Tips to keep riding in cold, wet conditions
The thought of winter cycling is often enough to put off even hardened road riders – a turbo trainer or lie-in can seem like a preferable alternative to battling through ice, sleet, rain or a freezing wind trying to stay warm and upright on your bike.
But with the right winter cycling kit and these essential safety tips you should still be able to get out there and enjoy the same health and fitness benefits you did in the summer. Many coaches and veteran year-round riders even say that braving the elements can give your mental toughness a boost, a benefit you’ll really notice when you’re in need of some determination during a sportive, race or demanding summer ride.
Lingering frost or black ice can catch anyone unawares, especially given that crisp winter days and blue skies are so inviting for a bracing ride. Stunning cloudless days go hand in hand with sub-zero nights. And when the sun does come up it stays low in the sky and relatively weak, with long shadows.
Add to that the time-poor training cyclist’s preference for early morning rides and there’s a high chance some of those shadows will be icy and make your wheels lose grip.
One of the biggest causes of black ice is when a big freeze follows a partial thaw, so that rain water or meltwater is frozen before it can drain off the road completely, leaving a thin layer of transparent ice.
If you’re riding in these conditions, pick your road carefully and stick to those that have been treated. Of course, the downside to this is that many councils put a water dispersal agent down with the salt, and after a few days this too can be slippy.
Be particularly wary of the more exposed sections of road, such as where there are no hedges – the wind chill will have further cooled the tarmac there – and always keep your eyes on the road ahead so you’re prepared for icy hazards, going round them if you have time and it’s safe to do so.
If you’re about to hit ice then don’t do anything sudden – don’t turn the bar too fast or far or lean the bike, and don’t brake hard or suddenly. Of course, if you hit black ice on a downhill corner, all you can do is hope for a soft landing…
Riding a bike in the wet can be great fun, but make sure you do it safely. Cycling coach Andy Cook points out that it will take you longer to stop when braking in the wet because of a build-up of water on the rims between the brake blocks and the braking surface. Make sure you take this into account.
Also, road markings tend to be slippery when wet, as do drain and manhole covers, so remember to take extra care when riding across them, especially when turning. Avoiding them is the best idea, but if there’s no alternative, anticipate your line and speed – a sharp turn over a wet piece of ironwork or painted line at speed could easily result in a fall.
British Cycling club coach Dan Bennett, who runs Progressive Cycle Coaching, recommends applying your brakes in equal amounts when it’s raining: “50 percent on the front, 50 percent on the back – and ride a little further towards the middle of the road – you’ll be less likely to pick up flints and other stones washed off the verges that may cause punctures.”
via CyclingPlus magazine