The clocks have gone back and it’s so dark that it still feels like the middle of the night when you get up to head out to work of a morning. It’s colder, damper, and maybe even frosty! And what’s more, the commuting in the dark theme will continue right through from October to March.
It would be easier just to jump on the bus or drive into work wouldn’t it? Maybe, but you’ll feel so much better if you stay on your bike throughout the winter and what’s more, there are plenty of accessories to help you be safe and seen.
Depending on where you live, winter can be a beautiful time to ride a bike. Hopefully you’ll ride through stunning scenery, quieter roads with less congestion, plus you’ll keep saving money on fares or fuel.
Get in the habit (and get fit!)
One of the biggest things to help is having a routine and sticking to it. Get up for work on a morning and put your cycling kit on without looking out of the window. That way, when you do and if it is raining, you’re less likely to back out because you’re already dressed and ready to go!
The hardest part about riding in poor weather is getting out of the door, once you’re actually out in it, it’s never as bad as it looked!
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.
Another big bonus is that you’ll keep the fitness that you’ve built up over the summer months, giving you a massive head start when spring comes around again.
Keep yourself warm and comfy
It’s important to keep yourself comfortable and safe when cycling throughout the winter; this means warm and dry but also visible.
To begin, it is well worth investing in a Merino wool base layer; they wick sweat extremely well, never get smelly and are very warm. It’s vital to keep your extremities warm – nothing can make you feel more miserable than cold fingers and toes. Neoprene overshoes and padded gloves are particularly good for warmth in the depths of winter. Look out for those that have reflective strips on to help make you more visible too.
A thin hat or windproof head band under your helmet will also help to regulate your body temperature, stop you losing too much body heat, and keep your ears nice and warm to boot.
Be bright, be seen, and be safe
When riding, remember that you need to be visible both from front and rear. It’s incredible how many people are on the road wearing dark clothing with a fantastic front light and a tiny little rear light, or worse still – none at all! Poorly visible cyclists are very hard to pick out on dark roads.
Not everybody is a fan of high visibility clothing and that’s okay, you don’t need to be dressed from top to toe in neon pink – some well placed reflective strips are also very effective. Recent research has shown that reflective material like Scotchlite is more effective than just using pure hi – vis alone. A lot of jackets and trousers come with strips placed strategically on the material around shoulders, forearms and lower back.
Don’t worry if yours doesn’t as you can purchase reflective slap bands that will fasten around ankles and wrists. If you carry a rucksack there are some great covers available that are both waterproof and have reflective chevrons. This is an excellent way of breaking up what would normally be quite a large dark area.
Light it up
The most important accessory you can purchase for winter commuting is a decent set of lights; a front one to attach to your handlebars and a rear for your seat post. There are a vast amount to choose from now and the main thing to think about during purchasing is if they are needed to ‘make you seen’ or ‘for you to see with’.
You will see various measures of brightness on light packaging, like ‘candle power’ and ‘lumens’. In a nutshell, ‘candle power’ is the brightness of a light and ‘lumens’ measure the luminosity i.e. how far the light will shine out.
If your route takes you along paths with poor or no lighting you need to think about purchasing a bike light which will illuminate the way for you rather than just making you visible. Some lights have the option of a number of settings allowing the illumination to be at full, mid, low and flash so you can tailor the light to suit where you are riding and also prolong battery life.
A number of lights are now rechargeable via USB allowing them to be plugged into your computer whilst at work so they are fully charged ready for the ride home. If your lights are battery operated always remember to carry a spare set so you’re never caught short.
Think about popping some small led lights onto your rucksack or bag and also on the front and rear of your helmet. Lights and reflectors on moving parts of the body like your ankles will help to increase your visibility to other road users, particularly from the side.
Be prepared, and take care
Lastly remember to carry a spare inner tube, tyre levers and a pump. There can be a lot more debris on the roads at winter so you need to be prepared just in case you puncture.
Be sensible throughout winter. If the weather is too bad to commute by bike; for example if it’s very windy or icy, and you don’t feel comfortable or confident riding in, then take public transport or drive and jump back on your bike as soon as you can. Hopefully once you get into a routine it will become second nature, you’ll not only feel physically stronger but also mentally for doing it.
And of course, you’ll appreciate the days where you do get to cycle in the sunshine so much more.
Headline image copyright Tejvansphotos on Flickr.