Cycling Tips for Winter

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Personally, I'm a fairweather cycler. If it's cold or rainy it just ain't gonna happen I'm afraid. You'll find me under the duvet or in the waiting room at the local station.

But that's just me. The latest 2011 UK Census data shows the number of London residents cycling to work has more than doubled in the last 10 years and now more than 155,000 people commute daily across the capital: a 144% increase since the beginning of the decade. That's a lot of people getting on bikes every day!

My other half cycles to work and back every day. Religiously. Unless he's got a site meeting or he's sick. It's a 12 mile round trip, in all weathers. It keeps him fit and saves him a not insignificant amount of money each month.

People living in London are now twice as likely to cycle to work than if they lived in a rural area. the figures also show that men are more likely to cycle to work than women. The success of Transport for London's 'Boris Bike' rentals, which started in July 2010, has enabled more and more people to get pedalling in the capital.

As soon we give British Summer Time the boot at the end of October, the days quickly get shorter and most people will be commuting home in the dark. While I wedge myself onto the (cosy?) Victoria Line, there are 155,000 others togging up and hitting the streets on a bike.

But winter cycling's not just a question of putting lights on your bike. It's a whole new ball game which shouldn't be taken lightly. I've teamed up with the folks at LV= to bring you some helpful tips for getting prepared and staying safe on your commute during the dark months.

Cycling Tips for Winter

Before you start...

Be Seen                                             
The key here is for you to be visible. Equip your bike with lights and reflectors so that pedestrians and motorists can see that a cyclist is approaching. Wear high-visibility clothing which provides another layer of safety.

Dress with purpose
In winter you need to make sure that you’re kitted out in garments that are waterproof, windproof and not too thick, otherwise you'll end up an uncomfortable, sweaty mess! A helmet is of course essential, no questions about that. Invest in a waterproof, versatile pair of cycling gloves.

Give your bike a health check                                                
Checking your cycle regularly throughout the year is a good idea to make sure it's in peak condition, but no more so that in winter. You want to be able to ride safely and well. It will only take you a few minutes but can make a tremendous amount of difference to your experience. Check your tyre air pressures ~ deflating a tiny bit may help reduce skidding in icy conditions; make sure the brakes grip and aren't worn; ensure that the wheels aren't loose; test that the pedals spin freely; tighten your saddle so that it is firm and make sure that the chain runs smoothly. You might want to fit mud guards for winter even if you don't usually use them. Not only will they keep you drier and warmer, they'll go some way to protecting the mechanics of your bike from salt and grit on the road.

Plan ahead                        
Your journey time during the winter might be longer due to the weather, so it's worth planning ahead. Check the weather forecast regularly and ensure that you carry kit so that if you have a problem like a flat tyre, you are not only able to fix it, but can do it comfortably. You might want to consider a route change to incorporate better lit or less busy roads. It may mean a slightly longer ride, but could make you a little safer.

On the road...

Watch out for slippery roads
Wet leaves and ice can be hazardous and are much less visible in the dark. Slow down as you approach difficult parts of the road and brake using only your rear wheel to avoid skidding. You may need to take your feet off the pedals if you feel your bike beginning to lift.

Make eye contact with drivers
Be prepared for other vehicles to make mistakes and ensure they can see you. If your eyes meet, you know for sure you're on their radar!

Use all your senses
Don't be tempted to plug yourself into your music system while you're cycling. Earphones of any kind knock out one of your most vital senses and prevent you from being able to recognise danger quickly.

Back home...

Store wisely
Keep your bike somewhere cool ~ in a garage, shed or external hallway. If your brakes and gears are at room temperature when you go outside, ice is more likely to form which increases your risk.

Do a little housekeeping every day
Make time to wipe your bike and kit down when you get home. In the long run it's worth the effort to remove salt and grit picked up from the road ~ your stuff will stay in better working order and last longer.

If you keep up your motivation, cycling during the winter months can be both exhilarating and practical. Its keeps you fit, it's good for the environment, relatively cheap and often quicker than travelling by public transport.

Do you cycle to work? If so, do you continue all year round? What are your top winter tips?

Interested in knowing more?
Read expert cycling safety tips from Rob Wall of Roll for Soul, a Bristol based community bike cafĂ©, here and get the low-down on cycling nutrition here.


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