It’s colder, darker, and wetter, but cycling to work can still be the highlight of your day if you have the right equipment and attitude.
Cycling to work in winter doesn’t lift your spirits quite like summer mornings but it’s far from the penitential grimness you might expect. The UK weather is rarely bad enough to stop you cycling. So long as you’re prepared, riding your bike remains comfortable, convenient, and satisfying.
Reasons to keep riding
The benefits of cycling don’t stop just because it’s colder and the sun isn’t shining. You’ll continue to save money every time you choose your bike over alternative transport. You’ll still travel quicker and more efficiently in urban areas than other commuters, and have more predictable journey times.
The health benefits of cycling are more pronounced in winter. You won’t be coughed and sneezed over by public transport passengers with colds, and when you are exposed to germs your active person’s healthier immune system will resist infection better.
Getting outside in the fresh air regularly is good for your mental health too. Plus you’ll experience the slow change of the seasons first hand, and as well as gloomy days there will be crisp, clear sky ones that beg to be experienced by bike.
Winterproof your bike
There’s no joy in arriving at work with a skunk stripe of dirty water up the back of your trousers or trying to fix a puncture with frozen fingers. Prepare your bike for winter.
– Fit mudguards. Mudguards make sense year round but are vital for the wetter, muckier roads of winter. Full-length guards are best, with a front mudflap to keep your feet dry.
– Use reliable lighting. Days are short and visibility may be poor even then. Good lights are essential so you’re conspicuous on the road. Pack some emergency backup lights in case your primary lights fail.
– Fit tough tyres. If your bike normally has lightweight tyres fitted, switching to tougher ones for winter will reduce the likelihood of punctures. Tubeless tyres with sealant inside are another puncture-limiting option.
– Care for your chain. Prevent drivetrain problems from arising by looking after your chain. Chains need cleaning and oiling more when it’s wet, and even more so when roads are gritted.
There is a saying that there’s no such as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. There’s some truth in that. With the right gear, cycling in the cold and rain is bearable, even enjoyable.
– Waterproofs. Not ‘showerproof’, which means ‘leak like a sieve’, but specifically waterproof. The choice is between a waterproof jacket and overtrousers, or a traditional poncho-style cape that protects you like a small tent. Note that waterproofs are windproof (though the reverse isn’t necessarily true), so you’re unlikely to need much in the way of additional insulation. The heat you generate from cycling should keep your core temperature cosy.
– Ears. Any extremities can become very cold indeed on a winter’s day on a bike. A snood (e.g. by Buff), cycling skullcap, or winter cycling cap will keep your ears and forehead warm, and all of these can also be worn under a helmet.
– Eyes. Rain, sleet or snow in your face can be painful, as well as making it harder to see. Shield your eyes with a peaked cycling cap or an off-road style peaked helmet. The weather suddenly won’t feel as bad.
– Hands. Your fingers get uncomfortably cold quickly due to windchill. In the worst case, your nail beds will ache like they’ve been hit with hammers, then your fingers will go partly numb, making it hard to use brake and gear levers. You won’t regret any money you spend on decent winter cycling gloves.
– Feet. Warm socks are your last line of defence. Overshoes are the first. They come in two broad types: neoprene ones that fit over cycling shoes; and gaiters that fit over street shoes. Get some or wear boots.
Bad weather tactics
You’ll need to cycle with more care when the weather’s bad, and not just because of the limited visibility. Rain makes tramlines, drain covers, white lines, and shiny tarmac sealing lines dangerously slippery. Don’t lean or turn the bike while crossing them, and never cross tramlines at an acute angle. Skirt the edges of puddles when you can’t see the road surface underneath. There’s no telling the depth. Maybe there’s a hidden pothole?
Riding on ice or snow requires even greater care. It’s very easy to slip and fall. Black ice is the biggest problem because you can’t see it. It will tend to form in the same places overnight, anywhere moisture can collect and the sun won’t melt it. Take care on shady corners!
If you don’t fancy riding all the way to work and back in winter, why not split your commute and go part way by car or train? It’s particularly easy with a folding bike. That way you’ll still get your cycling fix without committing to an extended ride in the cold and wet.
If the weather’s unusually bad, there’s no shame in giving yourself a pass and taking alternative transport that day. Tomorrow will be better!
Ready to improve your commute?