Ten road cycling tips to stay safe this winter

Road safety should always be paramount in a cyclist’s mind. Winter equals greater hazards, so here are our top tips to help you stay safe on the road

Winter riding presents its own challenges, from slippery road surfaces to decreased visibility and arguably a greater strain on your body, mind and bike as you battle through the prevailing weather conditions of the day.

As a result, the way you ride your bike and the precautions you should take are different than they would be if Britain was bathed in a perpetual summer season.

Here’s our best advice on how to look after yourself on the road this winter. Got your own tips? Add them to the comments section at the bottom.

Winter riding throws up its own challenges – follow these tips to stay safe out on the road (Pic: dhb)

Ride to the conditions

Ultimately, the weather plays a significant role in dictating how fast you can and should ride. There’s a good reason why the pros descend slower off the Mortirolo or Stelvio when the Giro d’Italia takes place in May and the weather gods have temporarily looked away, than they would if the roads were bone dry. It doesn’t matter how good you are: as grip and visibility decreases, the hazard increases.

So, make sure you temper your pace accordingly, especially when the road gets twisty or hilly, or there’s shrapnel left over from heavy rainfall, like mud, silt and gravel. You simply can’t expect the same grip, even if you change your tyres to compensate (see point five), so err on the side of caution and reduce your speed when required.

Adapt your style

The other side of reducing speed is to adapt the technical side of your riding. You need to be more forgiving, giving yourself more time to adjust to the unpredictable nature of the road conditions.

Aim to lengthen your braking zones, loading the rear brake closer to a 50:50 distribution than you would in ideal conditions, where the front brake tends to do the majority of the work. You also need to keep your weight evenly distributed, while staying relaxed and supple with your inputs, especially if you experience skidding or chattering under the bike.

Steering inputs should also be less vicious, while the line you choose while cornering should not necessarily follow the usual apex-hitting arc – the centre of the road can be home to slippery deposits of loose grit and silt, as well as leftover slicks of leaves, so pick a line that avoids this.

Adapt your riding style according to the conditions

Fit lights

At the end of the 2016 season, Trek showed their support for road safety and the benefits of increased visibility by installing lights on their race team’s bikes. Check out the bikes from Fabian Cancellara’s last race for the team at the Japan Cup. Even smaller brands like Orro install a small rear light as part of the seat post clamp to help boost rearward visibility on their bikes.

Aside from being the law in the UK to have lights on your bike at night – a white front and red rear – it makes sense to use them throughout the winter season regardless of the weather, even if it’s sunny. The sun sits alot lower in the sky during the middle of the day, so there’s more chance of a motorist being dazzled by sunlight.

Throw in the potential for rain, fog, and even sleet and snow, as well as shortness of the days, and working lights should be a must. Ensure these lights are well charged, never relying on a half-filled charge if you can easily charge them via USB before riding – there’s no excuse!

Wear hi-viz or reflective clothing to help stay seen out on the road (Pic: HOY Vulpine)

Go hi-viz

Likewise, high-visibility clothing is another way to stand out in the gloom. It’s not a fashion parade, although Trek-Segafredo’s team kit at the Japan Cup (as well as the Tinkoff team’s special Tour de France kit of recent years) might beg to differ.

In fact, while hi-viz was once limited to commuter clothing, brands have cottoned on to the need for bright, performance-focused kit, with no shortage of options if you want to increase your visibility out on the road, without sacrificing function.

There are many types of high-visibility garments available, from flourescent colours to reflective logos, and even fabrics that include tiny glass beads throughout to fully reflect light back at the source.

The jury’s out on which is actually the more visible, although we might suggest from experience that reflective fabrics work best at night and when a light is shined upon them, while fluorescent (or bright) colours stand out in normal, ambient light.

Either way, standing out is key if you want to warn other road users of your presence, so pay attention to these additional features when looking at buying winter training kit.

Winterproof your bike

As we alluded to back in our first point, tyre choice is always important in maximising what grip you have on the road. Manufacturers like Continental, Schwalbe and Michelin (among others) all have specific versions of their rubber which claim to improve grip via the use of adhesive compounds and treads that can help to displace water. These tyres usually including extra puncture resistance, too – no-one likes standing at the side of the road fixing a puncture when it’s freezing out. Make sure you have a good pump or CO2 inflate to quickly get your tyres up to full pressure out on the road.

Elsewhere, it’s time to break out mudguards if your bike can take them. If you bike has clearance and the relevant eyelets, you’ll be able to fit full ‘guards, but even if you have a race bike with limited clearance, you should be able to fit clip-on ‘guards, like those from Crud and SKS. Whatever route you choose, mudguards do an important job in keeping you and your bike clean, as well as keeping road spray from your rear tyre off your riding buddies.

Some riders will have a dedicated winter bike for the job, which will usually have mudguard eyelets and plenty of tyre clearance, plus potentially a less aggressive geometry so the bike handles more predictably in tricky conditions.

Mudguards and winter tyres will make riding through the months ahead far more comfortable

Regularly clean your bike

Practically every road bike maintenance guide includes cleaning your bike regularly as one of its key pieces of advice – it prolongs the life of the bike, and helps it ride smoother too. However, there’s a safety element here which warrants its inclusion in this list as well.

With no shortage or grit and grime on the roads, as well as the salt that’s deposited to keep them ice-free, winter offers a cocktail that could eventually cause components to fail. This could potentially be in the form of a snapped brake cable, worn bosses and freehub failings, among many others.

Consequently, while few riders enjoy cleaning their bike, see it as a ritual necessary both to keep your machine running smoothly, and to keep any maintenance issues at bay.

Additionally, make sure you regularly check the tyres to ensure they’re free of debris which could potentially cause a punctures, and also check areas like cable entry and exit points, the seatpost area and bolts throughout the bike to make sure they’re corrosion free, as they can be susceptible to contaminated water ingress Investing in good quality assembly grease and carbon paste and regularly renewing it after the bike is clean can safeguard the components even further.

Cleaning your bike may be a chore, but it will help you spot and deal with any maintenance issues before they become a major problem

Let someone know your plans

Sometimes a solo ride to blow out the cobwebs can be great for morale, especially if the air is cold and the sun is out. However, even in this best-case-scenario, it can be wise to let someone know your ride plans (e.g. when you expect to be out and your general route) so in the event something delays you, you’re not forgotten about and someone can raise the alarm.

Brands like Strava, Garmin and Wahoo also have their own live-tracking software, where you can share your live ride link with selected friends, who can keep an eye on your progress and find out your exact location if needed. All depend on a connection to an internet-connected smartphone to broadcast the signal, although they should give a good estimate if phone signal dips in and out.

Of course, if you can ride with someone else, or in a group, then you have people to help you out in the event or a mechanical or incident out on the road.

Make sure you layer up according to the conditions – and take an extra layer in case the weather turns (Pic: Chapeau)

Layer up

Needless to say, if you ride through winter you’ll likely encounter some very cold conditions and that can be dangerous in itself, especially if hypothermia begins to set in.

That’s the worst case scenario, of course, but, as a rule, you should always check the weather forecast before heading out, so you can make a call on how many layers you’ll need. Hitting that goldilocks zone between being too warm and too cold comes with experience.

However, we’d also recommend taking an extra item of clothing with you, beit it a lightweight jacket or gilet, so you have a windproof layer to pull on in the event you do get cold, or the conditions take a turn for the worst.

Also erring on the side of caution, i.e. wearing ‘too much’ but riding slower than normal, is easily preferable to being stuck in the cold wearing too little and trying to ride harder to stay warm. Indeed, some may argue that if you want to get warmer, you should ride faster, but while this may work over the short term, long term you’re likely to sweat more which will make your clothes wetter and lead to you burning more energy. Then, you’re left with less energy to keep you warm, and potentially damp clothes that certainly won’t help either.

As well as the clothing you wear, your choice of eyewear is important, too. Even if the sun isn’t shining, it’s vital to wear glasses, to protect your eyes from dirt, grit, grime and anything else that could be kicked up from the road. If it’s dark or wet out, we’d recommend choosing good quality clear lenses with a hydrophobic coating and vents to ensure you don’t struggle with steamed lenses. You may also opt for yellow or orange tinted lenses, which can help boost contrast, thereby making the road surface and obstacles easier to make out in low light conditions.

Don’t forget to eat

In normal conditions, your body can burn around 90 minutes of energy before it begins out runs out (without taking anything extra on board), and, at some point, you inevitably bonk.

In the winter, when your body is also having to generate more body heat to resist the cold and maintain core body temperature, the rate of energy consumption can significantly increase. While running out of energy on a summer ride is annoying, in winter it can be downright dangerous if the conditions are against you.

As a result, taking enough food to see you through a ride is vital. Remember to eat little and often, and the same goes for keeping on top of your hydration, too. Just because it’s cold out, it doesn’t mean you’re not sweating or losing moisture.

And, because it’s winter, don’t be scared of those high-calorie options in the coffee stop as well. Skinny latte, or full-fat hot chocolate? Small flapjack, or full-English breakfast for those Sunday morning escapes? We know which we’d opt for, and let’s be honest – you’ve earned it.

Just because it’s cold out, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to eat and drink on the bike

Plan a winter-conscious route

Heading out into the unknown or on roads you’ve never used before can be an unnecessary risk to take when cycling in the winter. Yes, you may have a bike computer with a map that shows exactly where you plan to go, but it often can’t tell you the exact lay of the land, and the risk of hazards like ice of flooring.

The only way around this is to choose roads you know well, when conditions suggest there may be a risk elsewhere. Opting for the back lane adventure might not be such a good idea when you come across debris from floods and alluvial flow from fields, which inevitably increase your risk of getting a puncture, or worse. By sticking to a well-known route, you’ll also be familiar with the cafe stops en-route if you need to seek shelter or turn for home.

Ice is also a genuine risk throughout winter and there’s no more important stick to stick to a well-trodden, gritted route than when things might be slippery out. If you’re not sure, stay at home and spend some time on the turbo, or if you have to get out, think about delaying your departure and/or sticking to a main road route. Ice is far more likely to form on untreated roads; particularly those out in the sticks where it’s often a couple of degrees colder.

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