Survive the UK Winter with Our Cold Weather Cycling Guide

Written by Bethany McAtee on 20th December, 2019

What do I do if I encounter ice when cycling? What lights should I use? Is it worth it to change my tyres? How many layers should I wear? These are some of cycling’s popular questions when it comes to winter cycling. In our cold weather cycling guide we answer your questions, after which there’ll be no excuses for not cycling in winter! Our guide also applies to summit climbs, such as Stelvio and Col de l’Iseran.

LAYERS AND LAYERS (AND LAYERS)

We all know that exercise increases our body temperature, especially if we’re cycling up a steep hill. Therefore, layering up doesn’t mean piling hoards of thick clothing on and expecting a comfortable ride. There’s a knack to layering, and it involves wearing lots of thinner layers, which are breathable and removable. As a result of using thin layers, you can feel warm without overheating or feeling too cold. So, what layers should you invest in for those freezing winter rides?

a road cyclist in cold weather on top of Passo Stelvio in Italy

Firstly, consider a thermal base layer. Because the material of base layers are designed to be insulating, heat will be trapped next to the skin, keeping you nice and toasty. However, you won’t feel clammy as the moisture is transported to the other side of the material. On top of the base layer you can either wear your standard cycling jersey, or a thermal jersey, depending on how cold it is. If it’s not raining or particularly windy, yet cold, you may only need a base layer and a thermal jersey. 

Speaking of wind and rain, your outer layers are vital in combating the harsher elements. A windproof softshell is light and often can be packed down into a pocket. Although it won’t protect you against torrential rain without a waterproof coat, it will survive light showers. If the weather predicts heavy downpours, and you still want to cycle, get yourself a waterproof jacket (not water resistant). Now, with 4 layers acting as a defense for all weathers, your ride can be just as enjoyable as it is in the summer. And don’t forget gloves, a skull cap to go under your helmet, and over shoes to keep your feet dry!

LIGHT IT UP!

Arguably the most important consideration in our cold weather cycling guide is mounting lights on your bike. Winter days get darker earlier, so lights can help guide you and above all, keep you safe. In both rural and urban areas on public roads it is a legal requirement for cyclists to use lights. The lights need to be mounted on the front and on the back of the bike. Your front light should be white, and have a 110 degree visibility, and your back light should be red. Flashing lights are also acceptable due to warning drivers and other cyclists of your presence much more effectively. However, it is recommended to keep a steady beam in built up areas with street lights. 

a road cycling bike in scotland

In addition to front and rear lights, what is sometimes overlooked is the requirement for rear and pedal reflectors. These are equally important to signal your presence to drivers, and without them in an accident, it could be seen as contributory negligence. We cannot stress how important lights are for riding in the dark. Not all lights are expensive and investing in them could mean the difference between a great ride, and a trip to A&E. 

CHANGE THOSE TYRES

Punctures. We’ve all had one (or a few) and experienced the frustration of having to stop and change a tyre mid-ride. During winter, excess rain washes bits and pieces onto the road that can lodge into your tyre. Similarly the damp surface makes it easier for the bits and pieces to be picked up, resulting in a higher likelihood of puncture. So, what to do? Specially designed winter tyres not only offer puncture resistant tyres, but are also much more grippy. 

a road cyclist surrounded by snow whilst winter cycling in livigno

On the other hand, winter tyres are said to be less effective in the performance department. Due to the increased, more robust thread count and reinforced sidewalls winter tyres tend to be a little heavier. However, many brands are combating the negative impacts with alternative materials. These are more expensive, yet if you’re out riding in winter conditions a lot you’ll appreciate the anti-puncture and grip. 

ICE…

You’re cycling and start losing control as your bike slides across a patch of ice. Should you press the rear or front brake to stop? Should you try and steer or keep still? Ice can lead to nasty accidents, and if you stumble across black ice, there’s little you can do except employ a few preventatives. Above all, do not use the front brake if you find yourself on ice. Use the rear brake gently to reduce traction and cause the rear wheel to slide, which is easier to control. Then, place your foot on the floor to help stop the skid. Yet the chances of full control is limited, and your best chance of staying upright is to stay in a straight line.

a cyclist on a snow road in lithuania