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  • 14/11/2022 Winter is coming… or is it?

    Scary things are on their way. And I don’t mean white walkers, the undead, the Lannisters or sudden wedding massacres. What we fear as cyclists is plummeting temperatures, endless rainy days, high winds, black ice, shorter days and puncture after puncture. Then there is that slick, sticky road grime that gnaws and grinds away on your expensive bicycle components. Perhaps it’s more Apocalypse Now than Game of Thrones. The prospect of taking your pride and joy out in hostile conditions is enough to have you babbling “the horror, the horror…” This year’s unseasonably warm weather deep into November has only served to delay the inevitable and perhaps ramp up the tension, because winter will surely come soon. How will we cope?

    First of all, you need to look after your body. What to wear, what to wear? My rule of thumb is that if you feel a little bit cool before you start exercising, by the time you are up to speed, you’ll feel warm enough. I have a winter jacket, but I rarely use it. A merino base, long sleeve jersey and a gilet is enough for me. If I need more than that, it’s usually sub-zero and then I won’t go out for fear of ice. That said, I usually get caught out by black ice where there's some frozen run off once every year.

    As I’ve been riding a few years, I have quite a glove collection. Obviously you won’t be wearing mitts, but I think two sets are needed - a lighter, full-fingered glove and a heavier duty thermal glove. You can get an integrated system of light gloves and an overglove. Then there are the lobster-style super heavy duty gloves, also useful at near freezing temperatures or if you feel the cold in your extremities. Some of us do and it’s painful.

    By the way, not these lobster gloves.

    Those are for Halloween. I mean this kind of lobster-style gloves.

    You could also acquire a waterproof set of gloves. Alright, three or four sets. Well, that escalated quickly!

    Keeping your legs warm is somewhat obvious, wear 3/4s or full tights. And your feet will need attention, because that’s not even funny when you can’t feel your toes. Thick socks and those toe warmers or full overshoes will also help protect your pretty cycling shoes from an early demise. Or you could get a set of winter cycling shoes. I’m a fan. Get a set that is both thermal and waterproof and you won’t regret it. A cap and a buff for for neck should also be in your armoury.

    Then there’s the bike. You can winterise pretty much any bike. Start by changing the tyres for fatter and/or more robust ones and I’d urge you to clean it after every wet ride. You should fit mudguards, that’ll make it so much easier to clean and keep the crud off of you and your components. And your fellow riders, of course. Use lights, even in the daytime, and make sure you can fix a puncture. You will get more punctures in the winter and then some more. Nothing worse than standing at the roadside with numb digits trying to repair a flat. If you can do it with your eyes closed, so to speak, it will feel the much easier in tough conditions.

    I like having a dedicated winter trainer bike with full mudguards and cheaper-to-replace components. I thought this was a universal thing, but apparently, it’s peculiar to us Brits. A fixed-gear bike fits the bill perfectly for me. The only thing that will wear out is the chain, brake pads and tyres. A new set of each of these will see me through the season. Riding with one gear means no thinking (about gear changes at least), high cadence/pedal stroke practice and overloaded climbing, which is strength work. When spring comes and you switch back to a geared bike, you get the bonus of it feeling so much easier.

    OK, now that we’ve drifted onto training. Most cyclists tend to ride slower in winter for several reasons. Whatever the reason – scientific training reason or whatever – it’s an opportunity to be social and have a chat with other riders. It’s a chance to explore, too. Is there a route you’ve been wanting to try, an extension to existing loop you’d like to build in or have you ever just wondered where that road led to? I like to get some daylight in winter, so if I can get out, I will get, but there are always those days. Two, three of four hours in the rain might build mental strength, but is not so great for your physical health. You could just suit up and do a shorter ride or, if turbo training floats your boat, ride indoors. Every gym has static bikes, so you can always get a session in.

    Be smart. Avoid days when there’s a risk of ice or if it's sub-zero stick to main roads that have been salted (that's assuming the council have had the gritters out). You absolutely must clean your bike from top to toe if you do that. It’s great to have a hot drink and take on some fuel at a cafe, but don’t stop for too long. It can get really hard to warm up again. It makes sense to be flexible as to what time you head out. Choose wisely. Cycling makes weather forecasters of us all. Will Saturday be dryer than Sunday? I like using the Rain Today app. This will tell you when it’ll rain in the next hour and how heavily with a high degree of accuracy. You can also look further into the future by bringing up their radar map and zooming out to see if there are rain clouds looming beyond the hour mark.

    There’s still some racing to be had in winter. Cyclo-cross makes a virtue of the wet and the mud and velodromes have a lovely warm roof and the air is kept at a cosy 28C. Nice! You can even find the odd time trial, sportive or audax. If all else fails, you can always do something apart from cycling, such as cross training, switch to running, weights, yoga, pilates, core work, badminton (did I just say badminton?). You might come back fresher from the change. Or you might find a new passion.

    Unsurprisingly, Canadians know a thing or two about cold weather riding, check out this video from Canadian Cycling Magazine about prepping your bike for winter.­duU