How to ride on when the mercury tumbles
Most cyclists – even the hardcore ones – agree on one thing: Riding in winter is nowhere near as pleasurable as riding in the warmer months and anyone who claims otherwise is a lunatic or a sadist.
First there’s the cold; in temperatures lower than 5 degrees, your feet will feel like ice, your fingers will ache and on fast descents, your cheeks may well freeze into a perma-wince. Add wind and rain into the mix and quite quickly, cycling slips down your list of things to do on a Saturday morning, especially when the inevitable sniffles start to bite. But here’s the thing; get your clothing and mindset right and you’ll soon find yourself addicted to the feeling of no facial feeling.
I won’t for one second pretend that winter riding is easy but if what I’ve written so far hasn’t put you off, read on for some tips gleaned from my own experience and that of many far more knowledgeable others so that you can emerge from winter lean (ish) and keen.
- Steady away. Old hands who’ve cycled for decades tell you that winter rides should build base fitness and conditioning. As such, you should be able to hold a conversation all the way round, even on climbs. This isn’t about being at your peak, it’s building towards the main event.
- Ride with others. The best way to hold a conversation is with another person so try to ride with mates to keep morale up and keep each other safe. Laughs help overcome even the coldest day.
- Lights. Even when it is light, you’re way more vulnerable on the road in winter as drivers battle steamed windows, salty screens and low sun. Get some bright LED rechargables and be seen.
- Cafés. Cafés are vital to any cyclist 365 days a year but between October and March they can transform your day. Plan routes with café stops so you can warm up and eat cake. Loads of cycle friendly spots will lend you a lock so you can head inside.
- Base layer. Buy a merino base layer. You can get a great 200 weight long sleeve top for less than fifty quid and you can use it for non-cycling winter outdoor action too – a merino clad carol singer is a warm carol singer. Snug but not clingy and fast wicking to take the sweat away – you won’t regret your purchase
- Rain jacket. It doesn’t need to be raining to wear a jacket. It’ll keep the wind off and the heat in because wind chill is multiplied many times over by your motion through the air.
- Overshoes. For £20 you can acquire a pair of thick neoprene overshoes that will deflect water and ward off frostbite.
- Tights. Often branded as Roubaix or winter tights, you don’t have to spend a fortune to stay warm. Leg warmers are a good alternative when paired with your bib shorts and you can remove them if the temperature rises.
- Gloves. Winter cycle gloves are warm but thin enough to change gear without a fuss. Big thick ski gloves will get stuck in your shifters so it’s worth getting some that work on the bike.
- Turbo. If you don’t fancy outdoor riding, get a turbo trainer and stick a TV in front of it to fend off the boredom. Miles are miles and box sets can help the time to pas.. I bought a turbo trainer for the first time this year and I haven’t regretted it, especially when the rain is bouncing off the tarmac outside and the wind is rattling the window panes but you most definitely need a decent fan to prevent it raining inside too!
So there it is; kit and grit can overcome the very worst of what British weather can throw at you and as the adage goes, winter miles make for summer smiles.
Stay safe and when you’re riding through the storm, smile.
About the author: Mark Noblet has ridden the Bloodwise L2P for the last 3 years after recovering from Hodgkin Lymphoma. His addiction to cycling (even in winter) is incurable and even on the most miserable days, you’ll struggle to wipe the grin off his face if he’s balanced on two wheels. He also takes pictures which you can see at http://www.redcellphoto.co.uk