24 Jan 2017


It’s cold, it’s wet, and it’s dark. Winter is a hard time for cycling – but it can be beaten. Here’s FSA’s tips for how to get through it, and come out the other side a stronger, fitter, better rider.

Be prepared
Get all your gear ready the night before, so all you’ve got to do is get changed and go. Make arrangements with friends – it’s harder to cancel. Join a club and benefit from the mutual motivation – and the relentless banter if you don’t show. Or even consider hiring a coach – sure, you could bag some serious upgrades for your bike for the cost of six month’s coaching, but your new knowledge, fitness and focus is a worthy investment too.

Then there are the mind games. Trick yourself into going out by telling yourself that, if you’re really hating it, you can bail out after 15 minutes. The chances are you won’t: once you’re riding, it’s fun. It’s the getting out there that was the hard bit.

Layer up
The right winter gear is one of the best investments you’ll make, and the fundamental basis is getting some quality layers! A good, sweat-wicking base layer is the best starting place for keeping you warm and comfortable – which is in turn vital to motivation. Get a few thin ones, rather than one thick one, so they can be rotated in the wash – so you’ve always got something clean, dry and fresh – or they can be combined and worn together for extra warmth on the days that demand it.

A windproof softshell is more comfortable and far less sweaty than a full waterproof. Unless it’s pouring, it’s a better bet. Likewise, windproof gloves worn with liners are a greater advantage than cheap, chunky ’thermal’ ones. Go for full-length bib tights, and two thin pairs of socks if they’ll fit, or the staple of medium socks combined with overshoes.

Quality kit does cost money. There are good deals to be had, but also bad deals if you scrimp. If decent clothing helps you keep riding through the winter it’s a worthwhile investment that will pay off all year long.

Look after your kit… and yourself
Crashing will wreck your kit, and that’s if you’re lucky – if you’re not, it’ll wreck you and your bike as well. Winter has its own specific hazards, and it’s not just the road surface.

The worst car drivers get even worse. Many drive with frozen or misted screens, windows and mirrors, so be extra defensive at junctions. Cover the brakes and assume they’re going to pull out (watch the front wheel for clues, not the indicators!) The low winter sun can be blinding too, especially on wet roads. And to make it worse, if it’s not blinding for you, it might be blinding for drivers heading in different directions.

Lights are a big help here, and the more the better. It’s worth combining flashing modes with steady ones, front and rear, to combat complaints about both (harder to judge speed, harder to see, respectively). Make sure they’re not obscured by mudguards (yes, you do need them!), tailpacks, cables or luggage, and spread them out: one on the helmet and at least one on the bike works well. In total darkness, the subconscious implication of something very tall is that it’s also very wide.

Reflective strips are very effective, especially around your ankles or shoes, where movement relative to an approaching car is at its greatest.

A good tip for urban riders is to find a big industrial estate. After work hours their wide mazes of roads tend to be deserted, and they’re usually well lit with fairly good Tarmac too. It might be a dull route, but you can’t see the scenery anyway – and anything that helps you get out there and stay safe is a win.

Let yourself go (a bit)
Putting on a bit of winter weight isn’t necessarily bad – it’s insulation, for a start. Eating healthily and well is key to avoiding illnesses that could keep you off the bike altogether. Make sure to get your carbs and protein for recovery, and include a good variety of fruit and vegetables with meals.

Put lentil-based meals on your winter menu!

Think different
If you’re a die-hard roady and struggling to get out of the door, think radically. Try mountain biking  cyclocross racing  or gravel instead. They take you completely away from traffic, and typically rely on lower speeds which means less windchill, and muddy crashes, while more common, usually hurt less. These disciplines are all great for bike-handling building skills, core strength, balance, confidence (and thighs of steel). It also means another bike to obsess over, upgrade and fettle – and let’s face it, that’s half the fun!

And when you get back on the road you’ll feel the benefit; the reduced weight and weenie rolling resistance will have you flying along and falling in love with speed all over again.