With the nights drawing in and the clocks about to go back, itâ€™s time to look out â€“ and upgrade â€“ your winter cycling kit
If youâ€™re like me, the hunt for last yearâ€™s bike lights, warm cycling tights and gloves usually results in a trip to the local bike store or a search for new items on-line.
I am also drawn each year to new developments in cycling kit, such as brighter and lighter front lights, waterproof and insulated gloves, waterproof cycling jackets and even reflective spray paint for your bike (spotted at the Outdoor Trade Show 2013).
Safer cycling in winter
Bright cycle clothing, bike lights and reflective gadgets are essential kit for the darker days and evenings. But itâ€™s also a good idea to brush up on your cycling skills and plan ahead so that you avoid more obvious dangers.
Top tips for safer cycling
In autumn and winter, when the sun shows its face it will be lower in the sky. This can be blinding if youâ€™re cycling into the sun so make sure you wear sunglasses on these occasions or put a peaked cycling cap beneath your bike helmet. Be doubly aware of other road users, drivers and pedestrians, who might have their sight obscured by a low sun and will be less likely to see cyclists, too.
Sunglasses with changeable lenses make a lot of sense. Use darker lenses in bright sunlight and summer and swap for tinted lenses on darker days and in winter sun. These Oakley Radarlock Edge sunglasses are great for women cyclists andÂ Oakley Radar Path Photochromic sunglasses are a good choice for men.
Cycle glasses stop bits and bugs getting in your eyes as you cycle, too.
Icy roads are treacherous on two wheels. You may not even see black ice. Cycle with utmost caution on winter tyres (tyres that have more grip). If you find yourself riding on ice, try not to panic. Keep going in a straight line and donâ€™t brake suddenly. If you must stop, gently use the rear brake.
The bike may slew around, so quickly put your foot down. Flat pedals are easier for getting your feet down but if you use clip-on pedals slacken the retention springs a little in the winter.
Alternatively, leave the bike at home and get the bus.
Riding in snow
Fresh snow is actually better than ice but road bikes will not cope in these conditions. Swap to a hybrid bike with knobbly tyres or opt for a mountain bike. Cyclocross bikes also cope well in snow.
Fit tyres such as Â£19.99 Specialized Crossroads tyres from Edinburgh Bike Co-op for extra traction. Another top tip is to inflate tyres a little less than you would in the summer for better traction and surface contact on roads and trails.
A peaked cycling cap â€“ with or without a helmet â€“ will keep falling snow out of your eyes. Altura Peak Cap can be worn under your helmet.Â Â£7.99 from Edinburgh Bike Co-op.
Plan your route
You might need to adapt your route in winter. Some cycle ways are not lit on darker mornings and evenings. Also find out which roads are gritted, which will normally mean cycling on more major roads. Choose flatter routes rather than hills if you can in icy or snowy weather.
Pedestrians distracted by Christmas shopping and revellers enjoying the festivities can be a major hazard for cyclists in towns and cities. Pay extra attention to what people are doing on the pavements, and sometimes in the middle of the roads.
Stop the rust
Salted roads are good for keeping ice and snow to a minimum but they play havoc with bikes and bike parts. Then thereâ€™s the mud from mountain biking and cyclocross trails. To keep your bike in good condition, a revolutionary new lubricant has been launched in Scotland.
Scottoiler, based in Milngavie, East Dunbartonshire, has created the Ultimate Bike Solution, which lubricates the bike chain, cassette and derailleur as you ride. Then, when you wash the bike down with water, the muck and grit is easily removed. And when stationary, the anti-corrosion inhibitors in the solution protect it from the environment. Job done, in every sense! See Ultimate Bike Solution
For a belt and braces approach also wash down your bike every weekend with soapy water or a bike cleaning product, such as Muc-Off.
Fix it kit
Always carry a puncture repair kit with you, including tyre levers, a new inner tube or an on-the-spot puncture repair patch and a pump. Getting caught out without these on a cold, wet or dark day or evening is the stuff of nightmares.
Brush up your skills
It can be useful to join a cycle skills session to learn how to ride safely and with more expertise on the roads and trails. See Ride Better courses.
Metal components, such as bike locks, can freeze solid in very low temperatures so keep them well-oiled or use a de-icer or WD40 to unfreeze.
Stay within the law â€“ and be seen by other road users â€“ with bike lights. As a minimum, a red back light and white front light are essential. The more lights, including flashing lights, you add the more chance you have of being seen.
If you want to be able to see ahead on dark nights or on roads and trails without overhead lights, choose a super-bright front light. Check out BrightBikeLights.com
Products such as Albedo 100â€™s innovative reflective spray (Light Metallic for bikes and Invisible Bright for textiles) are worth investigating. The spray paint offers great visibility to bikes and clothing in dull light. See Albedo 100
For extra safety wear a hi-viz vest or wrist and ankle bands.
Â Use your head
It goes without saying that most people will choose to wear a bike helmet, especially in winter when there is a greater chance of falling off your bike. The choice of bike helmets is huge and there are styles and weights to suit all budgets. Add a waterproof cover for cold and wet days. I like this Altura helmet cover for Â£14.99Â because it is also hi-viz.
Face up to winter
Cold wind and rain can ruin your skin and complexion.Use a good outdoors face moisturiser (especially with a high SPF) to stop face skin drying out. Girls, youâ€™ll know what weâ€™re talking about. For men try Audaca moisturiser for outdoors guys.
Lip salve will stop your lips chapping.
If youâ€™ve ever wondered what the soft fleecy area on your bike gloves is for, we can reveal that itâ€™s for wiping your runny nose! Of course, this will end up being a breeding ground for germs so make sure you wash them regularly.
Top tips for winter cycle clothing
While clothing needs to keep the wind and rain out, itâ€™s important that it is also breathable. You can build up a sweat while cycling even in winter and no-one wants to feel damp and cold on the inside.
Use the multiple thin layers system. This means wearing several thinner layers, such as a sweat wicking baselayer, a windproof mid-layer or shell and when it rains, a waterproof outer. The Keela Menâ€™s Lynx Softshell is a good jacket for cyclists and all-round active types.
Arm warmers and leg warmers are a great asset for cyclists. Put them on at the start of the ride for warmth and peel off if you become warm. You can then roll them up and stuff in your pocket.
Take extra layers with you on longer outings. Stow excess kit in the back pocket of cycling jerseys or a cycle specific rucksack such as theÂ Osprey Talon 22 rucksack.
Outer layers should be brightly coloured or, better still, hi-viz. I like Gore Bike Wear, including the female-fit Countdown 2.0 Gore-Tex lady jacket in bright pink (price Â£169.99 to Â£179.99) and for guys, the Altura Night Vision Evo Jacket priced Â£99.99 from Edinburgh Bike Co-op.
If you want to stay dry on the commute by bike to work wear waterproof over-trousers. I wouldnâ€™t recommend these for longer rides because youâ€™ll end up a bit sweaty but for shorter commutes or mountain biking over-trousers such as the active-fit Keela Lightning trousers are a great invention. See my review.
Once you have worn bib tights youâ€™ll never go back. Normal â€œwaistedâ€ shorts and tights often leave a gap between the tights and the bottom of your top or jersey. Bib tights eliminate this problem. Choose winter warmer tights for keeping legs cosy in the winter chill. For women the Gore Bike Wear Oxygen Windstopper bibbed tights with a clever â€œget offâ€ zip are a good buy. See my review.
Also choose gloves that will keep your hands warm and dry (so this means they need to be waterproof and breathable). Check out Sealskinz All Weather Cycling Gloves in men and womenâ€™s fit, priced Â£35.
Add buffs, ear warmers, silk baselayer gloves, and heated cycle shoe inserts such as EXOÂ² HeatSole at Â£89.99
Coffee and cake stops
Just as important in the winter are coffee and cake stops. Plan your weekend rides to take in one or two warm cafes where youâ€™re guaranteed a friendly cyclistsâ€™ welcome and a good range of cakes and strong coffee or tea. Cycle skills and guiding company Skinny Tyres, based in Perthshire, have a list of cycle friendly cafes. Also see Mellow Veloâ€™s cafÃ© list. Do tell us about your favourites, too.