Winter cycling: 15 essential tips to keep you safe & motivated
Winter is a great time to be a bike rider, yes really.
For us, some of our most memorable rides have been winter ones. There is no pressure of competition just the camaraderie of riding with your mates.
The café stops are more appreciated than ever before and whilst hard at the time it is often the toughest days with the hardest of weather conditions and multiple punctures that you remember the longest.
You especially remember the post-ride steaming mug of hot chocolate. This is where character is born, fitness is built and our weird appetite for suffering gets satisfied.
With these 15 tips you will be able to maintain your outdoor riding through the winter months which is great for your fitness, motivation, bike handling skills and even your mental health. Nothing beats an outdoor ride on a cold but bright winter’s day.
There's no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong kit... If you have the right kit, and are mentally as well as physically prepared, you may find yourself loving winter rides just as much as we do!
1. What to wear for winter cycling
Layer up: Having the right winter clothing will totally transform your attitude to the weather. Modern good quality fabrics mean you can stay warm and dry like never before.
Icy hands and feet are pretty much a thing of the past. Yes, technical kit is expensive, but it is also an investment in your fitness and ability to ride 365 days per year.
It’s basically like buying yourself extra riding time. The trick is to build yourself a winter wardrobe, starting with a range of base layers suitable for a wide range of conditions.
Bib tights are an absolute must, as is a great winter jacket; most are now versatile enough to be worn in nearly all conditions depending on how you layer your body underneath.
Know your materials: Technical materials have been designed to wick sweat away from your skin, keeping you dry, whilst preventing water coming in from the outside.
Some materials (such as cotton and fleece) are not suitable for winter cycling as they hold onto your sweat. Look for breathability ratings for your outer layers before you buy, particularly if you intend to train hard, as you will still sweat in winter and no one needs to feel like a boil-in-the bag.
Base layers: What you wear next to your skin can have a huge impact on your overall warmth. Have a wide selection for different conditions and double up on really cold days. Remember, for your next to skin layer to be effective it also needs to be snug-fitting.
Keep feet and hands warm: Don’t forget hands, feet and head.
Buy the best quality cycling gloves you can afford as cold hands can make your ride miserable as well as making shifting and braking harder to do. Wearing something under your helmet to keep the heat in is also really important, we like a good thermal cap and a merino wool snood.
Protect your eyes: They were never designed to travel at speed nor deal with road-spray and winter road-grit. Clear lenses are good for all conditions and amber or red light-enhancing lenses can make a dull day seem brighter too - literally rose-tinted glasses.
Winter Clothing Essentials:
Waterproof jacket, windproof jacket, thermal bib tights, thermal/wicking undervest, windproof gilet/jersey, overshoes, windproof/thermal gloves, clear glasses, under helmet cap
2. Eating and drinking
Choose nutrition with winter-friendly textures & big motivating flavours: On a cold winter ride food is so much more than fuel. It rewards us, motivates us and keeps us moving.
No one wants to reach into their back pocket for some stiff flavourless cardboard, full of synthetic mush – where's the satisfaction in that?
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Winter food has to really hit the spot with mouth-watering flavours that are incredibly delicious and provide a big boost to morale and power - to warm us up and keep the legs turning, naturally.
Shivering can burn through muscle glycogen at a ridiculous rate and if you get cold the easiest way to warm up is by eating, as digestion raises your body temperature.
Choose bars that remain soft even when in your back pocket. That is one of the things we love about our energy bars, besides their delicious award-winning flavours, they remain easy to eat whatever the weather.
On a long cold winter ride, the heart-warming depth of flavour from whole dates, pecans and sea salt in the Avanti bar creates a real lift in your mood, as well as your energy. If you could get a warm hug from a bar this would be it!
Insulate your liquids: In the winter you lose moisture with every exhalation of warm air from your lungs, so whilst you might think you don’t need to drink as much as in summer, you definitely do. An insulated water bottle can help keep the chill off your fluids and make them easier to drink.
Enjoy café stops: Café stops are a bit more than just re-fuelling, they are an intrinsic part of the sociability of winter riding.
Try to also use them as an opportunity to warm-up or dry out. Strip off your layers so you feel the difference when you pop them back on to head back out.
Sit back and relax with a great cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate and enjoy the rosy glow of your cheeks whilst you restore & re-energise.
Bike lights are useful in poor conditions, as well as at night time, so it is worth having them on your bike and ready to go at all times in the winter. There is a huge selection to choose from.
Our recommendation is to invest in a high-powered rechargeable front light to see by and add a collection of front and rear LEDs to help with all-round visibility. Remember to charge them up after every ride.
Night riding is brilliant fun and with decent lights you can win yourself back several extra hours of training time before or after work.
When it comes to this time of the year, you need to switch your rubber.
You aren’t racing or looking at your average speed so go for puncture protection over light weight and fast rolling.
Anything with Kevlar in it is good and our all-time winter favourites are still Continentals - and with their brand new GP5000 Tyre only just launched (November 2018) it's well worth getting some new and effective winter boots for your bike.
Another option is to go tubeless; instead of an inner tube the outer tyre creates an airtight seal on the rim and a Latex solution is squirted in via the valve hole. If you get a small hole in your tyre, from a thorn or flint, then the Latex quickly seals the hole as soon as it gets in contact with the air.
When the weather is cold and wet the last thing you want is to be stuck by the side of a road with a puncture or mechanical.
Fixing mechanicals is already going to be harder in the winter because of conditions so don’t make it worse by not having the right tools with you.
Make sure you carry at least two spare tubes and a puncture repair kit. We prefer using the C02 cannisters instead of mini pumps (don't forget to use your gloves when you open the gas!) plus a really good mini-tool, spare derailleur hanger, tyre boot stickers and chain link - all fits nicely into a decent under-saddle pouch.
Some cycling clubs used to strictly enforce the winter ride mudguard rule, in fact many still do. Riding without mudguards can be seen as anti-social and unfair to those who follow your wheel, but mudguards aren’t just for the benefit of others, they also help to keep your own feet and backside dry.
There are mudguards that will fit every bike and once you have tried them you will never look back. Yes, they have a history of being ugly and noisy but less so now, and there are even some pretty cool moulded and even carbon options! It’s all worth it for a dry backside. - talking of which, Ass-Savers are a brilliant way to keep dry and reduce spray, so at the very least get yourself one of their under-saddle guards.
7. Winter bike
Winter can be harsh on your bike so if you are riding a lot in bad weather having a second bike is a worthwhile investment. This way you can keep your best bike clean, shiny and ready for the summer season.
Anything can be your winter bike, your old race bike, a cyclo-cross bike or a dedicated ‘winter’ frame.
Fit the best bottom bracket you can afford as riding through puddles means water getting in and a cheap bottom bracket can quickly rust, creak, drive you mad and potentially seize.
8. Care and cleaning
We are yet to meet anyone who loves cleaning but to keep your bike running smoothly, prevent excess wear and tear and ensure it is safe it needs doing.
Giving your winter bike a little bit of love on a regular basis is a worthwhile time investment. Grit, road salt and water are really harsh on your frame and components, regular cleaning and lubing will help them to last longer and be more reliable.
Cleaning is also a good time to check your brake pads, tyres and frame as gritty wet roads will wear them down more quickly and dirt can hide any hairline cracks or splits. Make sure you use a good quality winter lube on your chain and clean it frequently too. It may sound like a chore but it really does save you time and money in the long run.
9. Stay competitive
Hang on a minute didn’t we say we love winter because it is not competitive? Yes, we did but we’re bike riders, we thrive on racing! (even if it's just to the Cafe)
To keep your motivation, and your turn of speed, a bit of winter racing can be a good thing. Just don’t take it too seriously, unless of course you are a cross rider and this is your season.
Cross of course is the obvious winter choice and is brilliant for your bike handling skills and your fitness. Track is a great indoor winter sport to give a go or alternatively join the virtual word of Zwift and get your competitive fix in the comfort of your own home.
10. Have a winter plan
To get the most out of the season you need a winter cycling training plan and a goal. There are two ways that winter training can go, firstly you are unmotivated with no goal or plan, the days slip by, the bike doesn’t get ridden and the beer consumption goes up.
The second is you train too hard, focus on racking up the miles and getting as fit as possible. By spring you are peaking like it’s mid-summer and you enter the actual race season over-trained and exhausted. And yes we are speaking from experience.
A good plan is goal-orientated, progressive and achievable; now is the time to think about what that looks like for you, where your strengths and weaknesses lie and how you want to feel at the start of next summer.
11. Ride with friends
Riding with your mates in winter is all about the banter making the miles go faster, plus they can be pretty handy if you puncture!
They're much more motivating to get you out the door and makes those tough winter rides into something fun and memorable. The conversation flows and the miles disappear much more quickly.
If one of you goes through a bad patch, then there is someone else there with a smart quip or a bit of food ready to lift the spirits. Training on your own makes sense when you are doing structured sessions and intervals but for the long, steady miles of winter, company is definitely better.
12. Go off-road
Wet weather, icy roads and dark nights make cycling in winter more challenging. Taking to the trails, hills and gravel tracks is not only safer, keeping you away from other road users, it is also good for your fitness and skill development.
Riding off-road engages your whole body so is a good workout for your upper back, shoulders and core muscles which aren’t used to much on road.
With more of your body involved, and because you are riding slower, it is easier to keep warm as there is less wind chill to contend with and greater body heat being generated.
Exploring new ways of riding in winter keeps your cycling fresh. Riding off-road is the closest you can come to being a kid on a bike again, there is something about sliding around in the mud that brings out the child in all of us. Skids aren’t just for kids!
13. Snow reason not to ride
Riding in the snow is a rare treat for cyclists in this country.
It is beautiful, a lot of fun and seriously hard work. Deep snow requires power, balance and finesse - a real test of your fitness and skill.
Your mountain bike or cross tyres will cope with most light snow covering but for the really deep stuff nothing beats a fat bike, though buying one for our two or three days of snow a year is probably excessive!
Ice tyres on the other hand are genuinely useful bits of kit - the metal studs grip to the ice making it possible to ride across even sheet ice safely.
14. Avoiding slip-ups
Ice tyres make riding safe but without them going anywhere on an icy day is really not worth the risk. Black ice especially is hard to see and even harder to avoid.
The chances of going down on ice, regardless of how awesome your skills are, is high and so are the consequences.
Falls on ice often result in broken femurs and hips, something that will mess up your winter training far more than having a day off the bike or staying in on the turbo.
15. Turbo time, Rollers too.
Sometimes, see above, there are times when riding outside is simply not worth it and the turbo is the only alternative.
However, a turbo is more than just an outside ride substitute, it is a training tool in its own right and with all the kit and premium products coming out right now, it's fast becoming a go-to experience for many... Wahoo, Peleton, Zwift and others are all focussed on making this a serious part of your season.
Used correctly a turbo is a time-efficient way of ensuring quality training, whatever the conditions outside.
The key is having it set-up and ready to go.
Minimise the faff and you have no excuse not to squeeze in a session. Grab a couple of delicious Amaro chews for a gentle caffeine hit to get you motivated, then get pedalling! Even 20 minutes done regularly will improve your fitness.
So there you have it... 15 essential tips to Winter Cycling
All you need for a successful and fun winter of training! Remember winter miles’ equal summer smiles! See you out there.
- Tags: Cycling