Winter can be a rewarding and beautiful time of year to ride. Getting out on two wheels to enjoy frosty mornings, red skies at sunrise and crisp, clear days refreshes the body and mind at a time when it’s tempting to slow down and wallow in front of TV box-sets. For many of us, the festive period means time off to spend seeing family and friends and time on the bike takes a back-seat until the new year. However, in recent years there’s been a growing trend for riders to maximise downtime and take on the challenge of making time to ride throughout the festive season. With social commitments and last-minute shopping, it can take some planning to get those miles in but, from experience, it’s really worth making the extra effort.
Last year, my partner and I committed to ride over Christmas and even set ourselves a target for extra motivation, counting the kilometres down each day. Being based on the south coast of England, the weather can be pretty changeable and we experienced the full spectrum of winter weather, from mild spring-like days to high winds and freezing fog. We started way ahead of schedule but half-way through we were genuinely worried that we wouldn't reach our goal at all having hit a low-point on a particularly cold day which I hadn’t kitted up properly for. However it all worked out in the end and the final day turned out to be the most beautiful of them all, crisp and cold with low sun and blue skies, reminding us why we love winter riding. Here's some of the things I learned along the way.
Winter-proof your bike
During the colder months, the increased rainfall can wash more dirt and grit onto the roads and storms will blow loose leaves and branches down. If you have the luxury of a bike with disc brakes, you’ll be grateful for the more reliable stopping power in wet, muddy conditions. Whatever bike you ride, there's a few things you can do to get it ready for winter riding.
It’s important to consider changing your summer tyres to more robust, winter-specific tyres. The extra debris on the road increases the risk of punctures and nobody wants to fix a puncture with cold hands or in the rain. Last year I switched to the Continental Grand Prix 4 Season Folding Road Tyre which features a reinforcement under the tread and in the sidewall. The extra weight was worth having the reassurance. I would also recommend dropping your tyre pressure slightly to improve grip.
Dirty roads can also wreak havoc on your components, particularly if there’s salt on the roads. Mudguards will prevent debris from flying full-speed into your groupset (as well as protect you and your riding buddies from road spray) but it’s also really important to get into a cleaning and maintenance routine. During winter I use Muc-Off C3 Wet Ceramic Lube 120ml which has been formulated to repel water and inhibit rust. Consider treating your trusty steed to a service at the start and end of winter – spotting problems early can increase the life-expectancy of your bike and it’ll feel brand-new once you get it back.
Riding on Christmas morning is amazing. We hardly saw a single car on our often-busy loops of our local country lanes but we encountered several cyclists and runners, some dressed for the occasion with tinsel or Santa hats, and there was a cheerful sense of camaraderie as we exchanged seasonal greetings. I’d wrapped my bike with fairy lights, but I still had my usual lights front and rear, the Lezyne Micro Front 500/Strip Rear 150, because even on quiet roads a blinking light gives me the confidence that other road users will spot me. Some brands have started producing lights that have daytime-specific modes that you can learn more about here. There were a couple of days we went out in thick freezing fog and my lights not only gave me reassurance that I could be seen, but the front light punched through the fog giving me a little extra visibility in front.
Winter in the UK can be unpredictable and within the same week temperatures can plummet from double-figures to freezing. It’s not uncommon to experience at least three seasons in the same day. I’m obsessed with checking the weather forecast even just before I plan to ride in case it’s changed from the previous night. Experience has taught me that layering is key – I hate being cold and find that if I can keep my core warm I’m less likely to get numb fingers and toes.
I love merino base layers like the dhb Women's Merino Base Layer (M_ 200). Merino sheep have evolved to cope with living outside in extremes of temperature and their wool has excellent temperature-regulating properties. Most brands blend it with other fibres to make it more durable and boost wicking qualities. As well as trapping a layer of heat, a base layer is also so valuable for any ‘nature breaks’ – I ride in bib tights so I’m grateful that I can at least keep one layer on if I need to make a loo stop. On the coldest days, when temperatures would hover around 0 degrees, I would combine long-sleeved jerseys like the Alé Women's Sinuosa Long Sleeve Jersey with the Castelli Womens Perfetto Long Sleeve which was originally developed for pro-teams riding in harsh conditions so it's pretty effective for us ordinary riders too. On days when precipitation was a possibility, I couldn’t imagine riding in anything other than the dhb Aeron Storm Jacket, one of the best waterproofs I’ve ever owned. It’s designed to help you to maintain an optimum body temperature without overheating and this year it's been upgraded with FLT technology to boost visibility on the roads.
During winter I always wear thermal bib tights that have added water-repellence since puddles tend to be a certainty in my local area (even when I genuinely can’t remember when it last rained). I prefer bibs to waist-tights; although they are slightly more effort for the previously mentioned ‘nature breaks,’ having the additional body-coverage makes a big difference in keeping drafts out and heat in. On milder days the dhb Aeron Women's Rain Defence Bib Tight are perfect because I never get too warm in them even when I’m putting in a big effort. For those days when temperatures don’t creep much above one or two degrees, keeping your legs warm becomes extra-important as the cold can affect your muscles and joints. I always look for thermal bib tights with a Roubaix lining which means the inside is super-soft against the skin and I like to wear ones that have clever panelling for extra comfort and targeted protection from road-spray like the Castelli Women's Nanoflex Pro 2 Bib Tights.
With all these layers, expect to do more laundry than usual, particularly if you’re not the only cyclist in the household. I swear by Halo Proactive Sports Wash Laundry Detergent - (1 Litre) for keeping my cycling and gym kit odor-free but for those nasty black road-splashes a soak in the sink with Assos Active Wear Cleanser generally gets things looking as good as new. It might seem expensive but a little bottle goes a long way and it's worth it if it keeps my expensive kit looking good. I also use the Assos liquid for waterproofs as it doesn't seem to affect the finish.
Protect your extremities
One of the things I miss most about summer riding is 'sock-doping', the art of accessorizing with stylish socks that has spawned scores of Instagrams the world over. However, in winter the focus becomes warmth and whatever I wear on my feet tends to become splattered with mud or is hidden by winter boots anyway. I don’t think I could ever venture out in the cold without my trusty Northwave boots. I’m still rocking the pair I bought three years ago and they’re still keeping my feet toasty and dry but the new designs look even better and I’ve got my eye on the Northwave Extreme RR Winter GTX Boots as an upgrade. For socks, it’s hard to beat DeFeet Woolie Boolie 2 6" Cuff Socks but I have been known to layer them up with a pair of dhb Aeron Thermolite Sock in extreme circumstances. Just be mindful that you may need to loosen up your shoes if you’re layering socks – squeeze your feet too much and you’ll restrict bloodflow which will make matters worse. If you don't have a pair of thermal boots, it's more sensible to use overshoes rather than lots of socks to protect your feet.
Cold hands can be painful for many of us and even dangerous if you can’t feel the brakes and shifters. I like to layer up a good pair of winter gloves with the dhb Roubaix Liner Gloves; the extra layer of insulation makes a big difference and if I need to use my phone they have touch-screen finger-tips so I can remove my more bulky outer-gloves without totally exposing my hands to the chilly air.
Don’t risk losing heat from your head. During the summer months the ventilation on my Kask Protone Road Helmet is great but during winter I switch it for a Giro Synthe Helmet (MIPS) and on colder days I wear a SealSkinz Reflective Belgian Style Cycling Cap underneath which features a bit of ear protection thrown in with a helping of panache. I also wear a FINDRA Women's Betty Merino Bold Stripe Neck Warmer to lock in warmth at my neckline.
Don’t forget to eat and drink
On winter rides, I often find it difficult to remember to eat and drink but even though it’s cold and I don’t feel as thirsty or hungry as I would in summer-time, I need to actively remind myself that I’m still using as much energy and I still need to keep my energy levels topped up. I usually use High5 ZERO (20 tabs) in my water because they contain vitamin C to support my immune system and having something more interesting than water generally encourages me to drink more. I always look forward to a hot Apple & Cinamon flavoured skratch labs Exercise Hydration Mix 454g to warm up at the end of a cold ride and top up depleted electrolytes.
One thing I love about the festive season is having so much delicious food readily available at home which can be wrapped and stuffed in jersey pockets. Generally, when it’s cold I favour ‘real’ food I can chew over gels.The Oatmeal Walnut and Raisin flavour Clif Bar Box Of (12 x 68g Bars) and little slices of Christmas cake got me through last winter. My top tip is to rip the top of the packs before you set off so you’re not struggling in winter gloves when you want to eat. If I knew I’d be out for a long time and thought I'd need a caffeine kick, I’d take the Chocolate Outrage GU Energy Gels With Caffeine (24 x 32g) as they’re a bit thicker than other gels and taste more like puddings.
See you out there?
Quiet roads, winter sun, an excuse to eat more tasty treats...whatever appeals to you about riding through winter the right kit and preperation will ensure that you can beat the weather and enjoy some festive fun on your bike. Invite some friends, join us on Strava and share your photos by tagging us on Instagram. Just get out there!