As the nights begin to get darker, the main topic of conversation in the cycle changing rooms turn to whether we are going to continue cycling to work (and back again) over the winter. Each year, I am one of the few on the “of course I’ll continue” side. I get why you might not want to. Its dark, it’s cold, it’s often rainy. But I think it’s really, really important to keep in the cycling to work habit over the winter and I absolutely promise it will make you happier and make the winter go by faster.
If I’m not exercising in the winter, I am rarely outside. I wake up in the dark, it gets light while I’m on the tube, then I’m straight into my office and I don’t leave it until well dark. I have a lightbox in my bedroom but it’s not quite the same as getting some real, actual light. Some days I look out of the window and even on grey days I squint because my eyes aren’t used to the natural light.
Continuing to cycle gives you that time outdoors – I am on my bike as it gets light, and if it is actually sunny (we do have some sunny days in London in the winter!) I actually get to experience it. Last week, cycling to work as the sun rose and the sky turned a beautiful shade of blue I just felt so happy. It put me in a really good mood all day, which I would not have had if I’d missed that!
But to make it pleasant, you do need the right kit. My fantastic cycle kit means that I am never cold on the bike and it makes cycling in the dark and rain much better. I really don’t mind cycling home in the rain, my kit means I barely feel it… Although I should admit that if it is pouring with rain when I wake up I tend to take a raincheck 😊
First, for cycling in the dark, lights. If you live in a city, you don’t need really bright front lights, the most important are the rear lights to ensure you’re visible. Although I really love these lights that project a picture of a bike forwards so people can see if you’re coming up behind them. I want a pair!
The most important is to have lights that work. Ideally, I would have a battery operated pair on my bike at all times, and then a chargeable pair – just in case one runs out of battery unexpectedly! I try to charge mine every day I cycle but quite often I forget until just before I leave, meaning it only gets 10 minutes or so of charge. That’s when its good to have a working pair already on the bike! I also have a flashing red light on my rucksack.
Then – for comfort and warmth:
The jacket – this is the most important. If you splash out on any item, splash out on this and you won’t regret it. A good jacket should be visible (but doesn’t have to be fluorescent yellow! Mine is blue with white panels and I’ve been told I’m really visible), warm, waterproof and breathable. Quite a lot to ask!
I have a Gore jacket and I have raved about it many times before. You can unzip the arms, whether to let a little more in at your armpits or to turn the jacket into a gilet (which I can now do as I cycle along after over-dressing far too many times, I’m practically a pro). It is almost entirely waterproof – I have cycled home in torrential rain and been dry under my jacket other than slight dampness on my forearms. As mentioned above, it’s really visible in the dark. And it’s warm. I love this jacket. I read lots about soft shells and windbreakers and waterproofs and you would think you need five or six different cycle jackets. Not true – you just need this one!
Overshoes – this is another area it’s worth shelling out slightly, really cheap ones aren’t waterproof (despite their claims) and get torn and tattered really quickly. I currently just have these neoprene ones and they are amazing, waterproof and so warm. No more numb toes when I get into the shower at work! However, they are black… I really have my eye on this very bright pair from Rapha….
Tights: if you live in the UK I can’t ever imagine needing tights warmer than these dhb bib tights from wiggle. The bib part isn’t just a few straps that go over your shoulders, it’s a full on vest that keeps me cosy-warm even on the coldest of days. These are amazing.
Base Layer: I have a dhb merino wool base layer (from wiggle) with a high zip-up neck in every shade and I think they’re wonderful. Warm, quick-drying, not smelly (due to the miracle of merino wool) AND really cheap for what you’re getting. These are great.
Jersey: I only have one long-sleeved jersey (although I’d love another one. Velovixen sell Cafe du Cycliste jerseys that I think are just beautiful and I’d love as a present). The one I have is from Rapha (and was a present). To be honest, it doesn’t fit perfectly because it’s cut quite short in the front. But when I wear it over bib tights, that really doesn’t matter. It is very warm, very comfortable, looks good and has lots of handy pockets. Now – if you have the expensive jacket and the dhb bib tights I’ve recommended I don’t think you need an expensive jersey. A merino wool one for winter is a good idea but it doesn’t have to be hundreds of pounds – you will be more than warm enough without it!
Gloves: you want one pair of small glove liners and another waterproof pair to go over the top. Ideally, the top pair would have some brightness about them, so when you stick your hand out to signal, you can be seen more easily. And bright gloves look awesome. Mine are from Endura and I love them.
Headband: make doesn’t matter here – you just want something that will go over your ears and temples to keep your head warm.
Buff: again, you want merino wool. This will get wet, you probably will get snot on it, this little bit of gear is not treated very well. Tuck into your base layer, pull it up high over your nose, and wash often. No need to shell out lots of money – I have several, including a Rapha one, but my favourite is from Wiggle and didn’t cost very much at all. I only use the others when that one is in the wash!
And that is it! With all that kit, I promise you will not get cold and you will not feel the rain. Unless you’re from the US, where you have crazy temperatures (-20 degrees!!!!! I have no idea what that would even feel like! What do you do if your boiler breaks?!!) – I’ve never been cold in this outfit but I haven’t worn it in temperatures colder than -5 so who knows…..