For most cyclists, the dark winter months aren’t our favourite. However, commuting by bike through the winter doesn’t need to be difficult with a little know-how and the right kit.
Winter commutes can feel incredibly rewarding. Seeing the sunrise by bike is a luxury a select few enjoy and there’s nothing better than arriving home to a nice warm drink, safe in the knowledge you’re staying fit and saving time whilst the rest of the world takes the train. That, and you’ll avoid the lurgies floating around on public transport (and the traffic congestion caused by all those people who just don’t know how to drive in the rain).
So – ready to sign yourself up for the winter commute? Then we’ve got the perfect guide to get you going…
Close your eyes and get out that door (then open them)
The hardest part about riding in poor weather is getting out of the door – but once you're actually out on the road, it's never as bad as it looked.
Make the process easier for yourself by ensuring that your bike is ready to go before you head off to bed – lights charged, tyres pumped, computer and saddlebag attached. Lay your kit out so it’s ready, and all you have to do is put it all on and head out.
When you arrive at work you'll feel so much more awake, and hopefully, a lot less stressed, having been in the fresh air rather than sat in traffic or jammed onto public transport getting exposed to everyone's winter sniffles. Having a nice treat - your favourite coffee or a lovely refuelling snack - ready in your desk drawer is always a nice motivator, too.
Keep yourself warm and comfy
It’s hard to keep your attention on the road if you’re cold and wet. The good news is that with the right kit you don’t need to be cold and wet.
If you’re happy going for full-on road cycling lycra, then we’d suggest winter tights, overshoes, a base layer, and a jacket like the Castelli Gabba that allows your skin to breathe whilst keeping off the worst of the rain. Gloves that keep your hands warm and therefore mobile are an absolute must – and again we can’t help but name drop Castelli here for their Diluvio gloves. A packable rain jacket is a good idea, too.
Of course, you don’t have to go for full lycra. Waterproof trousers are a great addition that you can usually slip over your normal clothes, and there are some great commuter friendly waterproof jackets. Gloves that keep your hands warm - and therefore functioning normally – are absolutely essential and we know dhb have worked incredibly hard to offer a wide range of options for every condition this year.
A thin hat that goes under your helmet is another useful addition, or you can go for a buff which you can wear over your head, or around your neck, pulling it up over your chin and nose to keep that lovely warm breathe in (though it is pretty to see it set in the air).
Stay visible with lights and bright clothing
Dark nights are foggy mornings make for poor visibility. It shouldn’t be your responsibility to light yourself up like a Christmas tree to help out drivers suffering from lapses of concentration. However, the reality is that the brighter you make yourself, the safer you’ll be.
First up, is a good set of lights. These are a legal requirement, and cycling without them in the dark is undeniably dangerous. There are various different styles – those designed to help you be seen, and those that help you see the road in front of you on unlit lanes. We’ve got a roundup of some of the best options here. It’s always a good idea to have a small backup pair with you, just in case your primary lights fail – and try not to forget to charge them between rides.
You can also add visibility via your clothing. ProViz is the market leaders here, but F.W.E at Evans Cycles also have a very bright but breathable new addition, as does Madison with their Hi-Viz packable jacket that uses Pixel Pot fabric to pick you out in the dark.
Update your tyres
Wet weather means that more debris is washed on to the road - which means more little stones, spiky bits of tree and glass. That does mean you're likely to get a few more punctures. However, if you're currently riding on supple, summer tyres then swapping them for more resilient rubber is a very good idea. Riding at least 1.5 metres from the curb should help you avoid much of the debris, too.
Tyres with extra puncture protection will have some form of breaker belt and often have a lower thread count (though some expensive options keep the thread count high for a better ride quality). We've got more info on choosing winter road tyres here.
Riding in the wet can make you feel a little more nervous - but running wider tyres and lowering the pressure in them will increase your contact patch with the ground, making you feel safer and more confident.
Ride with the conditions in mind
If you were driving down the motorway, and the rain was lashing down and causing huge puddles to form on the road, you’d probably adjust your speed to cater for the increased time it will take to brake. In the fog, you’d probably slow down because you can’t see so far in front of you.
In wet or foggy conditions, you’ll need to adjust your riding. Take it slower, be aware it might take you longer to brake, and give yourself plenty of time to make manoeuvres such as turning in or out of a junction.
Remember that when there are puddles, you can’t always be sure they’re not covering a pothole – so try to go around them. If there is any danger of ice, it’s really ok to take a day off the bike. If you must ride, avoid country lanes like the plague and stick to roads you know will have been warmed by the cars driving over them, or well treated with grit.
Keeping your riding up all year will mean you'll feel fresh as a daisy come spring - and those peaceful mornings watching the sunrise as you ride will be well worth the effort.
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