Winter proofing: bike & rider
By Andy Brown, posted 19 October 2017
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Riding in winter's not too bad. In fact it can be really good, if you're prepared for it.
It’s getting darker. Murkier. Damper. There is fog. There is rain and there is cold. Sometimes biting cold reinforced by wind. The winter is coming. Are you prepared for the change in cycling conditions?
Winter is coming. If you ride your bike all year now is the time to weatherproof you and your bicycle. Most bike riders know the basics, but it is always worth having a check list as we all forget things from time to time – don’t we? The main thing to consider about cycling from say November to April is not be nervous about the winter weather. Instead respect it. That is what being prepared is all about.
So, why not give it a try. If you are the kind of bike rider who might not normally consider facing up to the worst the UK weather can throw at them from now until the spring (when let’s face it, a lot of bikes get dusted off and wheeled out) give it a try. Turbo trainers, rollers, spin classes all have their place. But nothing beats the wind in your face (or at your back) and sometimes a bit of rain and even ice can be hugely exhilarating. But be prepared. Here are our top tips.
Clean it. Keep your bike clean. Start by cleaning off the bike and learning to do it properly and with a bit more respect. Take care; a bucket of warm water, bit of washing up liquid or bike detergent (read the instructions) and a wet cloth and dry cloth. Rub it down. Get into the nooks and crannies and if you can’t then don’t be shy about turning it upside down or fixing it in a stand so you can see all of it. If you commute, or ride regularly, it is very easy to just take the bike for granted and stash it the shed or garage and forget about until the next ride. Too many of us ignore the noises, rubbing and excess muck. Keep it clean and the bike will repay with slick gear changes, easy rolling and safer riding in the winter.
Bike Maintenance. Apply the M-rule. When Just Ride the Bike went to the bike maintenance course with the Bristol Bike Project we learnt the best way to check the bike. You start assessing your bike from the front wheel hub, work your way up the forks and trace the pattern of an ‘M’ as you move around the bike’s frame . It’s simple, but you need to be methodical. Many bike maintenance errors occur because people begin enthusiastically, but with no clear plan and often are quite disorganised without having somewhere clean and clear for parts or tools. You can do this whilst cleaning, or better, do it as you dry the bike. You will spot more dirt to remove, brake pads to replace, wires to tighten, chains and derailleurs to clean (again). Be thorough. And make notes. Make a list of what you’re not sure about – don’t ignore it. It is no shame to book the bike into a service to prepare for the winter – and ask the team at your friendly local bike store to give you more top tips. Don’t be intimidated, they love offering advice.
The 'M' check
Mudguards. If you have ever heard anyone talk about The Rules then you might have already decided about mudguards. Fix them on your bike – that’s our advice. You can pretend to be a tough professional bike rider in the Belgian mud anytime you like, but everyone else will want you to fix a mudguard. It keeps the spray away from fellow riders; it keeps it off your clothes (it isn’t a badge of honour, it is a stubborn stain that remains long after the hottest of washes) and it helps keep the worst of the grime off the rest of the bike, seat post and the seat. Any mudguard will do. Just fix it on. We’ll think more of you, not less.
Wear the right cycling gear. Are you going to be dry, warm and safe from the worst the winter can throw at you whilst riding the bike? Buy a decent waterproof (and wind proof too) coat designed for cycling – but one that fits, don’t sacrifice function over form. Wet top, cape, Gabba (great but pricy) – call it what you like. This is one area where fashion is wrong and practicality ticks all the boxes. Think how it will hang when you sit on the bike – does it reach further down the back than a normal jacket? But you don’t want it flapping about. Commuters will want something much more practical and there are many designs and makes to choose from. Weekend warriors might lean towards a snugger fit. Either way, choose a bright colour too – what you wear keeps you warm but it can help keep you safe too. And when you’re looking at the coat or jacket in the cupboard or stuffed in a pannier, think about your gloves, a hat (to go under your helmet) and socks too. Layer up. Merino wool base layers can’t be beaten, but you will find the right formula for your body type and temperature – we all heat up and cool down differently. But you’re going to need something that wicks away and works as a team with the other clothes – jersey, jacket and water proof or wind proof coat.
Get your lights sorted. Light ‘em up. We ride with our lights on all the year round because we want to be noticed. It is not an ego thing. It is a safety thing, based on the assumption that drivers will not anticipate a cyclist being around the next corner from them – on any roads. Only in the clearest and hottest summer days will we occasionally leave the lights at home. So, check your lights. Have you got spare batteries? If they are USB chargeable when as the last time they were fired up? USB lights are the popular offer right now, but they can lose their charge quickly so, check them after each ride and make sure if you’re commuting you can charge them up at work as well as at home. Do you have any lights? If not then buy them – now. Front and back. You need to be seen and to be able to see. If you follow some sensible actions, and make sure you and your bike are well looked after and comfortable, then cycling in winter is something that might be enjoyed rather than endured. You can’t ignore it, better then to embrace it. Do whatever you need to do, then you can just ride the bike.
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