How to cycle in the winter

How to cycle in winter

I have to admit that I used to be a fair weather cyclist.  My bike hibernated in the shed from September to March, but I'm pleased to say that I have overcome my issues and have been cycling this autumn and winter.  Believe me, if I can do it, ANYONE can.  (Unless of course you are not actually able to ride a bike due to disability or illness).  If bikes aren't your thing, much of this blog can be applied to walking instead (or as well).

Finding a suitable, sustainable bike 

Get a bike that fits and suits you.  If your existing bike is too big / small / racy / uncool / lumpy /  heavy / or fast, sell it and buy or swap it for one that's perfect for you.  The Gloucestershire bike project is brilliant.  You can donate old bikes, buy a refurbished bike, borrow a bike (free!) and they also run bike-building and maintenance courses. There are zillions of second hand bikes on Ebay, Preloved, Freecycle, classified ads etc. Some people favour folding bikes which are especially good to use with public transport as it doesn't always take you to your exact destination.

Is your bike in need of some TLC?

Does your bike resemble this poor specimen below?  If so, get yourself on a course, find a good You Tube Channel, or get an expert to help - perhaps you have a local Repair Café where they can assist you. If you feel a bit nervous about cycling, consider taking a bike safety or refresher course.  Always make sure that your tyres are pumped up well as this will make cycling a lot easier and you'll warm up if you have a hand (foot) pump too.  

Children and bikes

When my daughter was small, our only mode of transport was a bike with a child carrier on the back. It was brilliant for getting about. For parents with babies, Tagabikes are amazing too as they can be turned into pushchairs or ridden as bikes with baby carriers. Magic.

Brrr, it's too cold to cycle, what do I need to keep warm?

One of the things I loathe almost more than anything else is being cold - when people say to me, I don't like it either, I often notice that they are wearing a t-shirt and I will almost certainly be wearing four or five layers.  I mean I REALLY hate being cold and I am basically freezing unless I'm in a sauna which isn't always practical.  Consequently, it can be especially hard to want to get onto a bike during the winter. Sometimes it's worth warming up first by doing a few star jumps to get the circulation going.  Most of you will be plenty warm enough once you get started.

Ok, strictly speaking this is not me doing a star jump in the winter, but you get the idea.

Clothes suitable for winter bike riding  

The extremities are the obvious things that freeze when cycling. I have mastered this by the following: I wear a wooly hat underneath my cycle helmet, leggings under my trousers, thinner gloves underneath my winter cycling gloves, plenty of top layers and waterproofs if necessary.  Wrap-around sunglasses help cover a bit more of my face as well.  By the time I'm finished, it's only the tip of my nose and chin that are exposed and not triple-wrapped. Once I'm on the move, I may even get too hot, then I am able to remove a layer (or six!) and pop them into my rucksack.

Be seen on your bike (hi-viz)

Be visible. Be visible. Be visible. When driving my car, I like to think that I am bike-friendly and I look out for and give plenty of room to cyclists, but last year, I pulled out and nearly hit a cyclist who was completely clad in black - despite looking carefully, I just didn't see him. I have a luminous cycle helmet and a jacket that are so hi-viz, that people often say something along the lines of, 'Gosh you're bright, you can't miss you.' Which is of course the desired effect.

Be seen on your bike (lights)

Get some bike lights and use them in the daytime as well as at night.  I have some rechargeable LED lights which are great as we have green energy at home where they are charged.  They are simple to fit and have three settings so I can be a flasher if I like.  I bought the lights and the cycle hat from our local, independent bike shop, here's a link to their Facebook page Tewkesbury Autospares.  I have been going here for years and the value and customer service is brilliant.

Tips for going shopping by bike instead of by car

We find that if we shop more often we actually buy less and waste fewer things which does sound a bit odd, but rather than a huge weekly or monthly shop, we'll pop out more regularly just for a few things at a time.  It means that we are buying fresher food too.  If you shop by bike instead of using the car, it keeps you fit, ticks the exercise box and doesn't add to world pollution.  You can always share the load by persuading a friend or the whole family to go with you. You may be surprised how much you can carry in a rucksack.  If it's heavy, think how strong and smug you'll feel when you get back.  Or get a basket or some panniers.  How cool are these?! They would stop the cars coming too close as well.

Or DIY and have lavender scented storage!

We regularly cycle from home (in Tewkesbury) to Cheltenham (about 8 miles) using the back lanes which are far more pleasant because we find them safer, there are far fewer cars and also some lovely views.  It takes about 40 minutes because we aren't racers, we don't have road (racing) bikes and we like to take in those views ;)

Think you may have too much to carry?  For some people, it's not a problem, simples.

The psychology of winter cycling

For those of us who feel the cold, it can be a real struggle to choose your bike rather than getting into a car which you know has a heater, but we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I feel that I really want to live as sustainably as possible and if I'm being careful about waste, plastic and the food I choose to buy, then I should really practise what I teach in terms of car journeys too.  Like many things, once you start, it does get easier.  Set yourself reasonable distance goals and don't let yourself make excuses: I'll be late - not if you leave enough time, It will be cold - not if you wear suitable clothes.

Winter weather cycling

If you can, choose to go out when the weather is at its kindest.  We sometimes have fabulous days in the winter and this can really help.  A couple of weeks ago, I went out to an appointment using my bike and it was so lovely that I decided to attend a meeting that evening that I was going to miss because I felt it was too close to use the car.  It was an exhilarating evening ride and a productive meeting as well.

Further winter cycling options

Finally, if none of the above options suit you because you have too much to carry, hate the rain or need some help up a hill, then voila, here's the solution for you - a cargo trike with electric assistance.

Will you consider going on your bike instead of in your car to your next short destination?