Category Archives: TuTorial

“Help! My bike won’t stop!” A few words about rim brakes.

There’s some words of advice that I find myself repeating, over and over again, to new or relatively new cyclists. Even to some more experienced ones.

Recently, the advice was relating to the rim brakes provided with most road bikes. And it occurred to me that I’d be better off blogging those words for posterity. [This is a work in progress – additions are welcome and I’ll probably edit at a later date.]

There are three main reasons that people have trouble stopping, or with handling:

  1. Bike setup – components, etc. Sometimes the tools can be blamed.
  2. Bike setup – geometry. Does the bike really fit? Adjustments made to geometry can so easily have a negative effect on handling.
  3. Technique – how brakes are used. To stop is the obvious answer, but it’s sometimes not that simple.

This post primarily deals with 1. However, the other points do have an impact and cannot be immediately discounted, especially if you’re trying to help a newbie cyclist.

The advice doesn’t change that much depending on whether your bike is new or secondhand – some stock pads and brake calipers which come with new bikes are pathetic, and I’ve seen old and new cable messes.

So, here we go:

Change brake pads.

For the biggest improvement. Stock pads, even Shimano, are usually very poor, and often seem to pick up a glaze and grit from the road. I’ve always found Kool Stop Salmon more than enough, but other friends swear by Swissstop.

Don’t even think of the integrated shoes and rims – my experience of them was downright dangerous.

Check the pads are aligned properly on the rim, and also equidistant from the rim on both sides.

Much woolliness when braking is caused by one side making contact before the other. If the caliper moves too freely, tighten the bolt holding it on the frame. Some toe pads in,

Clean rims and pads.

Dirt and water can impair performance, and shorten the life of your bike parts. If I don’t have time for a full bike clean, I’ll often wipe the rims down with baby wipes and use a metal file to take any glaze or unevenness from the pads.

If I’m riding in the rain, I’ll clean my rims off every now and again with light braking. If I go over a gritty surface on a leisure ride, I sometimes stop briefly to rinse my rims with a bit of water from my bidon. A hose outside a cafe on a wet ride is a bonus.

Check both calipers are springing back freely.

Dirty brakes can stiffen up, especially if you don’t use mudguards or clean/lube them often enough. Lack of maintenance added to the passage of time can also create play in the caliper, which impacts on performance. If there is play, brakes are expensive to refurbish and it’s usually more astute to buy new calipers.

Adjust the brake cable tension.

The bite point should be equal for front and back – about a third in of the total lever movement.

If you have short fingers, you could bring it in further for better control, but be aware you may have to adjust the tension more often.

You could also insert some shims (older groupsets) or adjust the settings to bring the lever initially closer. I have shims in all of my shifters.

Check the brake cables are running freely.

The inner wire needs to be able to move freely within the outer, and if it doesn’t, braking will be poor. The ends of the outer cables need to be finished properly and not catching the inner wire. (My new bike this year had this problem.)

If your bike is secondhand, it would probably benefit from new cables. Every bike I’ve bought secondhand has had some corroded cables.

Cables are the wrong length?

Some new and secondhand bikes come with cables that are far, far too long. I’m guessing this is because it gives leeway for fitting longer stems without doing a total cable overhaul. However, sloppy cables negatively affect braking performance. If the stem has been shortened, the cables will almost certainly be too long. I’m pretty certain most bike shops won’t address this issue after doing a fitting.

Similarly, outer cables can be too short, which also impacts braking and is dangerous.

Change the calipers

As mentioned above, it’s common to have a new bike with cheaper calipers which are out of odds with the rest of the groupset. Some people have even sworn to me that they have a full Tiagra groupset when the brakes have been Tektro or unnamed.  Upgrading your calipers can be a massive boost.

New tyres?

Some tyres are renowned for poor grip, and the narrow tyres found on many budget bikes don’t have as good a contact patch as wider variants. My descending improving immeasurably when I changed to Conti GP 4000s in 25c.

If however you’ve stuck too-wide tyres on narrow rims, you’ll experience what they call the ‘light bulb effect’ on cornering, so it’s worth checking the profile of your tyres for this.


As a last point, just a few words of advice can sometimes help a nervous braker or descender to improve their speed or safety. Foot and hand positioning, looking around corners, weight distribution, line, weather etc. Mental attitude also contributes to this – tension and fear isn’t something you can overcome overnight.

Watching a few clips of YouTube can be invaluable, or preferably, I recommend signing up to a race training or skills course.


Started Cycling this Summer? Advice for beginners

Just a collection of words of advice for those starting out. Spring/summer’s a good time to begin, with the warmer weather and longer days. I’m not a professional-anything (except fiction writer!), these are tips I’ve picked up from the days of being a newbie, and helping other newbies along.


People blame all kinds of factors for there being less women on road bikes than men. From vanity to not having friends out there.

Do you know what the single major factor I’ve noticed is? The one thing that really puts women off?

Their bike doesn’t fit.

It’s as simple as that. They aren’t comfortable, they are more wobbly, they feel unsafe in the drops, and bits of their bodies start hurting after only a few miles.

Discomfort means they never get the zen-like feeling of flying along for miles and miles. Of spending a really enjoyable day in the saddle with friends. Of finding an exercise that works for them in the battle against the bulge.

I actually started on a hybrid, so learnt to use my gears and keep cadence BEFORE I looked for a road bike. I don’t think I would have been so brave as to get a road bike straight away. That my seat is higher than my bars would have spooked me out for a start!

Size – For a start, is your road bike the right size for you? A quick way to tell is your seat should be higher than the handlebars.

If you are struggling to keep your hands on the hoods for the duration of a ride, the reach is too long. (I’d say 50% of newbie women I lead out on rides are on bikes which are too big for them, or would have been easier to control had they got a smaller size).
There’s not much you can do if your bike’s top tube is too long, as moving the seat forward too much will also depower your pedalling, and the seat may dig in. A badly-fitting bike leads to instability, lack of confidence, lack of desire to be on a bike and pain – neck, arms, hands, shoulders and crotch in particular.

Instability issues could be caused by the geometry of the bike – if a too-long bike has been made smaller by shortening the stem, the steering becomes twitchier. Coupled with women’s bars being narrower, guess what? Yep, wobbling all over the place. Wider bars with shallower drops may make you feel more stable, but aren’t a long-term solution as may give you shoulderblade pain once you’re really putting the miles in.

(I ride a 48cm with 38cm bars and a 120mm stem – 4cm longer than the stem it came with. It improved the handling immeasurably.)

Saddle – It should be the right width to support your sit bones but not so wide that you can’t pedal properly. It also should be level, or the nose marginally pointed down. Apart from that, saddle is personal choice as everyone is different. The right one can be heaven, the wrong one hell.

Shifters – are you struggling to reach the levers in the drops, or squeeze the brakes on the hoods? Two things you can do here (if the levers aren’t adjustable): insert shims in the tops of the levers which bring them closer to the bars, and loosen the brake cable to bring the ‘bite point’ of the brakes closer to the bars.
(Last year, I finished rebuilding a bike but forgot to put the shims back in. I have never been so scared going down one particular hill, and my hands were killing me from straining to reach the brakes. They make a big difference.)

I also have my shifters angled slightly inwards. I’ve found this takes pressure off my shoulders and hands, and was recommended to me during a bike fit.

Pedals Don’t be rushed into clipping in. Put flat metal pedals back on so you can stop worrying about your feet and concentrate on learning to steer and use the gears/brakes. Only clip in once you’re feeling like the bike is part of you, and are going fast enough to need them. I’ve always used MTB shoes and pedals (SPDs, or ‘spuds’) as I need to walk normally off a bike due to my joint problems.

Gearing – Compact crankset (50/34), and a decent cassette on the rear (11-28) if you have any hills around. There’s no harm in having a triple crankset, nor a basic groupset such as Sora or Tiagra, though 105 is really what you should be aiming for, if possible.

Training – Some local clubs will have newbie sessions (I’ve been helping out with one around here), plus BC or other organisations have training sessions you could attend.


Helmet – I’m not convinced of the efficacy of wearing a helmet. However, you’ll get hassle if you don’t wear one, sometimes from complete strangers.

Sweatband – Can make an ill-fitting helmet more comfortable, and if you sweat heavily, stop it getting into your eyes. I don’t usually wear one in the summer.

Glasses – I would never cycle without a pair of clear glasses, at least. You want to keep insects and pollen out of your eyes. Safety glasses are only a few quid, and available in many different designs – you don’t have to fork out for expensive cycling glasses which, if you’re anything like me, will end up broken in short order. And if they get scratched, just buy a new pair. I like Bolle.

Moving on to clothes: don’t splurge on too much kit to begin with – if you really start enjoying cycling, you will lose weight and all your nice kit will be too big.  I was lucky enough to find a secondhand bundle of good quality brands on eBay which I wore until I lost too much weight and they started (literally) dropping off me. There’s nothing sadder than sagging Lycra.

Jersey –  Look for body length, zip length, and proper (usually 3) pockets. You may fancy going sleeveless, but you’ll be mistaken for a triathlete. Besides, it’s OK to have strange tan lines.

Padded shorts Generally, the more you pay for shorts, the better they should be.

Waist shorts are convenient for going to the loo, but the waistband can dig in, and there may be a gap at the back if your jersey is short in the body or rises up.

Bib shorts (traditional-style) should be more comfortable on the bike, but can be awkward for going to the loo.

Loo-friendly bib shorts are difficult to find, and some people don’t necessarily find they’re any more convenient than normal shorts. I have a couple of pairs I like though.

Wind/rain jacket I carry one in my second bidon (water bottle) for most of the year, but in the summer, you may want to have two bottles of fluids for any ride over 40 miles (one water, one energy or electrolyte drink). Always check the forecast an hour or so before you go out (NOT the previous day) – if it looks like the weather will change, or you’re riding into the evening, always take a light jacket. I have one with zip-off sleeves which doubles as a gilet or arm warmers.

Arm warmers Very useful for those rides which aren’t quite warm enough to go sleeveless. I often have them around my wrists for parts of some rides. There are different weights available, but the most important is to find a pair which don’t fall down. Look for a good, tight fit at the top.

Knee/leg warmers aren’t really needed in the summer, but they’re worth knowing about.

Fingerless gloves I can’t cycle without gloves. Like saddle fit, these are often a personal preference. Never touch another rider’s gloves – you don’t know where they’ve been.

Socks and shoes Trainer socks, ankle socks? Who the hell cares? Just get on your bike!

As above, I advise most newbies not to clip in until they’re confident handling their bike.  A pair of trainers and flat metal pedals (which will grip the rubber soles) will do until then. When advancing to clipping in, road shoes have better transfer of power than MTB spuds, but IMO that doesn’t really matter until you start racing.

I think I’ve covered all the basics. Please comment if you agree/disagree/want to know more.

TuTorial: Group riding advice

As per all of these posts, this will be a fluid document to which I will make improvements and add other people’s suggestions. Comments are welcome

Group riding advice

***It is recommended that anyone who rides on public roads has appropriate cycle insurance cover (e.g. as provided by the British Cycling, British Triathlon Association or the Cycle Touring Club)***

Club rides are unsupervised and the organiser/ride leader is not responsible for your safety; everyone on the ride must take responsibility to look out for others’ safety as well as their own. Experienced riders may ask you to adjust your speed, road position or style. Please respect them, as they are only concerned for everybody’s safety. Always bear in mind that everyone in the group may not be as confident or have as good bike handling skills as you.

When riding in a group, you should always aim to ride steadily with no sudden movements

Below is some basic advice to follow to make group rides enjoyable and safe for you and other road users:


Highway Code: Follow the Highway Code at all times and be considerate to fellow road users. Do not jump red lights. The lead riders should always wait for the group to come back together after hazards before picking the pace up.

No overlapping wheels: This is considered bad manners and dangerous.

Distance between riders: When riding in an experienced group on flat or rolling terrain, there should be 1ft-3ft (30cm-1m) between your front wheel and the back wheel of the rider in front. However, it is understandable that some riders do not want to ride so close to ‘strange wheels’, and some beginners should not be forced to ride too close until they are more confident.

Single or Double file: This entirely depends on road and weather conditions, or even type of ride. Be prepared on narrow or busy roads to ride in single file.

Two abreast (Double file): Where appropriate and safe to do so, usually in larger groups, cycle a maximum of two abreast in 2 close parallel lines, with 1ft (30cm) between your shoulders and any rider beside you. Focus on keeping it neat and tidy. Ride behind the wheel of the rider in front; if you cycle in the middle of the two wheels in front of you, you will push the cyclist on your outside into the path of passing vehicles. Do not half-wheel i.e. try to cycle faster than the person beside you, this is considered very bad manners. Ensure hazards are well signalled so the group has time to react.

Braking and pedalling: Cover your brakes at all times. Brake as gently and smoothly as you safely can when riding in a pack. When on the front, keep pedalling – this is particularly important going downhill. If you freewheel, everyone behind will have to brake. Avoid sudden movements.

Do not ride off the front: It will be assumed that you are riding by yourself. However, a group should always try to wait for those who fall off the wheel and drop behind.

Ride together and wait: Ride at a steady pace, keeping the pack as a compact unit. Do not filter traffic at lights. After stopping or slowing for hazards/junctions/lights, allow the riders behind to catch up and proceed as a group (everyone takes time to set-off, clip-in and get settled back in the saddle). Likewise, re-group at the top of hills and if necessary at the bottom. The lead riders should make sure that all riders are back in the group before resuming the normal pace. It is OK to keep moving slowly, until everyone is back together.

Don’t jump out of the saddle: When you come out of the saddle e.g. to climb, try doing it smoothly or give your bike a decent push forward for a couple of pedal strokes otherwise you will lunge backwards and possibly take out the cyclist behind you.

Equipment: Bring everything you might need. For example, puncture kit, tyre levers, inner tubes, pump, multi tool (including chain tool), helmet, waterproof jacket, food, water, money, credit card, mobile, emergency contact details… See this here.

Mechanicals: When a puncture occurs, find a safe place out of traffic to stop. If someone punctures or has a mechanical, everyone is expected to stop. So in return for delaying everyone, make sure you start the ride with spares like an inner tube, tyre levers and that your bike is roadworthy with sufficient air in the tyres. It is also worth regularly checking your tyres for road debris (e.g. flints or glass) which could cause future punctures.

Have fun: Above all, rides should be fun. Even when it’s raining. There may be some rules but a ride isn’t a military drill, it’s about enjoying being out on your bike.

Warnings and help

Everyone riding in a group is responsible for the safety of others. Clear communication makes a ride smoother and more enjoyable for everyone. How much calling is needed depends on the size and experience of the group. Personally, I’d rather hear too much than too little.

Be aware different groups use different calls. I read this article recently, and some of those signals I’ve never heard before, but may start using as they are self-explanatory.

Leaders: If you are on the front, remember that people are following your calls. Try to signal for hazards, or shout if necessary. If you make a decision to pull out on a roundabout or junction, you need to call ‘Clear’, ‘Slow’, or ‘Wait’. Do not repeat this call unless you have checked the junction yourself. ‘Heads Up’ or ‘Car Up’ can also be used if an oncoming vehicle is likely to become a hazard.

Sweepers: Rear riders ensure no-one is falling behind as lead cyclists will not be aware; it is your responsibility to call ‘Ease off/up/soft pedal’ to the cyclists in front if the pace is too high, or if other riders are caught at junctions. Ask them to slow down; it is everyone’s ride to enjoy. When the ride is together, calling ‘All together/All in/All through’ will reassure the lead riders that everything is OK. (Toria: If I am leading, I try to give a thumbs up once I’ve heard the call.) Rear Riders should call if there are vehicles building up behind e.g. ‘Car back/down!’, ‘Single out!’

Pacesetting: Gentle ease your pace by pedalling less hard or freewheeling for a moment. Look at your speedometer – if someone is being dropped you probably only need to reduce your speed by half a mile an hour to allow them to stay on.

The pack: must pass calls on to the front or to the back. Listen to them and act on the calls, and most importantly, repeat them for the cyclist behind or in front of you. Do not look back and check for yourself, as you will move off your line and may cause an accident.

Change the lead (working hard): Every few minutes, the lead should change. So if you’ve been sitting on the front for a while, when it’s safe to do so, flick your elbow and/or call ‘Pulling off’. Check over your shoulder for other riders or traffic before pulling out and decreasing speed slightly so that you rejoin after the last rider or if required, fill a gap. When you pull through to the front, do not surge i.e. increase speed. If you’re tiring when it’s your turn on the front, tell the others. It’s fine to take it easy and only pedal a few revolutions before pulling off.

Passing pedestrians or other cyclists: It’s considered good cycling etiquette to nod, wave or otherwise acknowledge others on the road. If you are overtaking, speak e.g. a cheery ‘hello’ or ‘passing right’ so they know you are there.

Horses: Slow right down when passing horses, and pass them as wide as it is safe to do so. Always call to the horse riders well ahead of catching them – a cheery ‘Good morning’ or ‘Hello’ will do. Keep calling until the riders indicate they know you are there. They may want to turn the horse so it can see you.


Slowing’: Usually accompanied by a hand signal if it’s safe to take a hand off the bars.

Stopping’: Brake!

Hole’ (‘Hole left/right’): Upcoming pothole to avoid/ride through. ‘Below’, ‘Loose’, ‘Glass’ and ‘Gravel’ are alternatives.

Wait’: Usually at junctions to indicate there is a vehicle coming/it is not safe to go.

Clear’: To indicate that a junction is traffic free. ‘Slow’ can be used to pull out with caution.

All together/All in/All through’: The group is together. Should be called after all junctions by rear riders/sweepers and communicated to the front.

‘Soft pedal’: Pedal slowly to enable group to come together/catch up.

Easy/Ease up/Ease off’: Ease off the pace a fraction to allow riders to catch up, or deal with a potential hazard.

Heads Up’: Potential hazard ahead; pay attention.

Single out’: Get into single file safely and promptly

Car Up/Front/Back/Down’: caution for an approaching vehicle. *Note – be aware there can be a differences in directional calls depending who you’re riding with.*

‘Horse up’: Slow down and single out when passing horses, call and pass them as wide as it is safe.

‘Mechanical/puncture/chain off’: Slow or stop and wait. *Any other suggestions for calls?*

Out’, ‘Pulling out’ or ‘Swing out’: Usually accompanied by the behind back hand signal. There is usually an obstacle – a car or a slower rider – on the inside of the road, so move over.

‘[On your/Passing] right/left/inside’: A rider behind is coming past, so hold your line.

Up’/’Hup’: Either a late warning of a pothole or obstacle, or a rider wants to slip in front of you.

‘Standing/Changing down’: Use this if you think you may slow suddenly on standing or changing gear when climbing. Exercise caution if you hear it, and back off the wheel slightly.

Pulling off’: The lead rider is peeling off the front of the group.

Pull through’: Come and take your turn at the front. Do not surge.

Swing off/Pull off’: Instruction to rider to swing/pull off the front of the group and let someone else take a turn there.

Last (Man)’: Tells a rider pulling off that you’re the last in the line and he/she can return to the line behind you. *Caution – always check no other riders have joined behind.*


Please only signal if it is safe to do so and you are comfortable taking a hand off the bars.

Single hand in the air (up or down): ‘Slowing’ or ‘Stopping’. (Alternative is hand parallel to the ground with up and down motion.)

Waving/pointing down at the road: This is to point out hazards such as pot holes, manhole covers etc which may cause damage to either bike or rider. Pointing – specific hazard/deep hole. Flat hand wave – rough surface. PLEASE copy this signal, it prevents accidents and punctures.

Arm straight out left or right: Turning. Everyone in the pack needs to indicate when turning left or right. Straight hand pointing forward over the head means going straight on.

Left/right arm signalling behind back: The cyclist is about to move out into the road, e.g. to pass a parked car, another cyclist or to go round debris in the road.

Pointing at wheel in front or behind: Signals another cyclist needs to change position in the group. May be confused with other signals so try to confirm with a call.

Come past me/come through: A knee-level wave forward, gesturing the rider or vehicle behind to come past. Take care that the correct person sees this as you may confuse other road users.

Elbow wiggle: In through-and-off, the lead rider is pulling off the front and will pull out to drift back to the rear of the group. Be aware that some groups use the inside elbow, and some use the outside.

In summary, there may be a lot here, but it’s surprising how quickly you will pick it up.

TuTorial: Riding through winter for beginners – clothing

You WILL need more kit to keep you on the bike, as cold & wet can quickly lead to miserable. You’ll probably have most of this stuff already, if not, now is the time to start looking:

From top to toe…


Skull cap/Hair band – if you have thick hair, a skull cap is only really needed for those really, really cold rides. Otherwise, I’ve just found I overheat. Plus it alters the fit of your helmet and glasses (they may dig in at the sides, or get caught and break). Some people prefer a thermal ‘hair band’ type instead, which will cover the ears. I’ve found it’s a good halfway measure, and easily fits into a pocket if you need to take it off.

Snood, preferably merino wool – Best. Item. Ever. Pull it up to cover everything (Niqab-style with a cap) or just have it around your neck to stop those drafts. It’s incredible what a difference it makes. Get told by minicab drivers you’re a ‘good Muslim’ (yep, this has happened to me). It really is essential.

Glasses – I’m clumsy, so I stick to clear Bolle safety glasses instead of more expensive numbers. If you think a bit of pollen in the eye hurts, try cycling through hail or snow. A snowflake is like a little dagger. Ouch. If it’s raining so hard that the glasses are more of a hindrance, stick them down the front of your jersey or in your helmet vents. You may need a spray to stop them steaming up – I use furniture polish.


Layering – even for the coldest of rides, I seldom wear more than four layers, and that includes a jacket. Last year, most really cold rides I had either:

  • a long sleeve base layer
  • short sleeve base
  • long sleeve jersey (relatively warm or windproof)


  • two long sleeve base layers (one windproof)
  • a short sleeve jersey

Plus a wind/rain jacket if needed – this should be your emergency item for any time when the weather turns, or if you’re standing around getting cold with a mechanical. You should NOT have to wear it for the whole ride. As mentioned before, I carry mine in my second bidon.

I’m a big fan of merino wool products (including Icebreaker), which don’t seem to get as stinky as some man-made or technical fabrics.

Jacket – I’ve never seen the need for a thick winter jacket, unless it’s really, really cold out. As in freezing. On long rides, anything that can’t be rolled up and stuck in a bidon or back pocket when I get warm becomes more of a hindrance than a help.

Bib shorts – For winter, tights are essential, as bib shorts plus leg warmers will not keep your larger muscles warm enough. I sometimes stick a pair of running tights or merino leggings over or under the bib shorts if my cycling tights are in the wash. Most wear the shorts underneath as the pad is supposed to be next to the skin. I’m weird like that.

Going to the loo – is a real nightmare in normal bib tights, especially in winter when you have to strip off whatever upper layer you’re wearing too. I wear my bases under the straps, so I don’t have to remove them. However, there are some tights available which can be pulled down or zipped off without taking anything off, e.g. Pearl Izumi Drop Tail.

(Quick side note – I’m always arguing with a friend about wearing anything between the pad of your shorts and your skin. She says not to, I say I’ve never had a problem, even after 100+ mile rides. Year round, I wear a small cotton string.)


Gloves – Proper full-finger, thick winter gloves are a must, as well as a lighter pair for autumn/spring. Just be aware when changing hand position that you may accidentally ‘catch’ the bars. Your hands can also get sweaty. Test the gloves in the shop in a riding position, I prefer something smaller-sized than too big and baggy. A friend swears by neoprene diving gloves.

Glove liners – You would not believe the difference these make! Even on autumn and spring rides, the extra layer can make your gloves more comfortable. Unfortunately, most liners come in only one size, far too big for most female hands. If you have small hands, I would recommend these from EDZ as they instantly make your hands warmer and less sweaty-feeling.


Remember, your normal cycling shoes are made to ventilate. Air gets in and out very easily, and there is no insulation, which means your feet can become very cold. Very, very cold.

Overshoes or oversocks will block the top vents, but the bottom needs to stay open due to cleats. You’ll actually be able to feel the wind whistling through the bottom of your shoe, blowing all that warmth away. A way of blocking the bottom is inserting a thin piece of plastic or similar in your shoes, or using thermal insoles. Or, as I did one year, using one-use toe warmers. These last for around six hours, work out £1-2 per ride and as well as warming your feet, help block the holes. Some people also swear by plastic bags. Others by insulation tape.

When buying overshoes, look for ones with zips as they can be very difficult to get on and off without one. Do not spend too much money on them, as they never last very long.

Socks – Proper thick wool socks like Woolie Boolies are essential. I wear them with a thin cotton or merino pair underneath. Be cautious; if your shoes are tight on your feet, the inhibited circulation will actually make your feet colder. And it’ll stretch your shoes.

Alternative shoes? – If you want to preserve your good summer shoes, try eBay or cycling forums for a cheap pair one size bigger than what you currently wear. Winter miles are more important than style, and they’ll be covered by oversocks or shoes most of the time.

Winter boots? – If you’re really serious about cycling through winter and can afford them, winter boots are the way to go, full stop. I’ve tried every combination of socks, toe warmers, oversocks and overshoes, and proper winter boots trump them all. Plus they take a lot less time to pull on than any of the above combinations. I currently wear Specialized Defrosters, but I wouldn’t particularly recommend these, there are better out there. A friend highly recommends Northwave winter boots.

Whatever you use – whenever you get home, take your shoes off straightaway and, if they don’t need cleaning, stick them in a consistently warm place such as on top of the boiler. If you don’t, they will soon begin to smell. And warm, dry shoes are much nicer to put on for your next ride.


Be aware – if your extremities are still getting cold despite wearing warm gloves and socks, you’ll need to look at increasing your layering on your torso, arms and legs.


All of the above will help keep you riding through winter, and will come in delightfully under-budget, so you can splurge in the spring.

Please add your suggestions/comments below!

TuTorial: Riding through winter for beginners – bike

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.

Your bike?

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. )

Quick clean

(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.

Please comment!

TuTorial: What to carry

We’ve had quite a few pub café discussions  over a pint slice of cake about what we all carry in our pockets. This will cover what I personally carry with me, and how. This is for rides of three hours plus, up to the whole day out.

Best tip: convertible jacket in a bidon

Ever wondered why one of my water bottles has blue stuff in? A 750ml bidon (water bottle) is just the right size for a light jacket.


Only in the hottest of weather do I need two bottles, and there’s always places to fill up. So, I stuff an extra layer in one. This is a very versatile wind jacket – it has zip-off sleeves and can be worn as a gilet or sleeves only. Sometimes, I add a pair of socks too. Or, a rain jacket instead. I know other people who fill theirs with tools. Up to you.

What’s in your saddle bag?

This is what’s in mine:

  • Inner tube in plastic bag
  • Multitool & chain breaker
  • Small Swiss army knife
  • Tyre levers
  • Patches
  • A small plastic bag with 3-5 baby wipes
  • Small test tube of lube
  • Roll of insulation tape
  • Spare powerlink
  • Small cable ties
  • Medication – a couple of paracetamol, codeine, ibuprofen, antihistamines
  • Tampon.


This all fits in a relatively small saddle bag. (This one’s an old-style Specialized Mini Wedgie.)

I have used everything in that list at least twice, apart from the patches (I can never get them to hold).

The inner tube is in a plastic bag to protect it from damage, plus the bag can be useful in the event of a messy mechanical.

The multitool is a basic one, that’s why I carry the Swiss Army knife too for screwdriver duties. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear I’ve used the bottle opener and corkscrew more than once!

I’ve added a chain-breaker, as one time I had to rely on a passing cyclist to re-break a chain for me to get home (after a rear mech failure).

In the summer, I also have a small tube of sun cream.

I carry a small hand pump in my middle jersey pocket. You can attach this to your bike, but remember to check if it still works every now and again. Many a time I’ve come across stranded cyclists with nonfunctional frame pumps.

Carrying all this on my bike gives me peace of mind and frees my jersey pockets up.  I need that extra room.

What’s in my pockets?


  • Phone
  • Credit card, emergency contact card (BC membership card), cash
  • House key
  • All in a sandwich bag or weatherproof wallet to keep dry.


  • Lip salve
  • Eyeliner/eyeshadow (No7 do a great combined one)
  • Tissues
  • Paracetamol (again, I have joint problems, it’s a bad idea to go anywhere without it)
  • Energy bar and/or small bag with lump of marzipan (I don’t get on too well with many gels, and this is cheap and good to chew).


  • Whatever extra layer I’ve chosen that day, if needed. Arm warmers, extra base layer, snood, etc. Early autumn, glove liners are useful.
  • Mini pump.

Coupled with the jacket in the bidon, there should be enough to get you by.

Sometimes, I’ll be wearing my clear glasses but want to take my sunglasses if the sun is promising to shine. If I can’t fit my glasses in a pocket, I stick them down my front. Some people carry interchangeable lenses, but I’m too clumsy to use them.

Overfilled bulging pockets aren’t pretty, can make your jersey ride up or sag down and you risk losing expensive kit that works its way out. (Trust me on that one – there’s £60 worth of jacket lost somewhere in the Vale of Glamorgan.) However, being stuck by the side of the road with a broken bike, shivering your arse off, is even worse.

So, what do you carry? Is there anything I’ve missed out? Or do you think I carry too much? Please comment!