5 ways to keep riding all winter long
There are loads of excuses not to ride in winter: it’s cold, wet, windy, there’s no-one to ride with and you have a stinking cold. But whatever Michael Fish or your dripping nose say, there are ways to keep riding, whatever the weather...
Excuse 1: It’s frrrreeezing!
As a wise woman once said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” And this sentiment is perfect for cycling. Get your garb right and you’ll enjoy a winter ride as much as a Spring roll-out.
So, what’s the secret to cycle clothing success? One word: layers. Layers make it easier to make small adjustments to your body temperature once the blood starts flowing and are much easier to stuff in a jersey pocket than one bulky garment – as well as being more practical to ride in.
Now for the science bit. The reason layers keep you warm is because air gets trapped between the fibres and heats up, which in turn keeps your body temperature up, while base layers worn against the skin wick moisture (basically drawing sweat away from your body so you don’t get wet with sweat and then cold).
For a winter ride, we wear a baselayer, a long-sleeved jersey as a mid-layer, a wind-proof jacket or shell, gloves, overshoes, woollen socks, full-length bib tights and a winter cap under our helmet, then carry a waterproof gilet or jacket.
Over to Anne Brillet, layering guru at Specialized, who highlights why the devil is in the detail when it comes to your winter ride wardrobe.
Excuse 2: I have a cold
If you already have a cold, as long as it’s above the neck, then that shouldn’t stop you riding. In fact, if you’re feeling bunged up, getting out in the fresh air often makes you feel better.
But if you have proper full-on flu – fever, chills, sweats, aches – then training is a definite no-no. You won’t be any good and you risk making yourself even more unwell.
Another common cold-weather health danger is neglecting hydration. While your needs aren’t as high as they would be in hot weather, you can still get dehydrated in winter if you don’t drink enough.
Taking regular swigs from your bidon isn’t that appealing when the water in it is as ice cold as the temperature you’re riding in. So, in your second cage, take an insulated bottle filled with your favourite hot, milky brown stuff for a more warming alternative. Beth Hodge, Casquette consulting editor, recommends warm apple juice with a little salt.
The risk of muscle strains and tears is also increased in low temperatures, so make sure you warm up and down pre- and post-ride too.
Excuse 3: It’s raining, it’s raining
The key to staying warm in the wet is to get a good waterproof jacket. We recommend getting the best one you can afford and preferably one that meets that elusive specification of being both waterproof and breathable.
That way you won’t sweat like a packet of boil-in-the-bag rice after five minutes on the hob at full whack and end up just as wet as if you weren’t wearing one.
Your pre-rainy-ride wardrobe prep should also take into consideration whether it’s windy as well as wet. Riding in low temperatures on a blowy, rainy day means you need to layer up a lot more as the windchill factor will cool you a lot faster than the rain on its own.
Excuse 4: It’s windy
If there’s one element we can’t abide at Casquette Towers, it’s wind. The evil blustery force can turn a flat road into a relentless climb, and the mildest gradient into a mountain.
But, unless it’s reaching gale force, that’s all the more reason to get out in it. Just think of those physiological benefits.
According to Jasmijn Muller, who is gearing up to break the solo women’s Land’s End to John o’Groats record in 2017, “the increased wind resistance makes it harder to pedal, which will increase your leg strength and help you mimic riding uphill – particularly handy if you live in a flat area. Like riding in the rain, it will increase your resilience to tough conditions and get you ready for riding in sportives when it’s windy.
“I love riding in the wind because it reminds me of riding my bike while growing up in the Netherlands,” says Jasmijn. “We may not have proper hills, but those exposed flatlands make for great training. There is something about riding solo into the wind that also makes me feel part of the elements. That said, next September I will be hoping for a nice tail wind to help me break the LEJOG record."
For the very best way to beat the wind, ride in a group and you can benefit from each other. Riding behind someone else will provide shelter and save you a good chunk of energy in the process. However, you might find your cycling mates stop answering your calls if you use this as your sole tactic and don’t take your turn on the front. No one likes a wheelsucker.
It’s also not an option if you’re riding on your own. So, what then? You could try to stay out of the worst of the wind by avoiding wide open spaces – think lanes with hedges instead of exposed moorland, for example.
And for when there’s really no escape, reduce your profile by tucking down closer to the bar, rounding your shoulders and maybe even riding on the drops. If it’s gusty, choose an easier gear, move slightly further into the middle of the road and hold onto the bar a little more tightly so you’re ready to control the bike quickly.
It’s also best to head into the wind on the first half of the ride, so once you’re tired you can then turn around and get blown back home. This gives you encouragement to keep battling, while also having the additional advantage of simulating the speed of riding in a bunch, which is useful to get familiar with.
Excuse 5: No-one to ride with
If you find you ride better with a goal in mind or people to ride with, Rapha’s Braver Than The Elements campaign ticks both boxes. Designed to help women keep riding over the winter, it kicks off with a global ride for women on 17th December, then one to welcome in Spring on the 18th March. Throughout the campaign they will also host Braver Than The Elements evenings with how-tos and inspirational advice.
Whatever the excuse, there’s a clever solution to braving the elements on your bike, which means you really can “Leave Winter in Your Wake.”
Main image: Rapha, Emily Maye