Winter cycling - how to stay safe, warm and badass
People might think you’re crazy if you want hit the roads during winter. But who wouldn’t go looney once they’ve experience the thrill of winter cycling? You will probably wimp out during the coldest hours of your first winter cycling days. But that’s fine, we understand. It takes time to figure out what makes winter cycling not only bearable, but fun.
If you are tough enough to enjoy winter cycling you can consider yourself something special; the number of winter cyclists is still few. Winter cycling gives us a totally different kind of satisfaction compared to a typical cycling experience. Read on to find out how simple staying safe, warm and badass during your winter cycling adventures can be.
Rule #9 cycling
Yes, winter is probably not the most suitable season for your bicycle. Roads are often wet and icy. Rumour has it expensive carbon bikes will melt if ridden in foul weather. Many obstacles exist that fair-weather cyclists don’t have to endure, but these factors make the ride all the more worthwhile and exciting. These are the things that make you a ‘Rule #9’ cyclist. The intense ice-cold weather, the strong breeze of cold and damp air and the packs of ice along the road are some of the more hardocre perks of winter cycling.
Many tremble at the thought of winter cycling. It is perceived as being dangerous, scary, impractical and difficult. In fact, many perceive of it as a total waste of time. These are words often used to describe winter cycling; well, often used by those who haven’t tried pounding the pedals in the cold and wet of course.
Contrary to what everyone thinks, winter cycling is (mostly) harmless. The worst thing that could happen to you is a little bruise or sprain. However, it is still advisable to be extra careful when riding your bike through the dark winter months.
Don’t have a winter of cycling discontent.
It was either a photo like this, or a photo of a discount tent…
One of the biggest barriers in enjoying a winter ride is getting cold. The cold will leave you miserable or (to put a more positive slant on it) winter might make you speed up to warm yourself up. But without proper preparation winter cycling may leave you miserable and tired. That is why proper winter cycling gear is essential.
Cycling is not necessarily just a warm weather sport. Many cyclists enjoy pedalling throughout the year. If you’re passionate about cycling and want to go out for cycling even during chilly winter months, you should give some serious thought to getting some proper winter cycling clothes.
Winter cycling clothes will help to make your riding comfortable and safe during the glorious winter months. If may feel like riding is a slog during winter, but if you wear the right clothing, you can make your ride as enjoyable as it is in the summer. Moreover wearing decent protective clothing will help you ride comfortably without losing the feeling in your toes and fingers (or brain).
Winter cycling – selecting the right clothing
Consider the weather
You have to consider the harshness of the winter weather that you are likely to encounter. Weigh up whether it is dry or wet and take a moment to check the forecast average temperature. Hint – get the BBC weather app on your smartphone! You should tailor my suggestions as per your own situation because everybody finds a different comfort zone when it comes to winter clothing.
Add a warm layer under your helmet
To keep your head warm add a warm layer under your cycling helmet. You may need just a thin winter beanie for covering your head and ears. However in extreme weather conditions you may require a scarf, neck gaiter or balaclava. Just remember to remove the balaclava before entering your local bank or Post Office.
Don’t lose your lugoles!
Your ears are the first thing to suffer while cycling in cold weather. So blow the moths out of your wallet and spend a bit of cash on a decent skull cap or buff. Personally I love a good buff. No giggling at the back…
Winter cycle clothing has come a long way since Scott (the fella, not the brand).
Wear multiple layers of clothing on your upper body
To stay warm wear multiple layers on the upper portion of your body. You can wear long sleeve cycling jersey or long sleeve underwear (base layer) shirt made with a with a material like merino, perfect for keeping sweat away from your skin.
Although I’m not a fan of hi-vis anything, wearing a high visibility cycling jacket over your long sleeve shirt can make a ton of difference to how exposed you are to chill north winds. It may seem like a no-brainer, but a winter jacket should be resistant to water if you are riding in wet winter weather. If your jacket has a reflective trim and a bright colour, you can also be easily spotted by motorists during cloudy weather on shorter winter days. If you’re the type of cyclist who ‘glows’ (sweats like a bugger) choose a jacket with zippers in your armpits to get extra ventilation.
Get proper winter cycling gloves
It’s well worth grabbing a pucker pair of winter cycling gloves to keep your fingers from going numb. Remember that even the mild winter weather can make your hands turn ice cold while cycling. Changing gears and using your brakes is a nightmare with numb digits. Normal winter gloves should suffice for shorter rides as long as your hands have flexibility for reaching the brakes. If you’re planning an epic ride then I’d recommend fetching yourself a pair of silk under-gloves, they’re very cheap on Amazon. Just don’t show them off to your fellow cyclists or you’ll look like an aged antiques expert on the Antiques Roadshow.
If you’re planning a long ride your winter gloves should be windproof and water-resistant. Really great winter gloves are essential; cold gusting winds will first attack your hands, and then your mind. And a cold mind is rotten for dampening your winter cycling enthusiasm. If you’re going to mount your two wheeled steed when the temperature hits the minus figures the top class gloves you invested in will also protect your hands from getting frosty. Take it from me, I’ve been in the situation when frosty fingers failed to properly grab the brakes in an emergency! Brown trousers don’t look good on any cyclist.
There’s something else I need to raise, something that folk in polite company might not mention. You need to protect your crotch. A warm crotch is a happy crotch. I’ll say no more…
Winter cycling bibs
I’d heartily recommend buying some ‘Roubaix’ style padded cycling tights or bibs for your lower body. These will help you to make your ride comfortable, and you can pretend you’re tough enough for the Paris-Roubaix. Hell, if you ride down farm tracks on your winter bimbles you probably ARE tough enough for the Paris-Roubaix. Maybe.
Pay heed to your feet
If you want to stay warm in the winter then don’t forget about your feet. Good winter socks will work wonders at keeping sweat away from your feet. Yup, be prepared to sweat on a winter ride. You may not think it, but winter rides can often be sweatier than hot summer rides. I’d recommend choosing merino wool socks, and if you’re a fashion-conscious kinda cyclist you’ll be pleased to know they’re available in a wide array of styles and blends. Because if your winter bike is red and you’re wearing blue socks, well, that’s just wrong.
When choosing winter cycling shoes, try to buy shoes designed specifically for winter cycling. In fact my personal recommendation is to get winter cycling boots instead of shoes. The majority of summer / standard cycling shoes are vented, and the last thing you want in foul weather is more gaps for the rain and cold to get in. Good winter shoes / boots might seem a bit expensive but dear lord, the first cold ride you do wearing them you’ll know it’s money well spent.
If you don’t want to splash some cash on really good winter shoes then invest in overshoes (shoe covers) or toe warmers. Overshoes help to keep out the wind and will help keep your feet dry. As with any purchase of bike kit, buy the best you can afford. In my personal experience very cheap overshoes are about as helpful as a knitted condom.
If you’re caught out in a storm, or if the weather suddenly takes a dramatic turn for the worst then fixing a plastic carrier bag to each foot can be a life-saver. I know of some cyclists who swear by putting each foot in a sandwich / freezer bag in bad weather, but this type of bag is RUBBISH at letting moisture escape, so your feet will be cheesy enough to turn milk sour at a 100 paces, even on a very short ride.
Finally, If you’re all wrapped up and ready and good to go, then it’s time to rock the road and allow yourself to feel a little bit smug – you truly are a badass cyclist Rule #9 cyclist.
About the author
Andrew Culture is a professional writer and reviewer who has been writing about everything to do with bikes and cycling for many years. Andrew is also a musician and award-winning zine author.