Winter Cycling Guide – Winter Miles, Summer Smiles

Winter Cycling

Winter Cycling Guide to Myths

We love cycling, so it seems daft to put the bikes away for the winter just because it’s cold. Truth be told, most cyclists aren’t put off by the cold, it’s the icy roads & trails or the snow. But the British are hardy characters so we’ve put this winter cycling guide together to offer views on how to survive the winter months. Feel free to leave your top tips in the comments section below.

Winter riding is a great form of exercise, and very enjoyable. The air is crisp and clear, the countryside is white and pure, it’s just so beautiful.

Let’s start by dispelling a few myths – winter cycling isn’t unpleasant, nor is it cold, dangerous or impractical.

It’s Not Cold

Sure it’s cold when you look outside from the warmth of your house but once you wrap up with an extra layer or two and turn the pedals a few times, you’ll soon warm up.

Contrary to what you might expect, cycling in winter isn’t cold. As with any form of exercise, you give off heat. So whilst you may want to add 23 layers of clothing, this will simply make you far too warm, so learn to dress lightly. It is only when temperatures dip to below zero that you need to re-think you’re clothing layer strategy.

It’s Not Dangerous

Many bikers expect winter cycling to be dangerous. They have a point, especially when you consider how hard it is to control a car on icy roads. Yes of course you will slip and slide, perhaps even crash on occasions but you can do that in the middle of summer, especially after it’s been raining and the trails (or roads) are slippery. The trick is to learn how to handle your bike so as not to create situations where you are more likely to slide.

One thing that you should seriously consider, is changing to winter tyres – tyres that offer extra grip, less surface area on road bikes and knobbly / studded tyres on mountain bikes that provide extra grip and traction.

Before writing this, we did a quick search for articles on winter cycling accidents. This is what we found; just 4 percent of cyclists had ever had an accident that required medical attention.

What Was Your Worst Winter Cycling Accident?

  • None – 30%
  • Minor falls but no injury – 44%
  • Sprains, bruises, minor frostbite but no medical attention – 21%
  • Sprains, broken bones that required medical attention – 4%
  • Injury requiring Hospitalization – <1%

It’s Not Practical

Those of us who commute to work by bike – this Travel to Work by Bike Report tells more – can confirm that it’s the best part of the day, freedom from the stress of driving or public transport, plus we arrive energised. In winter, drivers arrive at work complaining of being cold, even with heaters on (wimps), but I arrive warm and alert, which is a great state to start your working day.

From an environmental point of view, bikes are clearly more eco-friendly than cars, even more so in winter. Just look at your work colleagues at the end of the working day – they rush out of the office, start their engines, let them idle for 10 to 20 minutes before getting into a warm car to drive the 20 minutes home. Well done guys, let’s destroy the planet so you can drive in a warm car – haven’t you heard of jumpers?

One thing that makes me smile, is when drivers get stuck in snow. Yes, maybe I could stop and help, but I tend to smile and ride on. Does that make me selfish, on one level yes, but remember I’m the one commuting on my bike in the first place.

Winter cycling is very beautiful. If you enjoy nature, you’ll love cycling in the fresh, crisp air, surrounded by nature at it’s most beautiful. Riding when snow is falling is tranquil, quiet and peaceful. Making the first track on a road in the morning is fun. Wondering who made the other tracks in the evening keeps you guessing.

The other side of beauty, is of course, the beast. Pushing your way through 6 inches of heavy snow is some of the hardest cycling you can do. It’s like climbing a steep hills. Speaking of which, try this hill climbing guide for tips and helpful advice. Yes it knackering but it’s part of the fun, don’t bother getting on a bike unless you’re going to make the effort.

Winter Clothing & Equipment Guide

Wearing good quality cycling trousers are a good idea. They keep your legs warm and help to wick-away sweat and other damp. Breathable fabrics are important, with fabrics like Polartec being the top of our recommendations as they allow you to work hard, but still vent most of the moisture.

Clipless pedals can, in extreme conditions, freeze. It may, therefore, be a good idea to switch to toe clips and straps for the winter months. You may wish to consider overboots, neoprene underboots or for the money-conscious option, just use plastic bags.

Some other key equipment considerations include studded tyres, which aren’t cheap but they should last several winters. Top quality lights are vital. Winter light is limited, even during the day, so being seen is important. High visibility jackets are another consideration.

Winter Cycling

Winter cycling isn’t for everyone, in fact, expect to be alone on the road for long periods. Don’t think of it as being the only-one, think of it being a member of a small elite set of cyclists that ride in winter.

Yes, some people will think you’re mad but they probably aren’t cyclists anyway. Truth be told, genuine cyclists will be jealous!

Expect to “wimp out” on the coldest days of your first winter. That’s ok, it takes a while to figure out what works in the cold, and to accumulate all the proper cold weather gear that is still breathable.