There is nothing more likely to discourage many people from getting on their bikes for a social ride than the thought and reality of being uncomfortable. Yeah, we can chant Rule #5 and Rule #9 to ourselves, but when it comes down to being snugly and warm in front of the telly or facing a howling gale and lashing rain outside..?
Unfortunately, or fortunately, I don’t have the option to stay off my bike. Joint problems (including early-onset arthritis) mean if I want to stay sane and off the heavy meds, I have to keep cycling. This does not mean a turbo, even if I had the room.
I’ve been a roadie for over three years, I usually do between 50 to 200 miles a week on mostly club rides and local errands. One winter, I cycled all winter. Several rides, my water bottle froze solid. Sometimes my feet did too. I’m not talking about commuting, that requires a different breed, I’m talking about hitting the Surrey lanes for 60-milers, plus doing 40-odd miles in the dark on a weekday night. The one thing that will stop me cycling is ice. I’m not going there on a skinny-wheeled road bike.
The Weatherman is your friend…and foe
British weather is very changeable. I’ve gone to bed the night before a big ride with my gear all planned, even laid out, only to find the next morning the forecast has completely changed.
And yes, at this time of year, always check the weather before you’re due to depart for the area you’re going to be cycling in. On a ride to Oxford, at the top of the Chilterns it started bucketing down and I was ill-prepared with no mudguards and few dry layers. While asking for directions, I mentioned the previous night the forecast had been dry. An old dear gazed over her rain-dampened spectacles at me and scoffed, condescendingly, ‘It wasn’t this morning.’ Lesson learnt.
Conversely, I’ve checked the forecast at 9pm the night before and read ‘torrential rain’ with dismay, only for it to change barely two hours later to no rain at all. The Met Office isn’t always right, but it’s a good guide. If in doubt, better to take extra than freeze.
First, your bike. There’s loads of articles on ‘how to winterise’ them.
The quick and dirty solution to keeping your bike going is the odd rinse with a hosepipe and brush when you return from a ride, and baby wipes on the chainset, rims and other important, moving parts, followed by lube where needed (chain, mechs, cables).
Winter grit left on your chainset will wear it out much faster, and will make changing gear less smooth.
(Baby wipe tip: although I find Huggies are the most mild on your skin, they’re the least effective on your bike. Own brand, or J&J’s are particularly effective. Scarily so, I wouldn’t use them on a baby, they’re so harsh. )
(I’ll try to do a video of this at a later date.)
Prop bike against something so that you can turn the crank, or turn it upside down. Run the chain through a few baby wipes, loosening gunge with a bit of degreaser/lube and a toothbrush chain cleaner (two old brushes electrical taped together) if needed. Wipe chainrings and jockey wheels (the home of grit buildup). Clean around cables.
Pop front wheel out. Wipe around rims with fresh baby wipes (depending on the make, they may leave a residue you want to clean off with a wet paper towel). Check brake pads for grit, file off any shiny bits. Pop wheel back in, check tyre for foreign objects, turning wheel slowly and poking a pin or similar into any holes to detect intruders. Check/adjust brakes.
Pop rear wheel out. Repeat tyre, rim & pad clean/check. Clean cassette by running (sawing) baby wipes back and forth between the cog gaps (you’ll have a marvellously clean cassette in less than a minute), pop wheel back in, a bit of lube, check/adjust brakes & gears.
Check tyre pressures and batteries for lights. And, done. Your bike will probably still look dirty, but your chainset, tyres and brakes will thank you for the attention. This should take 15 minutes or less, less time than it takes to fix that puncture by the side of the road from a piece of glass which has spent the last 100 miles working its way into your tyre…
For a longer clean, fit a quicklink to your chain so you can remove it for cleaning the rest of the chainset.
Toe overlap & mudguards
If you’re of a smaller stature with a smaller-framed bike, you may find off-the-peg front mudguards difficult or even impossible to fit properly without rubbing. Plus you have the added bother of increased toe overlap at slower speeds. I’ve never bothered with the front.
Rear mudguards are much easier, my SKS Race Blade has been invaluable there. A dry arse is much valued at cafe/pub stops. If you can fit full-length rears for the sake of your riding mates, do so. A face full of nasty road spray is not nice.
Again, there’s plenty of articles elsewhere about this.
One of the biggest boosts I found in my confidence on the road was changing my tyres; certain highly puncture-resistant tyres are renowned for having very bad grip, especially in the wet (*cough* Skatorskins *cough*). What you use on your commute on glass-ridden town roads may not be the best option for a social ride.
I’m currently riding 25mm GP4000s II tyres both front and back. Better grip and more comfort with no impact on speed. If your bike frame has the clearance, go for the wider tyre.
Ensure your tyres are at the right pressure. So many people thing that the max pressure is what you aim for, but if you’re female and lighter, the harder tyres will ‘bounce’ you off the road, creating less grip. In summer I ride 95 front, 100 rear, although many consider this too high for my weight. I’ll knock this down to 85/90 in winter. Too-hard tyres can also contribute to high-speed p*nctures, as you’re hitting the road harder.
In winter, you ride with lower pressures for better grip, especially when it’s wet. However, this is not an excuse to stop getting the track pump out.
And as mentioned earlier CHECK YOUR TYRES REGULARLY! Very few p*nctures are caused by a one-off event happening in that same ride, most are shards that work their way in over time. That means most p*nctures are preventable! And if a clubmate has a flat, don’t stand by and gawp at them while they fix it, check your own at the same time. If one person has run over glass and picked up a p*ncture, there’s a chance someone else has run over glass from the same bottle.
Upgraded brake pads. I recommend Kool Stop Salmon (get Wiggle to do a price match with Jensen USA & order 4 pairs, you’ll go through them quicker in winter). You may need to get shoes to put these in. And keep your rims clean as above. If you’re riding through puddles, always clean your pads off/test your brakes afterwards.
Next: clothing choices.