The five best things about winter riding

When you arrive home, with feet numb like swollen ice bricks, fingers white and brittle, or soaked to the skin, winter can seem a less than fabulous time to ride a bike. But we still keep on doing it, and there have to be some very good reasons for that. Here are a few to bear in mind next time you question your sanity…

The transition from cold to warm

Leaving the house wrapped head to toe in layers of winter gear, the air can feel bitingly cold. In the real mid-winter, the sight of your own breath adds insult to the injury; it confirms the extent of the chill.

Once you start rolling, your body begins to work and your muscles warm up. It’s then that I sometimes find the puff of white exhalation strangely satisfying. Riding when you can see your breath is an indication that you are staying active in the depths of the British big-freeze, and the dichotomy between warm body and cold winter air is oddly comforting.

Clever winter kit

After a winter ride with no overshoes, when the temperature gauge read about 3 degrees, I bought myself a new pair of Castelli Diluvio overshoes. I can tell you, my next ride was a lot more pleasant. My feet weren’t just “not cold”, they felt like little radiators on the ends of my legs.

Good winter clothing can’t solve all your problems, and it will never be faultless, but my, it is incredibly clever. ‘Nanothis’, ‘windstopperthat’ – it certainly not always cheap, but so much research has gone into creating the perfect fabric, it’s quite a pleasure to know that the clothes on your back are the product of so much innovation.

My new Castelli overshoes - very warm

My new Castelli overshoes – very warm

Here’s our round up of some of the most essential winter kit, if you’ve yet to stock up.

Cycling past traffic despite the weather

Wheeling (carefully!) along past stationary traffic as you make your way to the front of the queue at the lights (note – the front – never squeezed in the blind spot of a vehicle) is satisfying all year round. This is particularly true if you pass the car that overtook you a couple of minutes ago.

In winter, it’s even more of an ego massage.  It’s chilly and the frost has settled on the grass and pavements, but you, my friend are hardcore – more hardcore than all these drivers huddled in their cars. Perhaps the pleasure comes from a sense of pride at being able to survive without air con and windscreen wipers, but it’s also twice as pleasing when you’re getting where you’re going quicker, too.

Camaraderie between cyclists

We cyclists are a friendly bunch as it is – we know each other’s struggles with traffic and punctures and we do our best, most of the time, to help each other out. In winter, we all know those struggles are heightened. There’s a heightened sense of how as this is London not Amsterdam, we’ve got to be a little bit crazy to be doing what we’re doing, and that is faintly amusing.

I’ve endured rides to and from my work in driving rain with fellow commuting colleagues, and though it was grim, we shared the grim-ness between us. I remember a winter ride with a good friend of mine where neither of us could feel a single finger or toe on return, but it’s a memory I think on fondly because we shared the pain and had a good laugh over hot chocolate half-way round.

The hot drink when you get in

Arriving at work or (better still) walking through your front door at home, flicking on the kettle and preparing that lovely hot drink to wrap your icy fingers around is such a reward for your efforts. Even better, is having someone do it for you, or drinking from a cool mug, like my Chapeau one.

An awesome mug always heels warmer

An awesome mug always heels warmer

What do you like most about winter riding? If so – do make sure your bike is ready – here are our tips on winterising your bike.  

(Michelle is a time trial racer who blogs about cycling kit, cycling culture, and other bike related things, at She tweets from @michellearthurs)


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15 Responses to The five best things about winter riding

  1. Clare 20/11/2013 at 10:10 am #

    Stopping at a cycling café along the route for a hot chocolate.
    Knowing that your hot chocolate is, effectively, calorie-free. On the same basis, considering an oatcake.
    The sense of satisfaction when you make it back home before the downpour.
    The irrepressible joy that comes from reaching the top of a hill and seeing a tapestry of frosty fields laid out in front of you beneath a blue Winter’s sky.

  2. DavidH 20/11/2013 at 10:29 am #

    My lab in the 90s had a low temperature (40°C) soils oven the size of a refrigerator… say no more!

  3. Steve A 20/11/2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Arriving at work to find the water in my water bottle froze, but I didn’t. Of course that pleasure is less common here in Dallas than in London.

  4. TOM 20/11/2013 at 5:17 pm #

    thanx for the article Michelle , out here in the Wild, Wild West (Oregon) we have the same exact feelings for cycling. I can think of nothing else that I can add to your post that wasn’t covered.


  5. Elspeth 21/11/2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Love your article topic!

    For me, the best thing about winter cycling is seeing nature changing – most people miss out on the atmosphere of winter as they shuttle from car to tube to building, heads down, umbrellas up.

    Everyone else seems to be moping about the weather. This is my first winter where I’ve had the right gear to cycle regardless of the forecast and I am loving it. Already I have seen beautiful crisp sunrises over Finsbury Park, clear blue skies against skeletal trees and the foggy drizzle of an evening. I got caught in a deluge a few weeks back and felt proud to have arrived home in one piece with only my boots showing the repercussions (must purchase some over-shoes next).

    Cycling in heavy rain is much like the experience of camping in the rain – you wouldn’t chose to do it but there is a feeling of being at one with nature and being stronger and more resilient when you come out the other side.

    when I get to my destination in winter, I feel alive!

  6. Jude 21/11/2013 at 12:04 pm #

    Am I the only person who doesn’t bundle up in lots of winter layers? Even in the coldest of weather, once I get going I never need more than two layers (usually a t-shirt and a jacket, though if it’s *really* cold I might go for a long sleeved top under the jacket). Of course, those first few moments before I warm up are painfully, bitingly cold, but I always tell myself it won’t be for long. I never notice the point when I transition from cold to comfortable – I just notice that it’s happened.

    Having said that, I’m thinking of getting some overshoes this year. I’ve already had my first ride when I couldn’t feel my toes by the end of it, and it’s only going to get colder.

    • barton 27/11/2013 at 3:10 pm #

      I think it all depends on what your definition of “cold” is, really. I have a friend who lives in Washington DC who has more layers on while cycling at 10 C than I do at -14 C (the temp this morning where I live).

      That is also, I find, the problem when looking at cycling-specific winter clothing. A jacket may say it is a “winter” jacket, but you find that it is only appropriate for 5C to 15C. That isn’t winter where I live – that is fall/spring. I think that is why I layer to so much. This morning, it was a thermal jacket (which by itself I put on at 0), plus a thin long-sleeved merino wool top. I had on merino long underwear under windpants (that don’t move well, but the wind was clocking around 25-30 mph this morning with actual temps at -14C, so help was needed). Lobster claw gloves, wool skull cap under the helmet, a wool neck/face buff and ski goggles. I was never warm, but I was comfortable when I started moving.

      I always feel silly in ski goggles when cycling – and refuse to be the first in the area to put them on – but with strong winds and arctic cold I’d rather not have my contacts freeze/dry out on my eyes.

  7. Ellie 21/11/2013 at 12:15 pm #

    Nailing what to wear – warm and protected from the wind, but not hot once I get going. Feeling the crisp air on my face and feeling temperature control everywhere else is mint.

  8. Bridget 21/11/2013 at 12:30 pm #

    The cycle commute to work is important to me during winter as it is outside time I wouldn’t otherwise have. The fresh air, no matter how cold, and the exercise keeps the winter blues at bay.

  9. Dave Buckney 21/11/2013 at 7:01 pm #

    I like the fact that I’m not so hot and bothered when I get to work compared with the summer months. Strange I know, but we all need these little postives to get us out on our bikes.

  10. Human Cyclist 22/11/2013 at 7:18 am #

    A strong tailwind or taking a break from cycling. Winter is a time to recover. I’m in cycling hibernation (but for the 5 day commuting and one weekend ride!).

  11. PoPpy @ Persistence Over Perfection 22/11/2013 at 11:12 am #

    I’m a relative newbie to road cycling but have owned a hybrid for commuting from a to b for a couple of years. I can’t wait to get out on my bike during the Winter months and explore my local area a bit more – I especially love the clear air you get in the UK in the colder months, the views will be so much nicer! Off to read your other linked posts on Winterising my bike and the best kit 🙂 thanks!

  12. Jozudave 22/11/2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Agree with all the ideas in the post, but would also add that a really important additional benefit is not being jammed in an overcrowded Northern Line tube (assuming you can even get on!) with dozens of sick people coughing and sneezing in your face! I think I’m much more likely to get a cold off them than the actual cold of cycling outdoors during winter 😉

  13. Hubs 22/11/2013 at 6:31 pm #

    The best things about riding during cold weather (whether or not it is officially winter) are: having good kit that keeps you warm despite the elements (decent layers with a water and windproof outer one); changeable weather (sunshine one moment; hail the next, back to sunshine again just as suddenly); getting exercise and fresh air despite the conditions; and having an excuse to eat heartily before setting off.

  14. Eve 25/11/2013 at 1:21 am #

    I love winter riding! I get my exercise but never get overheated and sweaty as it is the case in the summer. My first winter on the bike was like a revelation – riding through frozen Richmond Park on Monday morning was a great way to start the week. Now I’ve changed jobs and cycle through Hyde Park on my way to work. I find using public transport far too stressful in comparison to being able to glide past the stationary traffic under my own steam. The important thing is having the right gear and it doesn’t have to cost a bomb – I got my staff in sales or from certain German retailers and I’m warm like a toast! Also always remember your lights!

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