Sunday, 13 January 2013

10 Tips for Riding in the Cold

With such unpredictable weather patterns, you have to get out whenever you can these days as there seems to be no guarantee of when the next nice day might come.  Yesterday for example was a beautiful day, I put a 50 mile ride in yesterday whilst the conditions were good, I'm glad I did.  Overnight there was a big freeze and this morning the roads were icy.

I was up and about early expecting to try and put a three hour ride in but judged the rides too icy to ride first thing (see point one) and opted to wait until later in the morning.  As I set out for a revised two hour base mile ride, my mind wandered to practical tips for new road cyclists who might be encountering harsher conditions for the first time.  

So here are my top ten tips for a new road cyclist riding in cold weather for the first time.

  1. Safety first at all times.  There are no medals given if you fall off your bike and hurt yourself, just time off work and a lot of aggravation.  If conditions have been freezing overnight (zero degrees) then think carefully before you ride.  Always do a final check on the weather forecast before you ride.  Wear ID that can identify you in the event of an accident, I wear a bracelet from OneLife ID which I recently reviewed here.
  2. Restrict your ride to the main roads/routes and avoid big climbs.  Steer clear from the lanes as they tend to hide lots of black ice and big climbs tend to stay frozen for longer given their altitude meaning your back wheel is likely to spin and see you over the bars.  The main routes are well gritted and the high traffic volume means ice is less likely.
  3. Be Visible.  Ensure you can be seen on your bike, cold freezes can bring reduced visibility for drivers or concentration lapses with heaters on full blast in their car cabin.  Put your lights on and ensure you have some high visibility clothing on.
  4. Dress appropriately.  You can minimise your feeling of being cold by wearing appropriate layers of clothing.  Here's what I wore today.  Long leg bib shorts, a base layer, a long sleeved cycling top, a gilet and a high visibility jacket.  Two pairs of gloves (one pair of undergloves), a snood, a beanie hat and oversocks.  The idea being you can strip down if the weather starts to warm up, I didn't feel cold all ride.
  5. Keep your cadence high.  You'll see most experienced cyclists riding at a cadence (pedal revolutions per minute) of 85+ regardless of the weather.  I ride at about 90-95rpm.  By keeping your cadence high, it generates good levels of warmth within you, so if you are starting out, keep the pedal revs high.
  6. Be super careful when cornering.  To prevent your front wheel slipping out underneath you, slow right down when cornering at roundabouts or junctions.  Take it really cautiously and if necessary unclip one pedal if you feel nervous, walk if needed.
  7. Knock your usual speed down.  I used today's ride to throttle back and do a heart rate zone two base mile ride, not try and break any average speed records.  Primary requirement is safety and getting home in one piece.
  8. Be really careful when signalling.  As you approach a turn, slow right down before actioning your hand signal.  Having only one hand on the bars makes the bike even more unstable in conditions where there may be unexpected ice.
  9. Carry a space blanket in your back pocket.  If you do come off and are lay injured on a cold road, it's vital you are able to retain your body heat.  You can buy an emergency blanket for around three pounds and it will fit in your back pocket.  You might think this is being over-zealous, however I've been a first hand witness to an accident where I saw a riders core temperature drop within minutes lay on a cold road surface with a broken hip. I've always ridden with one on cold days since that day.
  10. Stay alert.  Feeling cold can make you lose concentration, it's important that you stay super alert at all times.   A moments lapse can lead to you crash.  If you have a mechanical issue or have an unfamiliar sound coming out of the bike, just pull over, don't try and do it on the move.
Cold conditions don't mean you have to stay inside, you can still get out and benefit from some good quality miles.  Just dress correctly, avoid country lanes which may still be frozen and adjust your riding style for the conditions.  If any reader has additional tips they'd like to feature, please leave a comment.  Stay safe.

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