As the nights draw in and the temperature begins to fall, a lot of us will be giving our bikes a good old clean and getting them tucked up all nicely in the garage. For the Ian Stannard's amongst you, you can probably continue eating your bowl of nails and milk and look away... If you consider yourself on the softer, more sensitive side of the cycling spectrum, then get your pen and paper out and make some notes! Winter is coming.
As we plough through autumn and head straight into the nippy months, it can be all too easy to ditch two wheels for four wheels. With a few simple tweaks and hacks we can make the most of the dark months, fight off the winter weight and arrive into next year in fighting form.
Winterproofing your bike
First of all, it helps to have a bike that is in good condition and won't fall apart every morning when you swing your leg over the saddle. If you're reading this in the hope of making the switch from car to bike for your journey to work, and need a ride for the job, then head over to our Commuting Bike Guide to learn more about what bike is best suited for you.
1. The Bike
Possibly the most important element when commuting to work! There are many options when it comes to choosing a bike to commute on. Some people will choose a commuting specific bike, while some people will prefer to ride their road bike. It all depends on the type of roads you will be travelling on to work. If your route is more rural, a mountain bike or gravel/cross bike might be appropriate, for town and main road riding, a road bike will probably be best, and for city riding (including train journeys) a hybrid or folding bike will be perfect.
Gravel bikes - the latest discipline of cycling that has flooded the market in recent years! Gravel bikes are for the riders who like the adrenaline rush of speed from a road bike but also the rider who wants to go off the beaten track. These bikes are capable of tackling most terrains you may encounter on your commute - whatever the weather. A comfortable road bike geometry coupled with wider bars and wider tyres for more control and comfort - you really have ultimate machine for commuting.
Once your bike is all set, we need to make it winterproof. If done properly, you can say goodbye to that notorious skid mark from dirty road water and the constant fear of puncturing every time you hit a patch of grit. Fear not, a few tweaks and additions to your current setup will see you riding safely and increase your enjoyment throughout the winter months.
2. Lights, lights and more lights.
The most important piece of kit that you must never forget is your lights. Safety is paramount when we are out on our bikes, and as much as you can protect your bike and self from the elements, without a decent set of lights to light us up like a Christmas tree, we risk putting ourselves in danger from other road users. There are plenty of lightweight, compact and bright lights on the market nowadays that won't break the bank, but remember to choose lights suitable for the terrain you will be riding.
These pretty much do what they say on the tin. A good set of mudguards will keep the majority of the rain, mud, roadkill, or whatever else you may find on the road, on the road and not on you or your bike. Although they may not be to everybody's taste or ruin the pro aero look of your road bike, the benefits of keeping dry and warm far outweigh arriving to work looking like a drowned rat. If your bike already comes with eyelets then you should look for pair of compatible bolt-on mudguards. For those with bikes that lack these eyelets then a mudguard with a quick release rubber strap will do the job nicely - handy if you look outside in the morning and it's nice and sunny, the straps can be removed in seconds allowing you to shed the extra weight and arrive to work 0.4s faster over 40km at 40kph.
4. Wheels & Tyres
Most of the time the wheels that came on your bike will be perfect for all year round riding. However, if you race or have a high end bike, then chances are you probably have a swanky set of carbon wheels. Take off the carbon hoops and stick your training wheels back on, as you'll want to use an invincible pair of wheels that able to take a battering and still be reliable day after day. There are a couple of low-cost steps you can take to optimise your wheels for winter riding, and stay rubber side down on the icier mornings.
A personal favourite for winter riding would have to be the Continental Grand Prix 4 Season, styled on the faster GP4000 tyres but with extra protection and grip for wet weather and low temperatures. Secondly, ensure your tyres are running at a suitable pressure. Something at around 90-100psi is ideal for wet weather riding. Bear in mind that lower pressure isn't always better as your chances of pinch flats will increase if your pressures drop too low
5. Kit up appropriately
As they say, 'there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing'. You don't have to spend a fortune on getting a brand new wardrobe just for winter, but let's face it, who doesn't like an excuse to get a few new cheeky bits of kit! Let's start at the top and work our way down. A cap of some sort will keep your lid warm throughout most cold months, but if you suffer from chilly-chin then you might want to consider getting yourself a buff or balaclava... and if you work in a bank, please remember to take it off before entering!
You want to remember to layer up to stay warm, a good long-sleeved winter baselayer should always be worn, with a thermal layer above in the form of a jersey. Stick a windproof jacket over the top and you're sorted. If it's waterproof then that's an added bonus, but if not you can carry a rain cape which will keep the majority of rain out. Try not to over complicate things as this doesn't help your motivation at 6am in the morning when you're about to step out into the Arctic Circle.
If it's colder, add an insulating layer, if it's warmer, consider your choice of baselayer or unzip your jerseys. Sound easy enough? For the legs, a decent pair of thermal bib-tights will keep you roasty toasty in all areas. But if you don't mind a bit of wind chill down below then your regular bib-shorts and a pair of water resistant leg warmers will suffice. Thermal socks are a godsend and paired with some overshoes you won't want to take either off when you arrive at work... say goodbye to wrapping your feet in tin foil!
A good High-Vis Jacket will ensure you are clearly visible to all other road users. Buying one that is also completely waterproof will kill two birds with one stone and save you a bit of money.
6. Other clothing neccessities
A Jacket isn't the only thing going to keep you warm! On the times when you get caught up in a cold January shower when the wind is howling - You're going to need some clothing accessories to ensure you keep the fingers and toes warm and dry. This can only be achieved with Gloves and Overshoes. With built in reflective strips you can be seen even in the darkest of areas from the angles when you're less visible. Here are some of our favourites:
For those of you not wanting to carry a rucksack, panniers are a great alternative and allow you to carry more without the burden on your back. You can choose between front or back pannier bags depending on your preference. Not all panniers will fit all bikes but there will be pannier that you can attach to your commuter bike. When it comes to choosing your pannier bags, think about the amount you will need to transport each day and purchase the bag accordingly.
8. Stay motivated
Switch it up a bit! Now you have cracked the winter commute you can start to have some fun with it. The same route in and out every day can get tedious, so why not prepare a few routes of varying distances and switch it up each day? If you've got colleagues that also commute by bike then plan to meet up with them on the way in, it will make the journey go quicker and it can give you that extra motivation we all need!