So it’s finally here, winter. Because it isn’t winter without snow. So what are you going to wear for the inevitable commute and leisure rides?
I don’t often ride with a helmet, but on snowy days there’s more chance of slipping on ice and less visibility for drivers so I would recommend one. A cap is a necessity to cover your face from the oncoming snow and cold wind. I usually use a standard cycling hat, but the peaks get all weird and wonky quite quickly, so now there are waterproof cycling hats, such as the eVent one and Sealskinz one.
A waterproof jacket is essential. They tend to fall into one of two categories, waterproof or breathable, but rarely both. Usually the more waterproof it is, the less breathable it is, so you can end up being just as wet inside the thing due to sweat. Softshell’s have become increasingly popular in the last few years because they can be mostly waterproof but really breathable. Softshell’s also tend to be warmer, meaning you need less layers on underneath. The Swrve Milwaukee and Vulpine Softshell are good examples of this. But if you want keep you dry for longer than about 30 minutes in heavy rain, you need a proper waterproof. You can opt for something very cheap and effective such as a Mac in a Sac and accept you’re going to get sweaty, or you can spend significantly more and get something much more breathable, better looking and just as waterproof. Such as the Vulpine Cotton Rain Jacket and the Rapha City Rain Jacket. There are many, many jackets that claim to be waterproof and breathable, like the Castelli Sottile Jacket but the only one I’ve found that to actually be true with is the Rapha one.
Similar to the jackets, there are a few levels of waterproof trousers. The really cheap ones that are very waterproof but also completely unbreathable, because they’re made for walking or just standing in the rain, such as the Peter Storm Flite. The main problem with them being that the legs are too short and ride up when you cycle, meaning you get wet ankles and how hot your legs get in them. But they are very simple and do the job, just put them on over your jeans and take them off when you get to your destination. Then there are more cycling specific trousers. They’re pretty much the same except they’re cut to bend at the knee and keep your ankles covered, such as the Altura Attack and Gore Path. Then there are the softshell trousers. Less waterproof than the previously mentioned ones, but warmer, much more breathable and you can wear them as normal trousers, such as the Swrve Softshell Trousers and Rapha Softshell Trousers.
If you cycle with flat pedals or straps, you can just use some waterproof walking boots or wellies or anything really. However, if you are clipless there’s fewer options. You can get some overshoes to go over your normal cycling shoes such as the BBB Waterflex or the Specialized 2013. They can be used to various amounts of success. If your trousers are too short then water can get in the top of them, and if you don’t have a front mudguard I found water can come up through the cleat holes in your shoes, but generally they’re quite good as long as you carry some spare socks with you to work just in case they fail. The bonus is they can be used to just keep your feet warm on long, cold rides without being much of a hassle. You could also get some waterproof cycling shoes such as the Sidi Hydro GTX or Shimano Goretex. which would be my preferred option, if they weren’t so expensive.
Every has different needs and preferences with gloves, how much padding you like, how warm you want them and how grippy. Generally in winter you want something thicker and warmer and probably more padded. However, the thicker and warmer the glove is, the more unwieldy it becomes. I’ve been using some Ultura Night Vision gloves because the reflective part is useful for indicating on these dark nights and DeFeet Merino gloves have served me well in temperatures 3° and over. But now that we are having -3° days gloves like the Specialized Radiant become necessary. For people with particularly bad circulation and therefore more susceptible to cold hands, electric heated gloves are the last port of call. Maplins make their own and there are many more, usually made for skiing such as the Warmawear ones.
Get them. A clip on rear one is better than nothing, but full front and rear ones are ideal. You don’t need to have eyelets on your forks for them as SKS raceblade‘s will work on pretty much any bike. If you cycle around without a mudguard in waterproof clothing you will very quickly wear through the waterproofness on the back of them, as I found out. And if you don’t have a front one the spray is aimed directly at your shoes, meaning very cold feet very quickly, so get them. It’s also nicer for anyone cycling with you to not have to contend with a 5 meter arc or grimy road water spraying from your back wheel.
As the nights are longer and darker good lights are necessary. Those Knogs you got 3 years ago for xmas and haven’t changed the batteries in yet aren’t good enough. There are 2 kinds of bicycle lights, those to see and those to be seen. If you are just cycling in London you only need ones to be seen. If you commute through country lanes or a forest or whatever then you need lights to see. Knog Frog‘s are rubbish, don’t even bother with them. As are the Blackburn Voyager and Cateye Loop‘s. As a general rule, the more LED’s it has, the brighter it is. The multitude of Cateye, BBB, Electron and anything else they’re branded as are not too bad. They use a bracket to attach to your bike which is prone to snapping and can die without reason, but they’re also really cheap, you’ve just got to make sure they have fresh batteries in them. My favorite lights are the Moon Mask 5.0, Moon Shield and the Knog Blinders. All 3 of those lights are very bright for city use, recharge over USB, have good battery lives, have strong attaching systems that don’t use brackets and are waterproof. The only reason you would need anything more than them is if you have an irrational fear of rechargeable thing or you commute through country lanes. At which point you need something like the Hope Vision 1 or a MagicShine. Also be aware that if it’s raining and you have a very bright light pointing upwards into driver’s eyes, it will glare off the water on their windscreen and reduce their visibility, putting yourself at risk. So don’t be an idiot, point that light down slightly.
Now get out there and enjoy the empty roads.