The nights are drawing in, mornings feel darker, the clocks are about to change and - hey presto - the winter is upon us. That time of year when your resolve is about to be put to the test.
You know what I mean, a peep out of the curtains to see darkness, lashing rain and the prospect of a tough, cold, few hours in the saddle vs. the comfort of a warm bed. Nevertheless, the winter is a very important time to build your base fitness and you'll see many experienced cyclists out in all weathers, chugging away at slow miles, to sustain their engines ready for the Spring.
Whilst out riding today, my mind drifted to some of the essential tips that I thought would be worth re-highlighting for new riders, based upon my own experience of four winters since I got back into cycling. In no particular order: -
Be seen. Even during the day, it's always advisable to have a set of lights on the bike. I left at 10.45am this morning and it's been overcast most of the day. I put my rear light so that I could be seen at distance, particularly if you are cycling along lanes with a lot of tree foliage ahead which can make conditions dark. I use Exposure Flash and Flare lights, which are small but bright.
Wear visible clothing. Sounds obvious doesn't it. I passed countless cyclists today dressed head to toe in black clothing, which is almost impossible to distinguish at distance. I've recently purchased an excellent Bioracer Bio-Tex jacket from The Fell in Whalley for about £60. It's bright red with reflective tape on the rear of the jacket.
Beware puddles! Puddles hide all manner of road problems including deep potholes. What might look like an innocent ride through could be hiding a three or four inch deep hole which could easily see you off the bike. Proceed with caution.
Concentration lapses. Cold weather, rain and wind can be contributors to loss of concentration when riding, simply because of the impact it has on your effort or core temperature. It only takes one momentary lapse to have you hitting the kerb, so make sure you eat and drink regularly when out to stay sharp.
Dress for the job in hand. Staying warm is key in the winter. Keep your core warm by ensuring you have a good quality base layer on and a good quality hat to put on under your helmet. I carry a spare of gloves too on the heavy rain days, nice when you're leaving a cafe stop to have a dry pair. Always wear glasses to avoid road grit kicking up into your eyes.
Switch to 25mm tyres. Listen to this interview with former head mechanic of GB cycling, Peter 'Spike' Taylor to convince you why.
Get your bike serviced. Having a mechanically sound bike is important. Fixing avoidable technical problems like a chain snapping in the pouring rain is not pleasant.
Fit some mudguards. I'm fortunate in having a dedicated winter bike, equipped with frame mounted mudguards. If riding with others, these should be something you should definitely fit to stop water kicking up into peoples faces off your back wheels. They are also useful in keeping your feet drier. If you're running a road bike without mounting lugs, then think about a set of crudguards, which solve that issue through a clever independent mounting system.
Buy some overshoes. Cold feet can be a real pain on a long ride, so a good quality pair of overshoes can help keep the wet off and the cold from penetrating.
Man up and get out. If you want to come into the Spring with some form, ready to do your first sportive, riding in the cold and wet is something you have to do. I have only one rule which is that I don't ride when the roads have been frozen overnight, seen too many people fall off on black ice.