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Winter city cycling

By Christopher Ashley

City cycling is about arriving at your destination looking and feeling good off the bike as well as practical and safe when on the bike. Winter city cycling is about doing it when it’s cold. This is very much from a British perspective.

Merino wool for temperature control

Merino wool is the best fabric to wear for temperature regulation and staying dry. It’s comfortable against the skin as it’s natural and wicks away sweat from your skin. All of the above properties are claimed by manufacturers of proprietary spun lycras and nylon clothing – and I’m not saying they don’t have a place in your wardrobe.

Domestic Sheep / Merino Sheep / Merinoschaf / Hausschaf
Photo: Profimedia.cz

But if you’ve never bought merino before I bet you’ve noticed a problem with your lycra and nylon jerseys. They start to smell quickly, and they smell bad. Not good for visiting the shops or popping round to visit friends.

Safety before fashion

Everyone pays varying degrees of interest to sartorial elegance. However, you need to be practical when on a bicycle, it’s winter, and you’re in a busy urban centre.

Man riding in a city wearing high visibility clothes
Photo: Profimedia.cz

For me there are two main reasons not to wear day-glo yellow or orange:

1. I work on an industrial estate and day-glo is there for half-light visibility. As soon as it’s dark, the only thing you see of the warehouse and gate workers are the reflective stripes on their clothes – and only if a light is shining directly at them. Having reflective strips on your clothes is a good idea as a cyclist. Forget day-glo, it’s your lights and reflective strips that will keep you safe.

2. If you don’t think lights are enough and that day-glo will somehow avoid an accident, then by that logic all cars should be painted day-glo yellow and have reflective strips all over them. Driving a car without lights is just as foolish as riding a bicycle without them.

Heads, and shoulders, knees, and toes

Knees and toes can be left especially vulnerable to the cold weather. Toe guards or shoe covers are inexpensive solutions to freezing toes, especially if you’re wearing cleats. I’ve said it before – buy a merino base layer for your legs, then put something over that.

Riding a bicycle in winter in high visibility jacket
Photo: Profimedia.cz

Buy a snood for your head. I bought a polyester one with a reflective stripe from a well known brand for around £25. I found the snood was actually perfect for keeping the brain freeze off my forehead, and I could still fit my helmet over it. Again if you go for merino it will keep you warmer and you won’t sweat so much.

Protect your hands

Have some merino gloves for inner lining of your winter gloves but never wear them on their own. Merino gloves on their own don’t grip brake levers, and wearing them whilst cycling is a death wish.

As a base layer for under your winter gloves they’re fine. However, my revelation was that leather gloves with wool lining, purchased from a well known British department store are the best pair of winter city cycling gloves I own. They cost me £15.

How to avoid the winter skunk stripe

If you turn up for a meeting with a brown stripe of grit, engine oil, and mud that your back wheel has painted on the back of your merino polo top, they’ll turn you down for a loan instantly. The answer is get mud guards. I relented this winter and got mud guards for my road bike.

Little boy riding in mud on a bicycle
Photo: Profimedia.cz

I thought that I’d go crazy and buy top of the range mud guards as recommended by two popular bicycle magazines regardless of cost. It turns out that top of the range mud-guards only cost £30. They’ll make your clothes last longer, and an unexpected side effect is it keeps water away from your feet, keeping them warm and dry.

And remember the rule that if you’re out cycling in bad weather, even for a quick whip into the city, you are hardcore.