Cycling on winter roads can present some challenges. It's not always the easiest time - but of course, the benefits of keeping up your normal riding habits far outweigh the minor inconveniences along the way.
Keep riding throughout winter, and come spring you'll be able to enjoy the dawn of summer even more as you won't have to struggle back to fitness. You'll also get more natural vitamin D than those who stay inside, and get to enjoy the quiet frosty sunrises that far too many miss out on.
The number one way to make winter cycling more enjoyable is by investing in a good kit. The right materials will allow your skin to breathe, whilst still keeping you warm. In fact, we'd even be tempted to suggest that you're better off spending your money on new tyres and a quality jacket that a new bike at this time of year - you're more likely to get the miles in, anyway.
Knowing how to negotiate the roads in winter will always help as well. Here are our top tips...
Winter Roads: Dealing with Wet Roads and Puddles
Winter generally means more rain - which means wet roads. However, once you get out in the rain it's usually not as bad as you expected! Just remember these tips:
- Wet roads are more slippery. You can counter this by opting for tyres with more grip - winter bike shoes will have a water shedding tread pattern, or will be made from a more grippy compound. Wider tyres - such as 25c (or 28c if they're compatible with your bike) - provide a wider surface area, as does pumping them to a lower pressure.
- Mudguards are your friends. If your bike is compatible, you can opt for full mudguards, or slip an 'ass saver' onto the saddle rails. This will keep your bum dry, and prevent grit and grime from being thrown up into your drivetrain.
- Visibility is reduced in the rain - so opt for lights, and ideally, bright clothing, to mark you out on the road.
- Braking speeds will be affected by the wet weather (particularly if you have traditional rim brakes). Cater for this by adjusting your speed accordingly, to give yourself more time to brake when you need to.
- Beware of puddles! Sometimes you've got no choice but to ride through one - as per the video below where the road to one of my favourite routes for flooded. But a lot of accidents occur when cyclists ride through a puddle and fall into a pothole beneath the surface - so go slow, hold the bars steady - and do not take your feet off the pedals!
Winter Roads: Dealing with Gravel and Grit
The rain mentioned above has an irritating habit of washing more grit and grime onto the roads. To add to the struggle, councils tend to grit roads to prevent ice from causing chaos. Sure, we'd rather ride on gritted roads than icy roads, but these do bring their own challenges...
- Look out for gravel, and avoid riding over large patches where you can, particularly on corners where your stability isn't at its best.
- If you have to ride over a patch of gravel, hold the bars firmly and pedal decisively - thing strong and sturdy, not wobbly.
- Try to stick to the '1.5-metre' rule - that is, ride 1.5 metres from the curb. Gravel and debris generally get washed up onto the side of the road, so the closer you are to the curb, the more exposed you are.
- Gravel, grit (particularly grit) and general road debris do a great job to exfoliate your drivetrain. That's not a good thing and will reduce the life expectancy of your components. Give your bike a good clean after rides, with a special focus on the chain, rims and brake pads - grit caught between rim and brake pad can scour the rim.
Winter Roads: Dealing with Snow and Ice
In the cases of rain and grit, we certainly wouldn't suggest you avoid riding your bike outside. When we get to snow and ice, things get a little bit more complicated. You can really hurt yourself if you slip on black ice, and we don't want that. If temperatures are below zero, and there are warnings of ice we would suggest you seriously consider taking your riding indoors. However, if you must ride, or think it's 'probably ok' and worth the risk - then remember these guidelines...
- Traffic warms the road and melts ice. So as much as we love a scenic ride, stick to more widely used roads on very cold days.
- Overhanging trees will prevent the ice below from melting, so beware of covered country lanes.
- Watch out for puddles, and the area around them. Very often, most of the road will be fine - but a thin layer of water around the edge of a puddle can be lethal.
- If you're not going to work that day, and can ride at any time - go later in the day! In this instance, it's well worth finding something else to do whilst the mercury rises.
- If you regularly ride in snowy or icy conditions, check out some of the studded tyres available, such as Schwalbe's Marathon Winter Performance Rigid Road Tyre.
Winter riding can be absolute bliss if you're cuddled up in a nice warm kit and can enjoy the sights of the season. Just remember to adjust your riding in line, and you'll have a great time.
For more motivational articles to keep you going all season, check out our 'Motivember' section.