Words by Rebecca Bland
Next week it will be December, and with that comes the collective groan of cyclists everywhere, all knowing what lies ahead for the next few months. Fewer hours of daylight, salted roads, and more ‘mud on road’ signs than a Belgian cyclocross event would warrant. Inevitable it may be, but winter riding doesn’t have to mean freezing your fingers off or huddling under a bus shelter waiting for the rain to pass. We’ve put together a few tips that will help you get ready for winter riding.
Prepare your bike
If you’re not resigning yourself to the turbo trainer this winter, then you’ll need to prepare your bike for what’s coming. The added water, salt and debris mean your bike will be constantly fighting against the elements. You can protect it to some degree by maintaining a consistent cleaning regime. Although it’s tempting to rush inside and take a nice hot shower straight after your ride, you’ll thank yourself later if you hold off to clean and lube your drivetrain before beating a retreat. The salt and water can speed up corrosion and shorten your drivetrain’s lifespan. So postpone your own comfort by an extra five minutes, get the bucket and sponge out and clean off what you can, then apply some lubricant (wet lube is good for this time of year) to your chain.
You may want to consider fitting a more winter oriented tyre for the winter months. For mountain or gravel bikes, something with a more mud friendly profile will provide extra grip, and for road bikes, consider wider tyres if your bike has the clearance. You should also look into fitting mudguards. On mountain bikes these can be quite cheap, you don’t need expensive guards to protect yourself and your bike, a simple cable-tied guard to your saddle and front forks will be better than nothing. For road bikes, you don’t need to have eyelets on your bike anymore to be able to fit mudguards. There are plenty of decent options that can be mounted via rubber straps, which means they’re easy to take off once spring rolls around. In fact, they’re often a condition of riding with a club, as they protect the rider behind from the spray from your wheels.
See and be seen
If you’re planning on doing any riding in the dark or towards sunrise and sunset, a good pair of lights is vital. Not only are you increasing your visibility on the road or trail, but they’re a legal requirement in the dark. You don’t necessarily need a 10,000-lumen front light, nor do you need to spend a fortune, but you will need to consider the conditions you’ll be riding in. If you’re in a built-up area with streetlights along the route, you don’t need as many lumens at your disposal as you’d need in country lanes.
Look for lights with rechargeable batteries and have secure mounting systems that will fit your bike, i.e. if your frame is carbon and the tubes have an aero profile, you’ll need lights that are designed to fit.
NB. It’s now thought wise to have a flashing red rear light attached at all times, regardless of the season or time of day – all the more reason to choose rechargeable lights.
Change up your riding
If your regular type of riding starts to look as unappealing as spending four hours tied to the turbo trainer, then consider making a change. Do you normally ride on the road? Consider hiring a mountain bike and get yourself over to a trail centre. Mountain biking is great for improving your bike handling skills and training different muscles than your road bike (hello upper body strength). Likewise, if you’re normally shredding the trails, riding a road bike through winter is a great way to improve your aerobic base.
Discover the sophisticated art of layering
Preparing for winter riding isn’t just about making sure your bike is ready to handle the harsh weather. It can take a lot of mental strength to will yourself out of the door on a day when the wind is blowing and the rain is cold enough to freeze your fingers to the handlebars. Now is the time to learn how to layer properly, so you can stay warm and dry (well, as much as is possible in Britain) while you get your miles in.
Layering becomes a real skill during winter. You might never perfect it, but it’s always better to be too warm and be able to remove items of clothing than it is realising you’re too cold and miles away from home. Merino wool items and other thermal materials make layering much easier and more manageable when the mercury dips. For road riders, investing in a decent pair of overshoes will keep your feet dryer and warmer for longer. Mountain bikers may want to consider trousers rather than relying on the warmth of knee pads to tide you over, and a decent pair of shoes will go a long way to prevent wet feet.
And of course, if you can’t face the outdoors this winter there is always…the turbo trainer. But wherever you decide to ride this winter make sure your bike is covered against all eventualities with specialist home insurance for cycling.