Winter cycling can present a host of problems, no matter your riding experience. And we’re sure it’ll come as no surprise to you that many of us prefer to cycle when it’s warmer outside.
But for those of you tenacious enough to brave cycling in colder weather, we’ve put together this list of winter riding tips to get you through this less hospitable season.
13 Tips for Winter Cycling
1. Stock up on the winter cycling gear essentials
First thing’s first, decide what cycling clothing you’re going to wear. You don’t want to be riding round in your light summer gear when the temperature drops and you’re suffering through adverse weather conditions.
Clothes should be waterproof and windproof
Don’t just opt for the cheap gear when it comes to waterproofs, as you really do pay for quality.
And we don’t mean to just pick up a waterproof jacket, you’ll likely want a whole set of winter cycling clothing, from top to bottom. Although, that’s completely up to you.
These aren’t for everyone, but they sure do make the ride a lot more comfortable in strong, cold winds. And better yet, you can pick up cheap thermals from most sporting retailers.
Obviously, your fingers do all of the work with breaking and changing gears. So if they stop working, so will you.
You could opt for a big pair of ski gloves, but we appreciate not everyone’s a fan of bulkier gear. So, as long as your hands remain covered, you should be fine.
You’ll also want this extra padding on your extremities if you take a fall. The road surface will be more slippery than usual and even if you’re mountain biking or cyclo-cross(ing?), the ground will be a lot harder than usual.
Cover your head
If you’re comfortable wearing a cycling hat beneath your helmet, absolutely go for it. You lose from 7-10% of your body heat through your head, so if you’re especially sensitive to the cold, a hat is a great way to keep warm. Just make sure it doesn’t obstruct your vision in any way.
If you’re going for a long ride or you know there will be heavy wind, you may want to consider getting a snood or balaclava to cover your neck and face. Just a thought.
Multiple thin layers as opposed to thin ones
It’s easy to overheat on a ride even when it’s colder. Therefore, it’d be more efficient to wear multiple thin layers when you’re out so you can take one or two off when you get hot.
Wearing a single thick layer means you’ve got no easy way of cooling down. And when sweat builds up under your base layer you can feel wet and cold for the rest of your ride.
It’s worth taking a pair of glasses with you to protect your eyes from the wind and rain. A clear pair might do you fine, but you may want to consider a lightly tinted pair for when the sun is out (however unlikely that may seem).
You’ll want to avoid darkly tinted glasses as you’re likely to have poor quality vision on cloudy days and in dimly lit areas.
Keep your feet warm
I’m a big fan of overshoes in the winter, they just eliminate the chance of your feet getting wet. Which can be a real ride-ruiner if it happens 5 minutes in.
And if you’re going the whole hog, whip on a pair of thermal socks and complete the set. You’ll have no problem staying warm.
2. Plan ahead
If you’re planning a long ride, you’d be a fool not to check the weather forecast beforehand. The last thing you want is to be caught in an icy rain without any waterproof gear, or for it to be colder than you expected.
Another big one is to remember to charge your phone before you go out. You never know when you’ll need someone for an emergency pickup (as, embarrassingly, I have) or more importantly, a way to find your way home if you get lost.
These are simple things to keep in mind, but are essential to planning a successful ride, no matter the distance.
3. Always be visible
It’ll be no shock to you that there’s a whole lot less light in the winter. So, you’ll need plenty of high visibility clothing and a set of front and rear bike lights. I’ve also found it handy to have a light on my helmet or at least a small hand torch just in case I need to perform some roadside maintenance.
Make sure your lights are charged or that they have fresh batteries before each ride, you don’t want to be caught out in the dark with no way of seeing or being seen.
And although we know this is a given, but pay attention to the roads. Drivers will also be battling to winter weather on top of there being cyclists on the road. If everyone plays it safe, we’ll all have a good time.
4. Be prepared for punctures
I’m sure it’ll be no revelation to you that, it gets wet in the winter. And so, small sharp objects like thorns, and glass can get stuck to your tyres. Each rotation of your wheels bring you closer to the dreaded tyre puncture.
With that in mind, you should always have at least one spare inner tube on you whilst you’re out. Too much bad luck has taught me to always carry two, no matter the weather, but in the wet conditions I’d really recommend having two spares with you. It just means you’re prepared for the worst.
You’ll also need a pump (or CO2 cartridges) to get the bike ride-ready again. And if you don’t usually bother, maybe a multi-tool/Allen key set.
It can be easy to rely on others when you’re riding in a group, but you really never know what’s going to happen. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
5. Keep on top of cleaning and maintenance
We all know that cycling in the winter means your bike is going to get covered in all sorts of road muck, grit and foliage.
Give your bike a good rinse and wipe down to remove any dirt . Pay special attention to the more intricate part of your bike, like the chain, breaks and gears. Don’t forget to clean around the wheel rims, you don’t want anything working it’s way into the tyres.
Then make sure you remove any excess water from moving parts with something like WD40 and add some lubricant. In the winter months, you’ll want to use a wet lube as they’re water resistant and won’t get washed off when you hit a puddle.
You’ll also need to stop any potential salt corrosion, which not only causes long-term damage, but also that god-awful racket you hear older bikes make.
Just keep in mind that wet lube is sticker than dry lube, and will mean you have to wipe down your bike more often. Although as we’ve previously discussed, that’s essential after riding a bike in winter anyway.
Always check for wear on rims and break blocks, as winter cycling can be particularly harsh on these areas. And although they’re fairly easy to replace, keeping an eye on them will ensure they last longer.
6. A wider tyre is a safer tyre
When you say “winter”, we say “wider tyres”. These can be ridden at lower pressures and improve the comfort of riding and the increased surface area reduces the chances of slipping.
If you need a suggestion for winter tyres, we use Continental Gatorskins but there are other options available.
During the colder months, try not to inflate your tyres as much as you would in the summer. This will increase the amount of traction you have on wet and icy surfaces and, again, reduce the slip risk.
Alternatively, you could opt for tubeless tyres. These can be a little more expensive and more difficult to get onto your bike if you’ve never done so before, but have much better protection against punctures.
7. Go clipless
During winter, it’s likely your cycling trainers will get wet, and so it’s possible to slip off your pedals whilst riding. Clipless pedals will reduce the chance of this happening, making your ride a little safer.
For the uninitiated, clipless pedals are those that allow cycling shoes with cleats to clip in. And just a fun fact, they’re called clipless pedals because manufacturers needed a way to differentiate their new product from the classic ‘toe-clip’ pedals. And so the term ‘clipless’ was born. Alright, not such a fun fact.
If you’ve never used clipless pedals/ cleats before, you may want to get used to them on a quiet road or wherever there’s free land, as they can take some getting used to. But I find a fair few cyclists won’t try them due to the fear of being attached to the bike, without an ‘easy escape’. But once you learn how they work, they become second nature.
8. Warm up
Winter weather isn’t only going to affect your bike, it’ll also affect your body. We all know that warming up is essential to avoiding injury and preparing our body for exercise.
But the winter can really affect your body, as your muscles can become constricted and pull or strain under too much stress. So you’ll want to thoroughly warm them up and prepare them before you go out.
It would be best to stretch and warm up in the house, but if that’s not your thing, just take it easy when you first get out. Don’t go sprinting as soon as you leave the house, warm up for a mile or two to let your body adjust to the activity.
9. Learn how to cycle in the winter weather
Easier said than done, am I right? But once you learn the techniques involved in riding over ice and through snow, you’re golden.
If you know it’s going to be super icy around your area, obviously we’d suggest you take the day off. But sometimes it’s impossible to avoid an icy patch of road whilst you’re already out.
So in that case, just steer straight and don’t pedal or brake whilst you’re passing over the ice. Doing either will increase your chance of slipping because of the reduced friction over that surface area.
Brake often to clear rims of any snow that builds up. And remember that braking can take up to six timers longer when your rims are wet.
10. Know your supplies
It’s easy to think you won’t get dehydrated in the winter, but that really isn’t the case. Always take some water out with you on a ride, or two if you’re riding for more than two hours. The same goes for your usual snacks and supplements, you should make a habit out of taking them with you.
Just another heads up for those of you who take energy bars out on rides. These may get hard while you’re out in the colder temperatures, so you might want to opt for storing them somewhere a bit warmer.
If your cycling jersey has a back pocket, that’d be the perfect place. If not, maybe take some energy gels along with you or something softer with a bit of sugar (like jelly beans).
11. Attach some mudguards
If you’re anything like me, then the worst part of winter cycling is getting a mouthful of road juice from your mate’s back tyre. Now, as much as we all enjoy overtaking them to return the favour, there is a better alternative: mud guards.
If you’ve never heard of them, they hang over your front and back wheels and stop you from getting spray everywhere. A good pair will also protect your water bottle (if you have it mounted to the frame).
If you don’t have any at home, there’s no need to worry, you have lots of options. Metallic mudguards tend to be more expensive, but will last a lot longer. If you’re not looking to fork out on these, you can pick up the aptly named Ass Savers for under a tenner.
12. Use a winter bike
We’re not saying you should go out a buy a whole new bike for the winter, but if you’re like me, you may have an older, somewhat neglected, bike somewhere around the house.
If that’s the case, it’s time to whip it out, brush the dust off and get it up to spec. It may need a few new parts or a minor service, but as long as the old banger isn’t too roughed up, it should be a fairly cheap endeavour.
If you don’t have one lying around, much to your partner’s relief I’m sure, you could always pick up a cheap second hand bike. Cyclocross bikes are great for the winter months, but there are lots of cheaper road bikes, MTB and hybrids for you to choose from.
The bonus of having a winter bike is that you don’t have to worry too much about the damage being done to it. Obviously, we still recommend you clean the bike after each use, you just don’t have to lose your mind if you slip and scratch the frame.
13. Switch to a Turbo-Trainer
This may not be one for the purests, but turbo trainers are becoming a hugely popular choice for lots of us. They’re not only handy for when it’s colder outside, but also for when you just don’t have the time to get out and about.
Obviously, you lose the feeling of adventure, but there are plenty of applications (such as Zwift) to add that element of competition and keep you engaged during a training session.
If you want to learn a little more about these, check out our Turbo Trainer Buyer’s Guide. In that, we cover all the different types of turbos and some of the brands known for them. We cover all sorts of price ranges, so if you are interested, you’re bound to find something that works for you.
There’s no shame in stopping off at a cafe on a winter’s day for a hot drink and a piece of cake. In fact, we recommend that more highly than any of these other tips. Just be sure not to cool down too much, or you’ll struggle when it comes to saddling up again.
If you have any of winter training cycling tips, please do leave a comment and we’ll add it to the list.
Just one last thing. We’re huge advocates for cycling safety here at Cyced, and so we really try to wave that into our articles (as you may have noticed). A faster time is never worth your risking your safety, and the last thing you want is to be injured over the Christmas period. Stay vigilant out there and don’t push yourself too far, just have a bit of fun.