Winter Cycling Tips and Top Picks
Why two wheeled fun needn’t be limited to the summer months.
Winter is seen by many cyclists as the “off season”, where bikes get left in sheds and forgotten about until the thermometer reading starts to crawl back into the double digits. There is no escaping that cooler weather and incessant precipitation make two wheeled adventure more challenging, but isn’t that why we cycle in the first place? Winter cycling is certainly different to what most of us are used to, but that just means there’s a whole other facet of the sport waiting to be explored. So, in the spirit of New Year, New Adventures it’s time to get on your bike. Whether you’re a die-hard roadie, a thrill-seeking trail rider, or you just use your bike to commute, we have some tips, tricks, and a few gear recommendations to turn cycling into your year-round activity.
Winter Cycling Clothing
In winter, the days are colder, the nights longer and it never seems to stop raining. These conditions demand a different approach to dressing for cycling. Being bold and starting cold is a good rule of thumb to avoid turning into a sweaty mess ten minutes into your ride. Just don’t be too bold, or you will have the opposite problem.
No two rides are the same, so check the forecast and layer appropriately for the conditions. This can be hard to judge at first, but after a few rides using this technique, you’ll have a good idea of what clothing you need for a given set of temperature, wind, and wetness conditions. If you’re worried that you don’t have the right gear for the job, worry not. We have some ideas for how to winterise your wardrobe.
For cold and wet offroad adventures, you’ll want to armour up against the elements. This means waterproof shoes, full-length trousers, and a protective waterproof jacket. However, it’s important that your kit is breathable too because mountain biking is an intense physical activity which makes it easy to overheat. Finding the right balance can sometimes be challenging with conditions varying so dramatically. That’s why having a versatile wardrobe is so useful. For a bit of inspiration, we’ve selected a few of our favourites from this season’s range.
A good base layer is arguably the most important bit of clothing for any layering system. That’s why Endura uses merino wool in theirs. Merino is super warm for its weight, and it has an incredible ability to resist odour build up. The BaaBaa Merino Base Layer uses a blend of merino wool and synthetic fibres in its fabric, to make a top that helps to regulate your temperature while riding.
Five Ten shoes are a perennial favourite in the mountain bike world, and for good reason. They’re comfortable, durable, and the famous dotty rubber tread gives excellent pedal grip. The Trailcross GTX has all of this and more. It features a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane along with a high, sealing cuff to keep water and trail debris out. Say goodbye to sodden feet and hello to toasty toes.
It’s always a struggle deciding whether it’s wet enough outside to justify wearing waterproof trousers instead of comfy softshell ones. With the MT500 Spray trouser, you can get the best of both worlds. They are primarily constructed from a tough, stretchy, and breathable softshell fabric. However, the seat is made from a 3-layer waterproof fabric to prevent tyre spray or a wet saddle from soaking your underwear.
Cold hands can ruin an otherwise great ride, so it’s important to make sure your digits are well protected. Endura’s Freezing Point Lobster gloves take this to the extreme. They’re designed for days when the temperature is around or below freezing. Primaloft insulation and a waterproof membrane provide protection from the cold and the wet. The “lobster” element of the name refers to how the pinkie and ring fingers are grouped together for added warmth. If there’s a hard frost or snow on the ground, these should be the gloves that you reach for.
A good waterproof shell jacket is an essential piece of equipment for any mountain biker’s wardrobe. The Ranger 2.5 Water Jacket from Fox is fully waterproof and breathable. It has a hood that comfortably swallows helmets and zipped pockets for storing ride essentials. It’s made from a lightweight fabric, so it can be packed down small enough to fit in a waist pack. Ideal for those days when you’re trying to squeeze a few laps in before the rain arrives, but you’re worried you might get caught out.
Thankfully, for road cycling you don’t have to deal with quite the same level of muck as when mountain biking. Layering for winter road riding is less about weather protection (though this is important) and more about temperature regulation. It’s easy to build up a sweat on a stiff hill climb, but what about the long cruisy descent that follows it?
Staying in the temperature sweet spot is vital for both comfort and performance. The way to control it is through a mix of pacing and layer management. If you’re just about to make a KOM attempt on the steepest hill in your town, then make sure to unzip your jacket or take off your gilet ahead of time. Likewise, if you’re just about to freewheel down 3km of gentle descent, zip everything up and trap all your hard-earned body head before it gets whipped away by the wind.
To make this work you need adaptable layers that are highly breathable, protective, and insulating. Ideally, they should have adjustable venting and can be whipped on and off with ease. With these criteria in mind, here are our top picks from this season’s road cycling apparel.
Stolen Goat’s climb and conquer gloves strike the ideal balance between protection and dexterity. They’re fully waterproof and insulated but still low profile and comfortable. You can still operate your phone and cycle computer with them too, using touch screen compatible fingertips. You won’t struggle from grip either, thanks to a tacky silicone print on the palm and fingers.
Rapha’s Core Range provides top level performance at an affordable price point, and the Core Rain Jacket II is no exception. It features subtle styling, including Rapha’s signature arm band, which is reflective for visibility at night and in low light conditions. The best thing about it is how light and compact it is. It packs down small enough to fit in a jersey pocket, so you never need to worry about being caught in a downpour without a waterproof.
As soon as the roads start to get wet, it’s time for the overshoes to come out. Endura’s Road Overshoe is made primarily from neoprene, so it’s both waterproof and warm. The rear zip makes fitting easy, and it is cleverly offset to avoid pressure points on the Achilles tendon. With these on your feet you won’t need to worry about cold toes on long winter rides anymore.
The Kiko Bibtights are ideal for winter rides when there’s the risk of a little precipitation or there’s plenty of surface water on the roads. This is because Stolen Goat’s proprietary Tempest fabric is used on the legs. It is inherently water and wind resistant, rather than just being coated, so it’s properties never wear off. They’re incredibly comfortable too, thanks to the Vapour chamois, which is held snugly in place by the Thermodream bib. When shorts and warmers just aren’t cutting it, the Kiko Bibtights are what you need.
This Pro SL 3 Season Jacket is a truly innovative piece of kit. It’s constructed from a brushed back windproof fabric that’s protective, breathable, and comfortable. The clever bit is the number of vents dotted around. As well as the main zip, there is a vent down each side of the torso and on each forearm, plus an exhaust vent on the upper back. This makes temperature regulation a breeze, because you can dump heat quickly by opening the vents and conserve it by zipping them up. It also comes with a high-tech fleece liner gilet that it can be paired with for seriously cold rides.
Just as we riders kit ourselves out for winter roads and frosty trails, our bikes need a bit of adaptation too. We’ve selected a few products that any bike would benefit from. Take a look and make sure you’re ready for your next winter ride.
Whether you ride on faultless tarmac or boggy singletrack, all cyclists have to deal with tyre spray. It comes off your rear wheel and soaks your behind and comes off the front and obscures your vision. It’s a pain. Thankfully, others have felt that pain before and devised various remedies. These are our favourite mudguards for each riding discipline.
Rapid Racer Products take mountain biking mud protection seriously and their Proguard series is a collection of some of the most effective guards on the market. Choose from two fitment options, bolt on or tie on, depending on your preference and fork compatibility. There are two different sizes of each option too. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll find your new mudguard virtually eliminates front wheel spray reaching your face. This is great for improving vision but also leaves you a little more presentable for the post ride coffee and cake stop.
Full length mudguards might not help your bike win any beauty contests, but they are wonderfully functional and convenient. Not only do they help keep your vision clear and your clothes dry, but they also keep your bike clean too. This not only keeps the frame looking nice, but it also reduces crud build-up on the front derailleur and other drivetrain parts. Bontrager’s NCS (no cut stays) mudguards are easier to install and adjust than most because there is no requirement to cut the metal stays.
Rear mudguards are arguably a bit frivolous, given that they’re more there for comfort and convenience, than for performance. But when your mudguard weighs about as much as an energy gel and carries virtually no aero penalty, it’s hard to justify not fitting one. The Ass Saver saddle mounted mudguards come in two sizes, standard and big, for road and gravel/mountain bikes respectively. They’re simple and they do what they say on the tin: save your bum from getting wet and muddy.
The seasons bring many changes: temperature fluctuates, trees gain and lose their leaves, Santa does his rounds. As reliably as all these things happen, so too do the roads and trails undergo their cycle. Every winter, the potholes get worse and worse, and the trails get muddier and muddier. Come spring, the council fixes one and nature the other, but it’s important to be prepared for the worst. Wider, puncture resistant road tyres cope better with the poor-quality tarmac and aggressively lugged mountain bike tyres are more functional for muddy trails. If you’ve been struggling with grip or punctures, then try out our tyre recommendations.
The GP 4 Season is a road tyre for year round training. Its design is derived from Continental’s World Tour winning road race tyres, but beefed up for greater longevity and puncture resistance. The Vectran puncture breaker under the centre tread is incredibly light and supple, so it has a minimal effect on rolling resistance but a good deal of gain in puncture protection. Continental have reinforced the casing with bead-to-bead Duraskin sidewall protection, for added peace of mind on pothole-riddled roads. If you want to winter-proof your wheels while sacrificing as little performance as possible, you should check out the Grand Prix 4 Season.
If you use your bike for getting about town or commuting, you probably don’t care too much about your tyre’s rolling efficiency, but you certainly don’t want to have to deal with punctures on chewed up winter roads. Enter the Schwalbe Marathon. This tyre comes in multiple widths, so you can max out your tyre clearance for as much comfort as possible. It has burly puncture protection for reliable running and a reflective sidewall for enhanced visibility at night. They might not be the lightest or the most efficient, but they are dependable and comfortable.
If you want to head out trail riding in even the worst conditions, then you’ll want some burly tyres to back you up. The Specialized Hill Billy is designed specifically for the wet and the mud, with tall tread knobs that punch through slop to find grip underneath. The most recent iteration of the tyre is made using Specialized’s latest T9 rubber compound with more grip and faster rolling.
Darkness shouldn’t be a barrier to getting out on your bike. Fitting lights to your bike makes after-work trail rides and long evening training sessions possible year-round. Mountain bikers are typically only concerned about lighting up the trail. Ideally, as brightly as possible. Road cyclists need to light up the road, but not so brightly that it dazzles drivers, and they also need to make themselves visible with a good rear light. We’ve picked out our favourites for every application.
Exposure lights are among the best bike lights that money can buy. They are all built in the UK, come with a 2-year warranty and are fully repairable. The Race Mk 16 was developed for endurance mountain bike racing. It has a long enough burn time for the duration of a 24-hour event and enough lumens to light up the trail. The machined aluminium body houses a huge 6,800 mAh battery and 2 powerful LEDs. This latest version also features Reflex technology which automatically adjusts light output depending on ambient light conditions and rider speed.
This light set from Bontrager is an ideal all in one solution for road riding with a front light that is still powerful enough for off-road use. Both lights are bright enough to be used as day running lights, to enhance your visibility whenever you choose to ride. They have all sorts of clever features like Bluetooth connectivity, so they can be controlled by your cycle computer. You’ll never forget to turn your lights on again when it happens automatically!
If you already have a front light or you only ride during the day, your priority should be fitting a highly visible rear light. The light can often be quite dull in winter, even during the day, so that rear light is even more important for alerting other road users to your presence. The Cateye Viz 300 leaves nothing to be desired in terms of power and it has multiple LEDs which can flash in a number of different patterns.
We hope you’ve found our tips and gear recommendations useful. Now go and get out on your bike!