Winter is a tough time as a cyclist. After the long, sunny days of summer (hold on, who are we kidding?), the temperature drops and the nights draws in.
Fair weather riders may have packed the bike away until spring shows itself but the foolhardy - or the foolish - will ride on, undeterred by whatever winter can throw at you.
For some of you reading this, it may be your first winter on the bike, or maybe you’re an experienced - or, rather, long-suffering - rider who knows exactly what to expect. Either way, if you’ve ever cycled through a British winter it will most definitely have left its mark on your psyche, and there are certain things any cyclist who has taken on winter will definitely recognise. Even in this relatively mild winter, if it's not the cold that gets you, it's the wind or rain...
From moments of fickle fate, to mechanical issues, to some of the thoughts that go through our minds when the weather turns really nasty, we’ve put together a list of 15 things anyone who has ridden through winter will recognise.
When you can’t feel your fingers and it’s time to descend
Typical, isn’t it? Just when you really, really need your fingers, that’s when they pack up and abandon you. You’ve slogged your way up the biggest hill of the ride, rocking from side to side and chewing the stem as you go. All that stands between you and a nice warm cuppa is the last descent. Now if only you had some way of operating your brakes…
When your back tyre slips on wet leaves / mud in the middle of the road
Is there anything quite so disheartening as that moment when you dig deep into your suitcase of courage, rise out of the saddle and chuck in the last bits of energy you have to power through to the top of a steep climb, only for the back wheel to lose traction and spin freely without propelling you forwards, forcing you to put a foot down and walk? If there is, we don’t want to know about it.
Getting ready for a ride in your Flandrian best
Base layer, check. Jersey, check. Gilet, check. Rain jacket, check. Bib tights, check. Overshoes, check. Gloves, check. Cap, check. Snood, check. The list goes on. Sometimes getting ready is the hardest part.
You know how when you’re out for a ride on a balmy summer’s evening it’s actually kind of fun to get a little bit lost, kind of like an impromptu adventure? Well it’s not like that in the winter at all.
Getting home, or at least back to the right roads, quickly becomes a grim race against time, the setting sun and the elements.
When the weather plays tricks on you
“What an unseasonably lovely morning. I bet I won’t even need my rain jacket or gloves for today’s commute," you thought. Eight hours later and you’re regretting that decision, as you watch tree branches, leaves and small household pets being swept along in the raging torrent that the road outside your work has been transformed into by the elements.
Bus splash is when you’re peacefully riding along, minding your own business, when all of a sudden you get coated in grimy water and grunge sprayed up by a whacking great double-decker. It can be a HGV, let's not get caught up in the terminology, other vehicles can create splash too, but buses are the worst.
When the winds are so strong you get blown off your bike
Scary, painful, and more than little embarrassing – getting blown off your bike is a bit of a nightmare. Still, we can all take solace from the fact that it happens to the pros too. Remember when Geraint Thomas got blown into a ditch at Gent Wevelgem?
Punctures. Every. Single. Day.
Wet roads and a layer of mud, stones, glass and other rubbish on top of the tarmac mean only one thing – you’re going to be spending a lot of time changing inner tubes this winter. If you do happen to get lucky and manage to stay puncture free then whatever you do, don’t tell anyone about your good fortune. Nothing brings on a spate of punctures like saying “I haven’t had a flat for six months".
The moment water seeps through your overshoes
“This winter will be different. This year I will be prepared for what the elements throw at me. This year, this year I will invest in proper overshoes. None of those flimsy lightweight things for me. I’m getting serious this time."
This is the conversation we have in our heads every autumn, before spending a ludicrous amount of money on a pair of ‘100 percent waterproof’ overshoes. Then what happens? Well the blooming water manages to find a way through anyway doesn’t it.
You seize any moment of fine weather to go out on the bike
“Was that a single ray of sunlight I saw shining over in the next valley? I must get on my bike and take advantage of this glorious weather immediately!"
This will become a recurring theme of the winter, with your efforts to take advantage of any period of time longer than ten minutes when it isn’t bucketing it down with rain, or worse snowing a blizzard, getting more and more extreme. It’s not unheard of for cyclists to sneak out of the office at lunchtime in the hope of grabbing an hour of daylight riding time.
Cafe du Cycliste
You have a winter training bike
It’s always a bittersweet moment when you put your ‘nice bike’ away for the colder months and fetch out the winter training bike. Often the winter bike is one that used to be your ‘good’ bike but has since been retired – maybe you simply couldn’t bring yourself to get rid of it. There’s a certain amount of joy to be had in getting back out on a decrepit old steely and battling the elements with a wobbly front wheel. Still, at least it has mudguards.
George Scott/Factory Media
Woohoo! Winter means it’s time for cyclo-cross, and all the fun, mud, grime, guts and glory that goes along with it. If you’re anything like us though, your enthusiasm for ‘cross lasts about as long as it takes to wash the bike after a ride.
Feeling like a badass when you go out riding in a storm
You know when you’re out on your bike in winter and there’s a flash of lightning somewhere off in the distance and in your head you’re like, “I am Thor, God of Thunder aboard my two-wheeled chariot! I fear not these piddling storms – I have battled the might of the Giants in Jotunheim."
No? Just me then. Ok.
Stepping into a hot shower after a biblical ride
Sometimes, when things get really, really grim, and the weather's properly biblical, the only thing that keeps you going when crawling back home at the end of a long winter ride, feet and hands frozen, and energy levels at rock bottom, is the prospect of wrapping your hands around a cup of coffee before jumping in a steaming hot shower. It feels so, so good. Except that you'll still be picking dirt and grit out of your eyes for days.
The first signs of spring
There comes a time towards the end of every winter, with seemingly no light at the end of the long, dark tunnel, when spring suddenly shows the first sign of finally springing and you can bravely venture out without gloves or ditch the leg warmers. Those first golden rays of spring sunshine are enough to bring any winter-worn cyclist back to life.