How to Enjoy Winter Bike Rides
Tips for Winter Riding
For those cyclists living in northern climes, it may seem like winter has already been around for a while. However, rest assured, the worst is yet to come! Last week, whilst checking out some routes around Bruges in Belgium, I was reflecting on the joys of winter riding and how being properly kitted-out can make cycling a pleasurable experience in (almost!) any conditions.
Whilst we have to be super-especially careful on the roads at this time of year, it’s still possible to enjoy a ride, whether it’s the regular commute, a weekend leisure jaunt, or anything in between. Here are a few tips for safe and enjoyable winter riding.
Make sure your bike is in good condition. It’s not much fun having a “mechanical” at any time of year, much less when it’s cold and wet. A few points to consider:
If you’re not confident about doing it yourself, have the bike serviced by a trusted mechanic before you set out.
Fit mudguards (fenders) or “crud catchers”, to help protect against mud and slush.
Consider fitting wider tyres and/or running lower pressures.
Get some good quality lights and make sure they’re charged enough (or the batteries are fresh enough) to last the ride you’re setting out on. (Be prepared for unexpected delays and for having to make repairs in the dark. A headtorch carried as a spare can be very useful in such eventualities.)
Make sure you’re dressed appropriately. Remember the old adage “Be Bold, Start Cold!” when deciding on what you will set off in. Bear in mind that on anything more than a moderately intense ride you will soon warm up.
Most of the time you’re going to need to wear or carry:
A couple of layers of bike-specific clothing, that will keep you warm whilst “wicking” away sweat and preventing overheating.
Windproof jacket – Definitely.
Waterproof jacket – Almost definitely.
Waterproof trousers – Probably.
Gloves – Thermal gloves and maybe a lighter pair for when you warm up.
“Buff” style headover / neck warmer x 2 – One for wearing around your neck and another for wearing under your helmet (if worn).
Overboots – A great investment! (If you’re a mountain biker and you´re going off road, it may be worth carrying a couple of plastic bags to pull on over your shoes/boots in case you encounter any water obstacles.)
Hat – If not wearing helmet.
Bike glasses – Either clear or bright. (Eye protection is important on every ride.)
You might not feel that you’re sweating when riding in the cold, but you still need to hydrate and to keep your energy levels topped up:
Use insulated bottles or covers to protect liquids from freezing. You may even want to take a flask of coffee, tea or soup.
Take food that you will want to eat when it’s cold (gels? bananas?) and keep that from freezing too.
Whilst you may be able to get away with paying a little less attention to your bike in the summer, in winter it needs extra love and care:
Wipe down your bike immediately after every ride and don’t delay in giving it a thorough wash if necessary. Pay particular attention to the chain, brake pads and discs/wheel rims, as well as the cable housings and the seals around the head-set, bottom bracket and wheel bearings.
When the bike’s dry, apply the lubricants recommended for your local conditions. (Usually “wet & muddy” in northern Europe ☺.)