Try and keep your bike as clean as possible – not always possible, but it is worth cleaning and paying special attention to the brakes and gears. Invest in removable mudguards to reduce the amount of spray. Ensure that you have front and back lights, and also a rear reflector to help you be seen on murky days; on these days reflective clothing would also be beneficial. If you have a bike with ‘slick’ tyres, I would seriously consider investing in replacement tyres that provide grip (and should also provide better puncture protection). Prevent yourself being a burden on others; always carry a saddlebag with a spare inner tube, tyre levers and a means of inflating the new tube – gas cylinders my tool of choice. Well worth practicing your first inner tube change in the dry and warmth at home rather than allowing your first experience to be on the side of the road on a dank February morning. Lastly, I fit two water bottle carriers and insert a waterproof lightweight top into a water bottle and leave it on the bike for unexpected winter showers. Always carry a drink on the other carrier – it may be cold but you’ll still need to top up fluids.
There are no prizes for getting cold, wet and miserable. As with most outdoor activity, breathable, layered clothing is the key to success. I favour a lightweight long sleeved top, a cycling jersey and then a jacket. If able, try and ensure that at least one layer (preferably the outer) is windproof to stop the biting north wind attacking. It is important to prepare the extremities of your body. Your feet will get cold as they spin away – over boots a wise investment, or a couple of pairs of socks if not riding in cycling shoes. Your hands take the full force of the winter wind – gloves are essential and it is worth getting a decent pair. Ski gloves are ideal for the novice; just make sure you can use the brakes and gears. Your head and neck will also need protection – a skull cap helps insulate and prevent heat loss. A snood is also a good bit of kit – it can keep your neck warm but also be pulled up into a balaclava to keep head and ears warm. Lastly, if able make sure that your clothing is hi-vis to help you be seen. Oh, and please wear a helmet!
Top Tip – Be careful and treat it with respect. Slippery roads are the major issue this time of year and it is worth thinking about some of the potential hazards in the same way you would as you drive. Be on the lookout for areas of the road in shadow from the sun when you ride – they may still be icy even if the rest of the road isn’t. Avoid puddles; not only will the spray land on you and riders behind, but dirty puddles mask potholes – worth googling ‘Vicar of Dibley Puddle’ if you need more convincing to steer clear. Mud on the road and loose leaves are to be avoided if possible. Be careful on white lines and manhole covers as they will all add different friction to the road. If you end up on a surface which you think may be slippery, it will often be just for a moment until you are back on normal road. Don’t panic. Try and remain stable and predictable – resist the temptation to brake or steer hard to avoid the patch. Lastly, try not to hug the verge as much of the danger lies there – position yourself where you will stay safe and predictable for other road users.
There is no need to fear winter riding. Prepare well, warm up and down properly to avoid strains, and learn to read the road. The feeling of rosy cheeks on a winter morning and breathing in crisp fresh air is liberating and highly recommended. Get those endorphins pumping and feel good – spring is around the corner…