear lights. I also recommend reflective accessories and clothing to increase visibility.
My personal favourite is the reflective snap on wrist and ankle bands, as they are they provide dynamic, attention-catching side visibility to motorists.
9. Keep a stash of newspapers at home and work
I would always have a small pile of old local newspapers at my workplace and also at home near the front door to scrunch up and stuff in my shoes after a particularly wet ride. The newspaper will soak up most of the moisture by the end of the day or next morning, meaning you won’t have to start you ride with cold, squelching shoes.
This is possibly the most important tip. HTFU is a common abbreviated phrase in the cycling world. I’ll leave it to your imagination or a web search as to what it stands for, but effectively it means to toughen up and soldier on.
One of the biggest problems with cycling throughout the year is your own mental barriers.
HTFU means you pull yourself out of a warm bed, suit up and jump on your bike even if the weather is awful. Usually the ride won’t be that bad anyway and the weather will clear up.
Hopefully these tips will help you to keep on pedaling even when the weather is foul. Because, let’s face it, a tough bike ride is still better than being squashed with everyone else in a crowded public transport or in a stuck in peak traffic in a car.
Did I miss any? Post your top tips for cycling through winter in the comments below.
Check back for Karl’s column each week on The New Daily.
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