It all seemed so easy in the summer as you sailed airily through the sun-dappled streets. What could possibly destroy this two-wheeled idyll? Well … as this planet turns away from the sun like a jilted lover, cycling becomes a very different proposition. Riding into sideways sleet is not always everyone’s idea of a great time or a fun commute.
But guess what? Winter cycling can be a pleasurable experience. It’s a different kind of fun from the sun on your back on a warm day, but there’s something very special about the frosty covering of a winter morning. And feeling the gentle blanket of warm air as you walk into work* after a chilly ride on a sharp, cold day is nothing short of invigorating. *Also true if you’re working from home.
You’ll find all kinds of advice on safe cycling in winter, but all you need is to be comfortable, warm, dry and easily visible. You’ll need a mixture of the right accessories and common sense. You’re legally required, of course, to have front and rear lights. A hi-vis jacket or vest can be very useful on dark and foggy mornings, and you won’t want to do any winter cycling without your helmet. Slipping or skidding on ice, while anxiety-inducing to think about, is very rare and can largely be avoided by taking care on corners.
To be fully prepared you’ll need, from head to toe:
- a headband or skullcap under your helmet
- a snood or buff to go round your neck
- a waterproof jacket to go over your base layer
- a pair of gloves
- padded tights or warm trousers
- a waterproof covering for your legs in the case of a sudden downpour
- waterproof winter socks
- a waterproof rucksack, pannier, or something waterproof to cover them with
So here are our winter cycling tips- the key items you need, and what you should be looking for.
Our recommendation for specialist winter tyres is very simple: you don’t need them! The advantage of Four season tyres is, as a someone very wise* once said, is that “they make for more confident riding in sketchy conditions without overtly compromising your bike’s performance when road or trail conditions are perfect. You’ll discover that you can fit 4-season bicycle tyres and never want for better – just as more and more savvy, low-mileage UK drivers get on fine running winter car tyres all year round.”
Something like the Schwalbe Marathon GT365 dualguard 700c with its all-weather tread compound, is designed to be used with confidence 365 days a year. There’s a cut-resistant casing with a layer of rubber underneath to cope with those sharp bits of debris it’s harder to see in gloomy weather, and reflective tape to help you to be seen by other road users.
*ok, ok, it was us.
If you only take one thing from our guide to winter cycling, it should be that gloves are non-negotiable. Your hands can get very cold very quickly, and anyone who has ever cycled as their hands turned to ice, then became stiff, then frostbitten knows that it’s so unpleasant as to dominate your thinking to an unsafe extent. In fact, if you were to ask our advice on safe cycling in winter- and by reading this, you kind of have- we’d point to gloves as the most important element, before even things that feel more sexily safeguarding. Take care of the hands and you’ve aced the first battle. The Endura Strike gloves for men and women have been our top-selling glove for at least three years now, and for good reason – they’re ace.
JACKET: WATERPROOF AND WARM
Beware of false economies where a jacket is concerned. A £20 jacket you have to replace four times represents a much more stressful option than a durable, high quality jacket that copes with the winter weather without falling apart at the mass-produced seams. This really isn’t a job for the Primani knockoff. The Endura hummvee waterproof hooded jacket, at £99.99, represents a real investment you won’t regret. Scoring very highly on waterproofness and breathability, it also has the all-important reflective trim, 2-layer fabric and a storm flap to keep you cosy, and underarm ventilation to ensure you keep warm without also gently poaching yourself.
The good news (or the bad news, if you’re so inclined) is that winter cycling doesn’t have to involve casing yourself in lycra and letting everyone see what you had for breakfast. A pair of your warmest trousers will do just fine, especially if you have a pair of padded tights underneath- something like the Altura nightvision water repellent tights (new model will be in soon), which have the added advantage of being waterproof, in case your trousers aren’t (or in case you want to wear them without trousers). If you prefer insulating from above rather than below, a light pair of waterproof trousers such as the Endura Hummvees should do the trick.
Even those of us with 20-20 eyes (thanks, I grew them myself) who don’t otherwise need specs are not immune to the streaming and watering that can destroy winter cycling even in a relatively light breeze. To avoid arriving at work looking like the second reel of a romcom, a pair of cycling glasses is essential. You could invest in a pair of clear eyeglasses, but for better protection and a more stylish option, a pair of glasses with adaptable lenses like the Tifosi Fototec version which cope as well with hot weather as they do cold, have rubber ear and nose pieces for a non-slip fit, and come with a range of coloured lenses to fit your mood, your outfit or both. Tifosi even do a range of hydrophobic sunglasses which repel water to improve visibility.
‘I’ll just wear TWO pairs, why am I the only genius ever to have thought of this?’ Nope, this isn’t going to work in winter cycling I’m afraid. Having a double layer of insulation round our feet makes them less flexible, with obvious drawbacks where safe cycling is concerned. Your feet don’t get a lot of blood flow during winter cycling, so your single pair needs to keep them as warm as possible (drop the words ‘high thermal range’ into your conversation if you want to look like a Warm Foot Expert). Merino wool does a good job here, so the Endura Baabaas are worth checking out. You’ll need a water-resistant pair too, such as the Endura Humvee Waterproof sock, which also deal with another kind of winter weather that I’ll leave you to work out from the name.
If you’re going to wear non-cycling shoes for work, you should consider investing in a pair of warm, flexible boots. However, to avoid endless lacing and unlacing, don’t forget that you also have the option of wind and waterproof neoprene overshoes, such as the Endura Road, which fit as snugly as a wetsuit and which can be slipped off to reveal your spotless work shoes in a matter of seconds. Add a pair of heated insoles and you’ll be in no danger of cold feet. Fill in your own ‘don’t get cold feet about buying insoles’ joke if you really think we need one.
Our advice for safe cycling in winter, then, boils down to having the right equipment and the right attitude. A December journey can be every bit as enjoyable as a July one, so long as you’ve got everything you need to keep the warmth in and the rain out. For a small investment, the two-wheeled commute can be a gift that keeps on giving all year round.