Winter cycling: What you need to know

USA, New York City, Close up of cycling person

It's easy to get out on your bike when the weather's warm and the roads are dry, but the motivation gets a little harder to find once the mercury drops and its raining outside. Get yourself and your bike kitted out appropriately however and you'll happily shrug off the worst that winter can throw at you (apart from the snow and ice maybe)...

The bike
Prepping your bike for winter should not be a massive undertaking – you basically just need a set of mudguards if you don't already have any and possibly some tougher tyres. If your bike has eyelet mounts for "fixed" mudguards then those are the best solution – though be warned that the actual fitting can be infuriatingly fiddly and is perhaps best left to a bike shop.

If you don't have mudguard mounts then a set of "clip-on" mudguards should keep the worst of the road spray off of you – and they also have the benefit of popping on and off easily for those beautiful sunny winter days. If you already have a set of commuting or endurance tyres on your bike then there's no need for fresh rubber – but if you have a lightweight set of racing tyres you may be better off with something more puncture resistant.

In the depths of winter it can be dark when we head out the front door in the morning and dark again by the time you leave work, so lights are an essential part of the winter cyclist's armoury. Lightweight LED technology means that bright front and rear illumination won't add much in the way of weight to your steed – and won't dent your wallet too badly either. Some use standard batteries while others have a more powerful rechargable unit and can be plugged into your PC at work via a mini-USB to recharge ready for your journey home. Expect to pay from £10 per end to £100 or more, depending on how sophisticated you want to go and whether you need your front light to illuminate unlit roads for you.

There are two basic needs for winter cyclists – staying warm and staying dry. In our experience the former is much more important than the latter – and attempting to stay completely dry can be counter-productive as you can end up sweating to an uncomfortable degree under head-to-toe Gore Tex. The staple of most winter cyclists' wardrobes are a decent waterproof jacket – or perhaps a water-resistant soft shell one for less rainy days. This can be teamed up with water resistant tights or "bibs" (tights with sewn-on braces for your shoulders), gloves, a skull cap and overshoes for your feet – or winter boots if you're really serious.

As well as wearing more clothes and attaching extra bits to your bike, it's also sensible to change the way you ride in the winter months. Slow down much more for corners when the roads are wet – hitting a slippy manhole cover or patch of diesel at the wrong moment could end badly otherwise. Ride further out into the road to avoid puddles if necessary. Potholes could be hiding beneath that water just waiting to give you a flat tyre or break your wheels. Try not to tense up too much, staying loose on the bike will be more enjoyable as well as making it more likely that you'll be able to "save" a slip from either wheel. Keep a keen eye on the road surface when the temperature has dipped below freezing. Shady lanes and hillsides sheltered from the sun are prime locations for black ice, so look for the telltale dull sheen of the treacherous stuff.

Roads are muckier in the winter months, both due to dirt being washed into the road by rain and from the grit and salt laid on the road by local authorities. The most-important bit of bike care is wiping your chain dry with a cloth and re-lubing it after each ride, but you'll also need to go at your bike with warm, soapy water and a brush more regularly to get rid of all that salt and grime. Another important job if you're using conventional brake blocks (rather than disc brakes) is to keep the wheel rims clean, as these pick up oils from the road and braking performance can drop-off to a dangerous level. Don't forget to clean the brake blocks as well as the rim – so remove the wheels for this task.

Have you got any tips for winter cycling? Leave a comment below...

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