Thursday, 27 February 2014

How to Cope with Wind, Rain and Ice: Our Guide to Winter Cycling

Battling the elements by bike may not sound like a good idea, but with the right equipment and caution, winter cycling can be a real joy.

How to Cope with Wind, Rain and Ice: Our Guide to Winter Cycling
The cold, dark and rainy days of winter may not seem like the best time to get out on your bike, but with the proper preparation, you can beat the elements and enjoy cycling all year round.

With our winter cycling guide, you can still enjoy every muddy mile of mountain biking and chilly commute to work.

Here are the essentials:


A Warm, Dry Cycling Wardrobe

The key to enjoying your ride – whatever the weather – is to have right kit. No ride is going to be an enjoyable experience if you're soaked through with icy rain, numb with cold, or chaffed by wet clothing. It's important to invest in some cycle-specific clothing, which is warm, waterproof and designed to make cycling easier.

Your kit should include:

·         Warm Base Layer – a good base layer is designed to keep you warm but reduce sweat
·         Waterproof Cycling Jacket – choose one which is lightweight, compact and ergonomically designed for cycling
·         Cycling legwear such as bibshorts, bibtights, cycle pants and/or overtrousers – the choice is down to personal preference, as well as the terrain
·         Gloves – your fingers will be icy cold otherwise!
·         Helmet liner or headband to protect your head and ears
·         Waterproof winter boots or overshoes
·         Thick merino socks – avoid layering thinner socks as this can cut off the blood circulation, making the cold feel worse

Lights

As the days get shorter, lights become an essential part of your ride. There are two kinds of lights – those which allow you to be seen by other cyclists and drivers, and lights which allow you to see.

The light you go for depends on where you'll be cycling. If you're on a dark, quiet road, you'll want more than to simply be seen - you want to be able to see where you are going. Whereas, if you're cycling on busy, well-lit roads, all you need is a light which allows you to be seen.

Generally speaking, the brighter the light the more expensive it will be – but lights are a vital investment, not to be overlooked.

It’s also a good idea to carry some cheap, lightweight 'emergency lights' in case your main lights break – that way you won't be left in the dark.

Bike Maintenance

The harsh winter climate is tough on your bike. What would have been an easy ride in the glorious summer sun, now results in muddy water being sprayed over your gears and mud caking your tyres. Therefore, your bike will need a little extra help from you to stay safe.

Here are our bike maintenance tips:

·         Clean your bike regularly – dry mud stuck in every nook and cranny will accelerate the wear on the vital parts of your bike
·         Check for damage regularly – cycling in challenging conditions is more likely to damage your bike, so try to spot problems early on
·         Lube your chain before and after each ride – choose a lube designed for wet conditions, as normal lube can easily wash away in heavy rain

There are also a few changes which you can make to prepare our bike for winter. Switch to hard-wearing tyres with greater grip. This is particularly the case for mountain biking, where you should choose mud tyres for the winter.

Also, although often hated by most cyclists, mud guards are a worthwhile investment in the winter months. 

Difficult Weather Conditions

Ice

It's not all rain and gloom in the winter. Those bright, crisp days can catch you by surprise and are very inviting – even for the cyclists who have 'retired' for winter.

However, bright blue skies usually follow sub-zero overnight temperatures – meaning frost is likely. And while glittering white frost is easy to spot, black ice is almost invisible and can be very dangerous.

One of the biggest causes of black ice is when there's a big freeze followed by a partial thaw. When the rainwater freezes again, it's often just a thin layer of water, which hardens into a transparent layer of black ice.

If you're cycling in icy conditions it's important to be aware of the dangerous spots on the road. Many long winter shadows hide patches of black ice – so try to avoid the shadowed patches of the road.

Choose routes where the roads have been gritted and cycle cautiously – don't brake or turn suddenly, as your bike may slip out of control.

Rain

Although it rains all year round, winter rain can be particularly piercing – that’s why it's so important to have waterproof kit. However, you can alter your cycling style to ensure rainy weather doesn't lead to an accident.

Be aware that it takes longer to brake in heavy rain. Water builds up on the rims, between the brake blocks and the braking surface, making your brakes slightly less effective. As a result, it's always worth cycling more cautiously in wet conditions.

To avoid skidding on wet roads, apply equal pressure to both brakes when stopping, and try to avoid road markings and drain covers as these can become slippery when wet. As a precaution, it’s a good idea to cycle further into the road than you would normally.

Wind

Many cyclists are aware of nature's hidden obstacle. Often called the 'invisible hill', strong winds can simulate a mountainous incline on a straight road.

As a result, many keen cyclists see strong winds as an opportunity to have a good workout. It takes a lot of leg-power to keep up a good speed when the wind is pushing you in the opposite direction.

If you don't fancy such a hard slog, then there are ways to lessen the effects of the wind. Try cycling with a group of friends, as together you can reduce your wind resistance and beat the wind.

Or you could try to pick a more sheltered route. You can also reduce your wind resistance simply by lowering your cycle position.

Obviously, it's not safe to go out in gale force winds, floods and blizzards but a bit of winter cycling can be highly enjoyable and rewarding. Many coaches actually recommend cycling in winter, as it increases your mental toughness and can prepare for gruelling competitions in the summer.

Don't let the rain or wind put you off – get out on our bike and enjoy the elements this winter! Head to our website and you'll find the clothing, lights, tyres and maintenance equipment you'll need to keep you riding through the winter.

Do you have any great winter cycling experiences? Share your stories below.