In my previous post, I was lamenting the end of Summer in London. It got me thinking about my first Winter (last year) and how I naively still cycled, whether I had the correct gear or not.
Cycling is notoriously expensive when it comes to accessorising but as someone who happened to be using a bike to get around town I wasn’t sure that I’d need to start splurging on the latest and greatest technical accessories for Winter.
From a clothing perspective, I’ll try and approach it head to toe:
Head: Helmet? I won’t weigh in on this age old debate right here, so let’s just say that I personally do not usually wear a helmet when cycling in London. What I did often where however, is a beanie. This is one thing that really kept me warm on those super cold days, but I must admit all that heat trying to escape from your head while riding at pace might require you to take it off at some point mid-ride.
Some people have been known to wear bandanas (with or without a helmet) as a form of in between approach, looking for a soft spot between the wind in the hair and the beanie. I also noticed that some East London folk like to grow big bushy beards for their Winter cycling needs (suspiciously, they still had them during Summer).
Neck: If I was just putting along locally I’d often wear a scarf to protect my neck from the cold, incisive wind. If I was wearing a jacket with a high neck (such as a windbreaker) then I did not usually need the scarf.
Upper body: I simply found myself gradually wearing more layers as the temperature started to fall (common sense really, nothing new here!). However, what was interesting, was how quickly I learned which layers would be more appropriate for each ride (distance, activity at the other end etc). For example, if I was riding to a meeting, I’d simply layer up on top and strip it all back down when arriving at my destination. This allowed me to be comfortable when indoors most of the day and provided enough warmth/protection from the elements for the ride. Speaking of the elements, on rainy days, I’d wear my rain jacket which, as it happens, is not cycling specific. It’s a jacket I bought for a trip to South America (and never had to use) but has proven to be extremely handy on the bike. I’m now a lifelong fan of Macpac gear.
Hands: Gloves are an important part of any cyclist’s wardrobe but I must admit that whilst I intended to buy something purposeful, I never quite got around to it and simply wore my basic wooly winter gloves through the entire season. Admittedly, these have no water or wind protection but I was generally lucky enough not to be caught in any downpours (I did get wet a couple of times on my way home and I just hung my poor gloves out to dry and warmed my hands up as soon as I got inside!). It probably is a good idea to get something more appropriate if your rides are longer than my short city routes.
Lower body: Being a ‘regular’ everyday urban cyclist, I always wore my jeans (or Levis 511 Commuters) but similar to the upper body tactic, I had some thermal pants which were thin enough to fit underneath regular jeans. If running errands and spending most of my time out on the bike, the thermal pants were very useful in keeping me nice and toasty all through Winter. In terms of wet weather protection for the lower body, I didn’t really have anything specific but my Levis 511 Commuters have a 3M finish which provided me with adequate water resistance for the most part. These trousers also have some other nifty features like a U-Lock holster (never tried this as my lock is too big) and 3M reflective tape on the interior cuffs so you can roll up the leg and help your chances of being seen by those menacing drivers.
Once I really got into the knack of layering and combinations, I was able to look at the forecast and decide how much layering I’d need for both upper and lower body…Quite an art I reckon!
Feet: No surprise here, all my cycling was done in sneakers. On wet days, I would stay away from suede sneakers and opt for synthetic (in fact, I wore my favourite Diesel Dragon sneakers through most of the Winter and was surprised by their water repelling abilities too.
So, that’s a quick synopsis of my clothing strategy during Winter, but what else did I need?
From a gear perspective, there were a couple of key items:
Mudguard(s): I purchased a plastic Zefal Swan rear mudguard that simply clamps on when required and acts almost like a full road specific mudguard, offering full protection to you and those behind you.
The downside to the Zefal is that it can be easily stolen and there’s no way to take it with you as it’s just too large to fit in a bag. This inspired me to look for a solution that I could take with me on days where rain wasn’t in the forecast, just so I’d be prepared in case of emergency (very important in unpredictable London). I found a nicely named product called the Ass Savers Smartass which is a piece of foldable plastic that does just enough to protect your behind, whilst being so small it can fold up and be stored under your seat. The downside is its lack of full protection (it really is for emergencies) and inability to shield any other poor cyclists behind you from your spray.
Another solution was a more complete folding mudguard, using a cleverly designed piece of plastic that becomes rigid when unfolded and mounted. There are a few of these on the market but the one I purchased was from a brand called Full Windsor. In all honesty, I returned this as I realised it just wasn’t as practical for emergencies as the Ass Saver and more difficult to get a secure fit than my plastic Zefal mudguard. This is not to say the product is no good (it’s quite an ingenius device actually), it just didn’t fit my purposes.
Lights: These are extremely important as the short days during Winter guarantee that you’ll be riding home in the dark. I had previously purchased a set of Cateye lights which did the job but I found that mounting and unmounting them was a bit of a pain, especially out in the cold, with gloves on. Rather than fumbling around all Winter, I picked up a pair of Lezyne Femto Drive lights – These are smaller than the Cateyes, but thanks to their rubber mounting straps, were much easier to attach and remove from the bike (even with my silly woolen gloves). When I had my messenger bag with me, I’d often attach my Cateyes to the straps for added visibility (you can never be too visible when cycling on the road).
Tyres: In my innocence, I kept the standard Thickslick tyres on the bike throughout the entire Winter season and never really had a problem (again, I stress that my rides were short and only in urban areas). However, I should also add that I didn’t take the bike when it was snowing or overly icy on the roads. The smart man would tell you to ensure you have some tyres with decent puncture protection and decent tread (or at least some tread would have be good, unlike the Thickslicks). Another tip is to run your tyres at a lower pressure when it’s wet – This has the effect of increasing the contact patch. Apparently, it’s not uncommon to drop to around 90 PSI if you you usually run 120 PSI in the Summer months.
So, to summarise a seemingly neverending post (much like the last London Winter) you can probably see that I was a novice when it came to Winter cycling but I managed to survive. I didn’t need to go to my nearest weight weenie store and buy all the latest light weight technical cycling gear for Winter, nor did I need to go and purchase a dedicated Winter bike. However, my riding was all very urban and I was happy to improvise where required. I would never have made the front page of Vogue Cycling (there’s an idea, anyone?) but I did manage to stay relatively warm and dry and still come out wanting to ride on most days which is a win in my books.