Winter Cycling Guide

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Cycling outside during the winter months can help to build your aerobic base of cycling endurance fitness, can improve your bike handling skills and can be a highly enjoyable, social outing. It also has the potential to be cold, wet, miserable and downright dangerous. Before deciding to head out onto the roads for a bike ride, you may also want to consider these alternatives:

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Mountain biking, off-road can certainly improve your bike fitness and bike handling skills and can be a safer option than heading onto the busy roads. There are great trails to be found in Stanmer Park, Friston Forest and up on the South Downs.

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Velodrome, we train every Saturday at the velodrome in Preston park from 07:45-08:45. It’s a good way to get used to cycling in colder conditions, without the worry of cars next to you. This can also give you the confidence and skills to join in our group Sunday rides in the spring once it's warmer. Please note we cancel the velodrome session if there is any risk of ice.

Indoor cycling is possible too:

  • You can come along to one of our indoor cycling sessions held at Withdean stadium every Monday night through to the end of March. More information can be found: here https://www.brightontri.org/indoor-cycling/
  • Alternatively, you can cycle in the comfort of your own home if you invest in a turbo trainer or rollers. A turbo trainer locks in and elevates the back wheel of your regular bike (as long as it has a quick-release skewer) so you cycle in the comfort of your own home. You can listen to your own music or watch a film, or for extra motivation, you can sign up for an online training platform such as Trainer Road, or our favourite- Zwift. More information about Zwift can be found here zwift.com

If you do head out onto the roads, the following guide will help to keep you both safe and warm.

1. Club Rides Sunday - keep an eye on the Met Office weather report for Brighton, which will give you accurate weather and temperature forecasts, as well as ice and flood warnings https://www.metoffice.gov.uk Please note, if the temperature is forecast to drop below 2 °C on Saturday night, or if strong, gusting winds are forecast the club ride will be cancelled. Keep an eye on the members’ Facebook page. If you do decide to head out cycling, you need to be sure that you’ll be warm and safe, so read on to find out how.

2. Clothing - there is nothing worse than being cold on a bike ride, so investing in and choosing the right clothing can make or break a good ride. Layers help to keep you warm, but the most important aspect of your clothing should be that the outer layer is windproof (gloves, jacket and tights). Start with your outer layer- then add layers beneath that (sometimes only a long sleeve base-layer under your windproof jacket or jersey is all you need).

Helmet- this goes without saying, but a helmet should be considered mandatory for cycling at any time of the year. It should be comfortable to wear, and the chin-strap should fit snugly under your chin to stop the helmet moving about. The ratchet at the back of the helmet should also be tightened to keep the helmet in place. The front of the helmet should be just above your eyebrows. The helmet shouldn’t be jauntily perched on the back of your head. How old is your helmet? They do deteriorate with time, so if you have an old helmet at home, or especially if it has received any knocks or bangs then consider investing in a new one. Something to look out for is MIPS, which gives an added protection against rotational forces should you come off your bike. If you do fall and the helmet takes a knock, you must replace it, even if it looks OK. Extra warmth can be gained by wearing a beanie or headband under the helmet.

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Choose a good base layer, followed by a windproof winter cycling jersey or jacket. Having a packable gilet or rain jacket in your jersey pocket is a good idea so that you have an extra layer if it’s cold, or if you stop for coffee or a flat tyre. If you have space in your jersey or jacket pocket, consider taking a fresh base layer to change into when you do stop for coffee. It can really help to keep you warm on the cycle home!

Winter windproof cycling tights can help to keep your legs warm. Alternatively, you can wear your regular cycling shorts with a pair of running tights over the top.

Hand and feet can get exceptionally cold as the outside temperatures drop, so investing in good gloves and footwear is essential.

Hands: winter cycling gloves are available which can offer warmth and wind protection. A thin liner glove worn underneath can make a big difference. Some people like ‘lobster-claw’ gloves for when it gets really cold, but not everyone likes these due to difficulty changing gears. Brands to look out for include; SealSkinz and Roekel.

Feet: Winter Goretex cycling boots can be a good (if costly) investment- go for a size larger than you would normally wear so you can wear winter weight socks. Alternatively, invest in a pair of neoprene overshoes, which offer warmth and rain protection. Do make sure your feet have space- don’t be tempted to wear two layers of socks if your feet then feel tight in your cycling shoes as they will actually feel colder. Wear a pair of merino wool socks, and try wrapping them in aluminium foil before putting on your bike shoes- it can make a big difference!

Sunglasses should still be worn in winter as it helps to protect your eyes from drying out, and can actually improve your visibility. Go for lenses suitable for low light conditions, or even clear lenses.

Hi-Viz rules! While an all-black cycling outfit may look very cool, it can make it exceptionally hard for drivers to see you. Invest in brightly coloured cycling clothing, especially Hi-Viz options such as; gilets and rain jackets. 

3. It’s all about the bike! There are a few adjustments that can help to make your bike safer and more comfortable for winter cycling:

Winter bike. If you have an old road bike, use it in winter. Don’t be tempted to ride your expensive race bike if you have one. Winter cycling does take its toll on the bike, and salt from grit on roads can pre-dispose to corrosion. Whichever bike you use, wash it when you get home, even if it’s just a quick hose down.

Tyres. Choosing the right tyres is very important. Most standard road cycles are fitted with 23mm wide tyres. Changing these for wider 25mm or 28mm winter or all-season tyres can increase traction with the road surface and also help to guard against dreaded punctures. A favourite tyre is the Continental Grand Prix 4 season. Also reduce the tyre pressure slightly to enable more of the tyre surface to have contact with the road surface and therefore increase your grip. 

Safety check and service.   Autumn is a perfect time to get your bike serviced by a professional mechanic, to ensure everything is in safe working order for your winter cycling. You should also perform your own safety check before setting out on every ride. An easy way to remember what to check is to use the ‘M’ check- have a look at this video by British Triathlon, which explains it: https://www.britishtriathlon.org/news/make-sure-your-bike-is-ready-to-ride-with-beacon_6978

Light up like a Christmas Tree! Do use front and rear bike lights when cycling in winter, even during the day. A good quality bike light can really make you obvious to car drivers in the dim light conditions of winter. 

Mudguards (such as the Raceblade) can be easily and quickly fitted to most road bikes. The cyclist behind you on a group ride will really appreciate your effort in doing this! 

What to take with you?

i.    You should know the route before setting out. If you have a GPS device, ensure you download the route before the ride. It’s worth also considering taking a paper map with you in case technology fails or batteries run out.
ii.    A fully charged mobile phone in a waterproof bag
iii.    Cash (at least £10) and a credit card. You don’t know when you might need to get a train or taxi home or buy emergency food supplies.
iv.    Food and drink. You will still sweat in winter, and should, therefore, carry water (+/- electrolytes) on the bike. It’s also worth taking a snack with you or energy gel. You can burn a lot of energy cycling in winter, and there’s nothing worse than running out of energy (a.k.a. bonking), especially when it’s cold outside!
v.    A spare inner tube or two, a small hand pump, a CO2 inflator and control valve and a small cycle multi-tool. These can be carried in saddlebags, your jersey pocket or in carriers that are like water bottles and go into water bottle cages. A CO2 inflator is a canister of CO2 gas, which, when attached to the control valve can inflate a tyre in seconds. Much easier than pumping for several minutes with a hand-pump!
vi.    A first aid kit and a foil blanket. Accidents can happen, and if they do it’s important to be prepared. A small foil blanket can easily be carried and can prevent an injured cyclist from becoming hypothermic.
vii.    Identification. If you do cycle alone and have an accident, it’s really important that you can be identified quickly, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions. Identification bracelets can be bought which have your name, date of birth, blood type, and who to call in the event of an emergency inscribed on them. An example can be found here:  https://www.roadid.com

4.    When cycling.

a.    Try not to cycle alone in winter, but if you do, consider using something like Garmin LiveTrack or Strava Beacon so friends or family can track your progress. 
b.    Roads can become very pot-holed in winter, and debris can get washed onto the road surface from heavy rains, which means that punctures and potential accidents are more likely. To avoid these:

•    Try not to cycle too close to the kerb. This is where a lot of debris will collect as it gets washed into drains.
•    Proceed through puddles with extreme caution. There may be a pot-hole full of water which could make you fall off.
•    Take it carefully on descents and heading round corners. Oil, leaves and other debris can become very slippery in winter even without ice.
•    Remember the front brake is the most powerful brake, and forceful application can lock the front wheel and make you skid. Use the back brake more,  to slow down, by dabbing/feathering it rather than grabbing it tightly.
•    If you do encounter ice, do not be tempted to brake suddenly, as this will probably ensure you fall off. Instead, don’t touch the brakes, but roll over the ice until it’s safe to gently apply the back brake staying as relaxed as you can.

Winter can be a great time to work on your cycling fitness and improve your aerobic endurance. It’s also a great time to get to know your fellow club members in a social group riding/coffee-drinking kind of way. Follow our tips for safe and comfortable riding and we hope to see you soon!

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