Written by Simon, Digital Marketer at Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative
It’s been a year since I started working at Bicycle Coop HQ in the middle of a field outside of Edinburgh, and I’ve survived 1.5 winters of bike commuting. That’s not bad going for someone who doesn’t consider himself “a bike person”. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. It is possible.
Most people – many of them cyclists – assume that cycling in winter in Scotland is so unbelievably brutal that it’s not even an idea worth entertaining. Well guess what? You’re wrong. Yes, it’s colder and wetter, but all you need is a bit more clothing. You don’t even need to be that tough! I’m a total wuss and even I don’t find it that bad.
2. You get what you pay for.
That jumper you bought from Primark for £10 isn’t going to do the job. Your £20 waterproof jacket? Worthless. There’s a reason proper winter cycling clothing is “expensive”, and it’s because it’s got to be warm/windproof/waterproof/breathable/reflective or any combination of the above.
The good news is, you don’t have to kit yourself out head-to-toe all at once. Last winter I wore tracksuit bottoms under some thin waterproof trousers (not ideal, but an okay work-around.) This winter I’ve bought some Endura Thermolite tights (which are officially the greatest thing ever.) Birthdays and Christmases are a good time to cash in on clothing upgrades, and mum is always delighted to buy you things that keep you warm and safe.
3. Gloves are the most important thing.
Having a cold torso when you’re riding a bike is one thing – you usually warm up after a while. But cold air constantly running over your un-gloved hands means they get completely freezing almost instantly, and they stay that way. Then they get really stiff, and they burn, and you have to stop and blow on them, and it’s horrible. WHY DO YOU KEEP TORTURING YOURSELF? Get some proper gloves.
4. You’re allowed to enjoy yourself.
I never thought I’d say that one. I’m not one of those fresh-air enthusiasts. But cycling on a cold, crisp morning, as long as you’re wearing enough warm gear, can be wonderful. Also, if part of your commute is in the countryside, like mine is, winter really can be the most beautiful time of year, and you get to see some interesting wildlife. Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of migrating geese, and one dead badger.
5. You don’t have to be uncomfortable.
There’s a deep seated belief in the Scottish psyche that if you’re not suffering, you’re not doing it properly. But you don’t have to be uncomfortable on a bike in winter, honest. Even when it’s raining. You just have to ensure that every part of you is warm and dry.
From head to toe, ideally you might wear: A headband or skullcap, a buff (for your neck), a base layer, a waterproof jacket, some warm padded tights, and warm/waterproof socks. A waterproof rucsac/panniers also helps. Don’t want to wear tights because they’re too revealing? I hear you. I wear shorts over my tights so people can’t see my curves (also the shorts have a million pockets for my wallet, keys, phone, and so on.)
6. Ice happens, but not that often.
I slipped on some ice at the top of the road a year ago, and it’s only a lesson you need to learn once. Say hello to careful cornering! In my experience, you won’t come across much ice unless the weather conditions are quite specific and your commute is rural. If ice is common where you are, there are always metal-studded tyres you can buy. In either case, what would you rather be riding if you hit ice – a bicycle or a bus?
7. It’s nice and quiet on the paths.
Gone are the heady summer months when every man and his dog (literally) takes to the cycling path, with two prams either side and additional toddlers on leads. Sub-optimal weather means fewer people and animals wandering around, and you also see fewer cyclists. That makes you the official King/Queen of the Path.