Cycling is great exercise – but, it can seem a little less pleasant – or safe – in winter when it’s dark or slippery out. So, I asked some experts how to make cycling seem a bit more appealing if the weather isn’t exactly outdoor-friendly. If you’re new at winter cycling, or just want to improve your safety or comfort, check out our expert tips that could be extremely useful if you want to keep pedalling throughout the winter months and keep a smile on your face.
Buy Good Cycling Gloves
Warm hands not only make riding on colder days more pleasant, it’s also an important safety feature as cold hands might not react as well in an emergency.
You might just think you can pop on a pair of woolly ones, but Jim Riach from Scottish Cycling says cycling gloves are better ‘as they aren’t bulky which helps you retain a good feeling for controlling the bike and brakes.’ That’s obviously super important if you need to hit the brakes.
He recommends dhb Long Finger Windproof Cycling Gloves (click here to check those out).
If you’re in the UK, the Muddy Fox range via Sports Direct also offers affordable, professional kit. Click here to investigate.
Buy a Specialist Cycling Shirt
Proper kit isn’t just for posing – a wicking top which draws water away from the skin will reduce sweat evaporation which can make you colder.
One layer isn’t enough for warmth though so, ‘add a looser insulator layer made from wool, fleece or a synthetic fibre to trap air near the skin and top that with an outer shell made from a wind-blocking or water-resistant material like Gore-tex,’ says Natasha Chauhan from Halfords.
Again, you’ll find a good range at Sports Direct in the UK including brands like ODLO, Muddy Fox and Pearl Izumi.
Test Your Lights in Daylight
‘If you can see them from a distance on a normal day, you’re definitely going to be seen effectively on a dark night or dull day,’ says Rachel Howard from Cyclescheme (the Government subsidy scheme to get people commuting by bike). Remember, you must have lights on whenever visibility is poor not just at night.
Buy Lights With the Right Specs
A good front bike light should be bright as its job is to light the road in front of you, as well as make you visible to other road users. In the city you’re looking for at least 200 lumens, if you have less well-lit roads on your route you should go higher and ideally, it should flash or stand out in some other way.
It’s also important to check the battery time as the brightness of the beam will decline if the battery charge is low. Look for long battery life and make sure you keep the batteries charged.
Rear bike lights don’t have to be as bright as front ones as they don’t need to illuminate ahead of you – just show to other road users.
Brands like Beryl, Cateye and See.Sense score highly in reviews from specialist bike magazines.
However, don’t just rely on lights to be seen.
Use Reflective Strips
The more reflective your outfit the more chance you have of being seen by other road users. Bright colours are good for being seen in daylight, but at night even the brightest yellow won’t show up as well as something that has reflective properties so pick kit that includes reflective panels.
There’s also a surprising place that you might want to wear your reflective strips.
According to research by Dr Philippe Lacherez from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, you should wear reflectives in 2-3 different body areas – but always put them around your knees or ankles. The light bouncing off the strips as you pedal is highly visible to cars.
In fact, people wearing reflective strips and a reflective vest were actually seen more clearly than those just using a bike light.
Try reflective snaps that fit around your ankles. Like these ones.
You’re better using reflective tape around knees, or pick cycling leggings that have reflective panels.
Know the Slip Spots
Drain covers, tram/train tracks, white or yellow lines and the white parts of Zebra crossings can be particularly slippy when the weather is wet so be super careful. ‘And if you find yourself on ice, just keep going in a straight line and don’t brake,’ says Rachel Howard. ‘If you have to stop, use the rear brake gently and you should be able to get a foot down and stay upright if the bike slides around.
Try a Cycle Path
If you get nervous riding near cars at night, visit CycleStreets.net to find specific cycle paths.
However, you might want to avoid these if it’s snowy or icy though, ‘Minor roads and cycle paths are often not gritted so you might be better on a bigger road with traffic,’ says Rachel Howard.
Judge the Wind Direction
Wet on your finger: then hold it in the air – and see which side dries first. You then want to cycle toward that as that’s the way the wind is blowing. ‘It’s better to go into the wind to start, ‘says Jim Riach. ‘You’ll then get a wind-assisted journey home when you’re more tired.’
Buy De-icer Spray
‘Small metal parts on your bike – and your bike lock – can freeze solid if it’s very cold and this helps free things up,’ says Rachel Howard.
Fit Special Bike Bags
‘Not only are these more comfortable than wearing a backpack which creates sweat which can make you cold, wearing a bag on your back covers up reflective clothing making you harder to be seen,’ says Jim Riach.
You’ll find bags which fix everywhere from handlebars to either side of the wheels.
And Use Mudguards
Fit these and you won’t end up splattered after every ride. As Phil Cavell from Cycle Fit told us ‘you get wetter from the road than the sky.’
So, there you have it, our guide to staying safe, and happy, cycling in winter. If you have any more tips, then please let us know in the comments.
What to Read Next
Hopefully this will help encourage you to keep cycling outside in winter, but, if you do have a few days when it’s impossible to get outside, then you might want to look at this post on ways to work on your exercise even when you can’t workout outside – it talks about running, but many of the tips work just as well for cycling.
If you’d prefer to take your cycling inside during winter, but don’t like spinning because it makes you ache, then this is the post you need to check out. It contains the best advice from some top spinning instructors to help making spinning more comfortable.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.