Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
By Andy Chivers
Winter approaches and with it comes the inescapable seasonal songs in praise of white Christmases. Cyclists may feel differently about that and cold weather is generally a big turn off for many. Paradoxically, commuting by bike when the weather is bad is even more beneficial than when the weather is good because the traffic is more gummed up than usual and those travelling by bike will be even further ahead of the jam. It’s worth aiming to be a four-season cyclist, even if that means undertaking a bit of preparation now.
As well as the roads being cold, wet, windy and dark, there may also be ice and snow to anticipate:
- The first and most obvious thing to do is get a pair of lights which really help you to see the road ahead, as well as being seen (reflective clothing can help with being seen by other road users too). If you have a bike worth spending a bit of money on, a hub dynamo with fixed front and rear lights will give you the confidence that you will always have powerful lighting from the moment you start moving. The initial outlay is more than an average set of bike lights (around £120), but once fixed, your lighting will be hassle free – they won’t get stolen, they never go flat and they are so bright. Importantly, LED dynamo lights stay on when you stop at traffic lights unlike those of a generation ago.
- Mudguards and waterproof jacket and trousers transform a miserable wet ride into something almost approaching cosiness and going the extra mile with waterproof gloves and neoprene overshoes completes the outfit. I keep my waterproofs in a canvas tote bag and if rain looks possible I throw it into my pannier. One refinement is to use a jacket with a hood but wear a helmet on top so that your view is not obstructed when you turn to look over your shoulder (which all bike riders should be able to do).
- For really cold weather, mittens are much better at keeping fingers warm, and shoes with plenty of wriggle room are better than tight ones. Generally your body will stay warm while you are cycling, so it is enough to pay attention to the extremities. A snood and a skull cap are cheap and easily fit in a pocket when not needed.
- Winter is a time to give your bike a Christmas clean and oil the chain, check the brake blocks aren’t too worn (wet and grit speed up the wear). Have a look at the treads on the tyres – they will give you more grip in the wet – and check they are inflated too since that helps road holding. If you haven’t treated yourself to a track pump, perhaps this Christmas is the time to persuade someone?
Finally, how should one ride safely in wet or icy conditions? I am only going to consider urban riding here, as riding on snow on rural roads or even off-road tracks is a whole other challenge.
Snow rarely lasts even a few hours in a city, but what does remain tends to be in the gutter, which is where a lot of people cycling tend to ride: you need to be assertive and ride further out in the carriageway. Mostly though, the snow melts quickly and everything is wet and slushy, so you (alongside the rest of the traffic) will have a problem with grip.
Riding in adverse conditions may not appeal to everyone, but it’s worth it for the sense of achievement, the time and money saved compared with using a bus and even better, you are showing the world that bikes are for all seasons.