Cycling in the winter is a very different beast to those long, hazy warm rides earlier in the year, when your main concern was making sure you had two bidons on your bike. Now there’s more to think about; warm kit, the right tyres, slippery wet leaves, being visible on dark mornings and nights, icy roads and wet corners. Here are some wintery cycling risks to look out for.
I remember last winter, I set off from the house on my bike with a few laps of Richmond Park in mind and by the time I had reached the gates, I could no longer feel my hands of toes. This might seem like an obvious symptom of cold-weather cycling, but after pushing on and hitting the first downhill, my fingers could barely move which made braking very hard and therefore dangerous.
- Hands and toes take a lot of the brunt of icy weather, and when they are so cold that it’s painful, there is just no joy left in a ride. This year I will be buying effective merino wool socks, insulated and warm overshoes and a decent pair of gloves.
You might find that your summer excitement towards an early ride may play fairly truant in the cold months. Drawing back the curtains to see buckets of icy rain and mornings steeped in darkness can be totally demoralising.
Winter festivities also mean that we are eating more and upping our booze intake which might also diminish your interest in racing up hills with as much vigour as you had in July. The trick is to offer yourself incentives to go out and clock up some helpful base miles which will put you in a really strong position come the spring.
- It only takes one cycle to remember why you enjoy it, and sometimes winter sunrises can be the most peaceful and rewarding. Treating yourself to new kit and organising rides with a group of friends is a good way to take the edge off.
We all know that dark mornings and evenings are synonymous with the winter season and as such, you need to bring your own lights to the party. Even during daylight hours, it can be gloomy with low visibility and having the right lights is so important to staying safe on the road.
- Here is a full guide on how many lumens you will need according to different riding conditions and you might also be interested in innovations like the Blaze Laserlight that shines a small image of a bike a few metres in front of you for extra visibility so that other road-users and pedestrians know you are there.
The wrong clothes for base miles
As well as protecting our extremities from the chill, maintaining a good temperature all over is probably a good idea. Although popular theory says that long, steady base miles are great winter training options, it’s also bloody cold and the last thing you want is to get caught short and overtax your body.
- Multiple layers of clothing are the best way to insulate and if you do get hot you can just pop things like arm warmers, snoods and extra jackets into your back pocket. Merino base layers are great for keeping you warm and also wicking sweat and bib tights with a high-waisted thermal lining are really good for protecting your lower back and kidneys.
- Warm hats that come over the ears and can fit under a helmet are also very wise choices as a lot of heat escapes from the head.
Wet and icy roads
The ground in the winter can pose several safety risks on your rides. Wet leaves can be slippery as can patches of ice or even snow on the road. It’s wise to be extra cautious and look out for potential weather-related hazards that could do you some harm.
- Take corners slowly and carefully and if riding in a group make sure you alert riders behind you to anything they might not be able to see.
- Always carry equipment in case of punctures because it’s going to be so much worse getting stranded on a cold winter night than it would be during the summer.
I have also changed my road bike tyres over to a pair of Gator Skins, to reduce this risk of getting a flat.
All of these winter risks might sound like a lot of work but if you can anticipate some of them the winter ride can be a beautiful experience. The mental reward of knowing that you got up and braced the elements will be so motivating and come the new season, you will be ready to tackle it head on!