Saturday, 24 October 2015

Keep on riding

If you didn't make it along to the recent "Keep on Riding" event at the Alpine Bikes Trek Store, you can find my hints and tips below for winter commuting, all built up over several years of commuting by bike and making many mistakes in the process!

Why keep riding through winter?

It's not always like this . . . 

The day before I did this talk at Alpine Bikes, this was the weather for my cycle home:

But even when the weather is poor, here's why I think you should keep riding:

  • All the same reasons apply to commuting by bike in summer and winter: it saves you money, it's good for the environment, good for your health and you'll arrive at work feeling refreshed and full of energy
  • It'll keep you away from crowded buses and trains full of all the sneezing, sniffing and coughing!
  • It'll help you keep the festive excesses off your waistline!
  • If, like me, you want to keep training on your bike over the winter, you're far more likely to do it if you're already on the bike when you leave work. 

Get your bike winter-ready

First and foremost, get your bike serviced.  Keeping your bike serviced well means it's far less likely for something to go wrong - do you want to be standing at the side of the road in freezing winter weather trying to repair something?
  • Keep it clean.  A quick 15 minute wash each week will keep your servicing and parts costs down.  I also recommend GT85 for dispersing water from the pivot points of your derailleurs.  Keeping your chain clean will also save you a fortune rather than wearing out your cassette and chainrings
  • Get chunkier tyres - not just for more grip, but they'll be more robust to avoid punctures from the debris you get on the roads in winter.
  • Fit mudguards!  A soggy rear end is not comfortable!  You don't need mudguard mounts - there are plenty of models out there that just attach to the frame with small rubber straps

If you can afford it, a separate winter bike is a great idea.  Remember, "n+1" is the perfect number of bikes, where n is your current number of bikes!  It's The Rules!  Consider a singlespeed to keep moving parts to a minimum (less to go wrong) or a cyclocross bike which you can use on and off road.

Be safe; be seen!

  • Front and rear lights are obvious but consider two at each end.  A helmet light at the front means you can look straight at drivers emerging from junctions to catch their attention.  Flashing mode saves battery life and attracts the eye more
  • Consider wheel lights to make you more visible from the side

  • Some lights charge via USB and some use batteries.  If you sit at a computer in work then USB is a great option as you can recharge them during the day.
  • Remember to use your lights when it's dull or foggy too
  • Consider your road position - avoiding the ruts near the kerb helps to prevent punctures but it'll also help you be seen rather than hiding between the parked cars
  • Clothing doesn't all have to be yellow but at least make sure you're not head-to-toe in black!  Bright colours and reflective strips on your clothing will really help.  I can't wait to try the recently announced Volvo Life Paint!

Keeping warm and dry

  • As in all outdoor pursuits, layers are vital!  Having different layers gives you the flexibility in changing weather.  I highly recommend Merino wool as it keeps you warm even when wet and doesn't smell when you get sweaty!
  • I find bib tights the warmest options.  You don't have to go full-on lycra though . . . just wear them under your baggies!
  • Arm and leg warmers provide good flexibility at the beginning and end of winter
  • Invest in a good quality jacket.  Visible, as mentioned above, but also ensure it's waterproof, breathable and windproof.  You don't want to boil in the bag!  Also make sure it's cycling specific or it won't cover your backside when you reach over to the handlebars
  • Consider having two pairs of gloves and keeping a spare set in work in case they get really wet on the way in.  Waterproof gloves are great but also consider lighter windproof ones for when it's not quite as cold and wet
  • If you can afford fully waterproof shoes they're a great idea but water can get in the top of them so consider wearing waterproof trousers over the top to prevent that happening
  • If you can't afford the shoes, go for waterproof shoe covers to keep your feet dry and your nice disco slippers shiny for the summer!
  • Sealskinz do waterproof socks too and again consider merino wool for your socks
  • Try to find somewhere in work to dry stuff when you do get wet . . . I used to hang stuff under my desk but my colleagues were not too keen on the smell!  Campaign for cupboards or storage space in work - just don't go getting into trouble with the Health & Safety department by drying your socks on the electric heaters!  I've never done that . . . honestly!

So, with a few changes to your bike and your clothes, there's no reason why you can't keep commuting to work by bike over the winter.  There will always be the odd day with crazy winds or snow and ice where it's more sensible to avoid the roads.  But the rest of the time, there's no excuse not to keep doing it and you'll arrive in Springtime feeling so much better for it!