After an unseasonally warm September, the cold weather might still seem far away. But make no mistake: winter is coming. To stay comfortable while you're cycling, you need to protect your extremities. Fingers, toes, and ears can become achingly painful from windchill. Your body, meanwhile, can easily become too hot; you generate a lot of heat while cycling. Avoid thick coats and jumpers in favour of a couple of thinner layers – a base layer plus a shirt or jersey – topped off with a breathable windproof outer. Bear in mind that you'll warm up as you ride, so it's better to set off feeling only just warm enough rather than toasty and snug.
If you can see your breath, you need full-finger gloves – and many of us will want them before that. You create windchill by cycling, which gets worse the faster you go and the wetter and colder it is, and your hands are in the front line. Either get two pairs of gloves (one thin, one winter-proof) or one winter-grade pair with a removable liner. For thin gloves, almost anything will suffice. For your winter gloves, look for a waterproof and windproof outer layer. Long cuffs will prevent your wrists being exposed when you grip the handlebar, while reflective details make your hand signals more visible at night. You'll want some insulation, but not so much bulk that you can't easily operate gear and brake levers. Altura Night Vision Evo gloves (£44.99, zyro.co.uk) tick all the boxes for a British winter.
Winter makes exposed ears burn with cold when you're commuting. A helmet might keep your head a bit warmer, especially if it's a skate-style lid with fewer vents, but it won't do anything for your ears. A winter hat works, of course, but few are compatible with a helmet. For use under a helmet, you could wear something like the Altura Neck Warmer (see below) as snood instead. You could wear a cycling 'skull cap'. Or best of all you could pick something like Endura's BaaBaa Merino Skip Beanie (£19.99, endura.co.uk). It's merino wool, so it insulates even when it's wet. And it has a peak, which is great for keeping rain, sleet or snow out of your eyes.
Cycling jackets and winter jerseys are usually cut high and close at the neck, to stop them scooping air while you're riding along. If that's not enough, or if you don't cycle in that sort of garment, get a stretchy fabric tube to use as a neck gaiter. Buff is a well-known brand name, but the Altura Neck Warmer (£4.99, zyro.co.uk) does the same job for a fraction of the price. You can pull it up over your chin on bitterly cold days, or wear it on your head instead. Unlike a scarf, there's no risk of one end flapping free and getting caught in part of your bike.
Your first defence against winter conditions is to have a peak on your helmet, cap or hat. It will stop stinging rain compromising your vision. Even when it's not raining or snowing, cold air can make your eyes fill with tears. The faster you go, the worse it is. Cycling glasses are the solution. They're not sunglasses but eye-shields. Avoid dark tints unless it's a beautiful winter's day. Clear lenses work, while brightly coloured ones let you look at the world through rose (or yellow or orange) coloured glasses! You can spend a fortune on cycling glasses but there is no need to. Simple polycarbonate ones like the Endura Spectral Anti Fog Glasses (£14.99, endura.co.uk) are fine.
Your toes can get very cold on a bike, as they don't wiggle about like they do when you're walking. Wear good socks that insulate when wet, such as woollen ones, or better yet invest in waterproof socks. Sealskinz Mid Weight Mid Length Socks (£32, sealskinz.com) are waterproof and offer wool-lined warmth without being so bulky that your cycling shoes or street shoes will be too tight (which makes your feet colder).
On top of good socks, you can wear boots – there are lots of good winter cycling boots – or adapt the footwear you have with overshoes. Gore Bike Wear City Overshoes (£59.99, goreapparel.co.uk) add a water and windproof layer over street shoes, while bike overshoes such as Northwave H20 Winter High Shoecovers (£29.99, I-ride.co.uk) do a similar job for cycling footwear.
Your mum was right: wear a vest. Nowadays they get called base layers, but the principle is the same. It's a close-fitting, sweat-wicking, breathable layer, with either long or short sleeves, that you wear next to the skin. Over this, you'll likely need only a cycling jersey (or work shirt or blouse), plus a jacket. Cycling base layers tend to be cut longer in the arm and back than other base layers, to avoid gaps when you're in a cycling posture. The Specialized Long Sleeve Base Layer (£49.99, specialized.com) is a good example.
If you commute in normal clothes, you'll need overtrousers for wet winter days. When it's dry, it seldom gets cold enough to require anything under trousers other than normal underwear. For really cold days, or for anyone who feels the cold a lot, consider long johns or compression tights. Ladies' tights work well too.
If you commute in cycling kit, you'll want cycling tights. Look for cycling tights with a fleecy inner face (referred to as roubaix) and/or waterproof panels. Bib tights are best as they fit snugly and won't leave your lower back exposed. Reflectivity helps you be seen on dark evenings. Some cycling tights have a seat pad insert, some don't – the idea being that you'll wear padded cycling shorts underneath. Altura's Progel Shield Bib Tight (£89.99, zyro.co.uk) is a good option for cyclists who ride without mudguards, due to its waterproof rear panel.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
When your bike folds to the size of a suitcase, your cycle-to-work strategies will be different. Here are some tips.
White lines provide straightforward instructions – which are sometimes misunderstood or ignored. Here’s how to adjust your riding accordingly.