“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your toes…..” as Nat King Cole once sang. A misty piece of romanticism or a sly acknowledgement that we have nothing to look forward to but burnt nuts and frostbite?
As winter fast approaches ready to hold us in the fierce grips of its icy clutches (“the worst winter in decades!” as no doubt will be proclaimed by one paper when there are no important global issues to shout about) or more likely batter us with the usual miserable mix of drizzle and wind, we can either lock ourselves away indoors only to endure the unremitting misery and proof that television is the open sewer that runs through your living room, that is “The X Factor” or we can steel ourselves to laugh in the face of the elements. With these top tips, you can ensure that you are prepared for the worst that the season has to offer.
1. Go flat or go home.
There’s about a 50/50 chance that you’re using clipless pedals. While I extol their virtues to anyone who will listen, they suffer from one fundamental problem in winter. Look at the base of your shoe and you will have a nice metal cleat ready to act as a heat sink and suck the warmth out of your feet. While one option is to buy a dedicated set of winter boots, they are not an inexpensive option and you still have the problem of the big metal plate just millimetres from your feet. Why not embrace your inner rad monkey and swap over to flatties for the winter? It’ll do your riding skills no harm while your feet will thank you from the bottom of their sole. (Geddit? Ha! Ha!)
2. Leave the Five Tens for the summer.
Go and get yourself some proper waterproof footwear. Sticky soled mountain bike shoes such as those from Five Ten are great. They stick like Velcro to flat pedals but immerse them in water and you will almost certainly be spending the rest of the ride bemoaning your sodden feet and the next three days trying to dry them out. Filling them with newspaper when you get home (Newspapers? Remember those eh? Tsk!) is a way of speeding things up as is putting them near a radiator though the latter can potentially damage the shoes and cause the glue in your shoes to start smelling like cat piss. Maybe you like that smell? I sure don’t!
Alternatively, invest in a cheap set of waterproof approach shoes or lightweight hiking boots. Your feet will stay dryer longer meaning that you are less likely to end up having a monkey shower (jumping around in the shower going ooh ooh ooh aah aah aah!) as the hot aches come to visit and you feel like someone is smacking your feet and ankles with a hammer as the blood starts to flow back into them.
3. Stop the water getting in in the first place.
For this next tip, it is time to embrace your inner red sock and look to your rambling cousins. Next time you see some walkers on the fells as it is tipping it down, look and see how many have waterproof trousers on as they walk past your sopping wet picture of misery while exuding a sense of justified superiority. Your on-trend Troy Lee baggies may look smart but a wet arse is anything but. While you can go all out and buy a set of expensive cycling specific waterproof trousers, a cheaper option is to look at Army surplus suppliers and pick up a pair of Army issue trousers. They tend to be that bit more durable and a bit of creativity with Velcro, a needle and thread can have them ready for your next cycling adventure. One big plus is that when you fall off, you won’t need counselling for the ripped to shreds £200 cycling specific trousers that you could have bought instead.
4. Carry a small container of lube on every ride.
Face it, no one likes the horrible, graunchy sound of their drivetrain wearing away as that unlikely British combination of mud, grit and water creates a grinding paste that hastens the demise of your bike. Short of moving to California, washing your drivetrain and moving suspension parts after every ride will do wonders for keeping your bike on the trail. When you are on the ride and you can hear the tell-tale grinding noise and are experiencing chain suck, a quick coating of your lube of choice can do wonders for restoring balance to the Force. It also means that your riding buddies don’t have to endure the creaking, groaning and moaning of both you and your bike!
5. Clean your teeth.
Lubing your chain mid ride can do wonders but why not go that extra step and take an old toothbrush with you on a ride? While it may not do an efficient job of keeping your pearly whites nice and clean, an old toothbrush can work wonders for getting accumulated dirt and clart from awkward to reach places such as jockey wheels, cassettes and chainrings. Once clean, sit back and bask in the reflected glory of the awesome trail tinkerer which you now are!
6. Embrace your inner Blake’s 7 character and foil up.
What on earth am I yabbering on about now? Despite my persuasive prose, you have decided to ignore tips 1 and 2. No matter, for you clipless pedal users, there is still hope! One way of keeping your feet warm is to have a thin insulating layer between your insole and your shoe. A simple and cheap way of achieving this is to buy a roll of adhesive foil tape and to apply multiple layers to the bottom of your insole. It’s low tech but creates a decent reflective barrier that can help keep your tootsies just that little bit warmer.
7. Invest in winter mitts.
While full finger gloves can help keep the cold and wet out, investing in a pair of Lobster style gloves can make a massive difference to the enjoyment of your ride. As a result of having less seams than a full fingered set of winter gloves, there is less opportunity for water to penetrate your glove. Moreover, by having fingers kept together, they will act to keep each other warm. While you do look a bit Start Trek-ish with you newly acquired Vulcan death grip hands, you’ll be the one having the last laugh.
8. Keep your core cosy.
Wearing a hat, gloves, warm socks and boots will keep your extremities warm but if the rest of you is cold, your body will naturally work to ensure that your vital organs are protected by directing blood to them. We all know that wearing a hat helps keep us warm but you need to be thinking core temperature too. When you stop to admire the view / fix a mechanical / mark your territory, putting on a warm insulating layer over your outer can give you both a psychological and physical boost. Whether you prefer down or synthetic is entirely up to you. Material choice is secondary to having one which you can pull out of the bag when you need it. An added benefit if that you or a friend take a tumble, it will keep you warm should you go into shock.
9. Pack lights, just in case.
While none of us plan to be caught out after darkness on a ride without lights, it can and does happen. Having a set of small but bright set of lights stashed away in your pack for an emergency that you can see and be seen by means you don’t have to play Russian Roulette with drivers on the ride back home. There are plenty of rechargeable options that don’t cost a fortune but give you the security of knowing that you can still ride home safely.
10. Perhaps the most important tip of all, get your arse out on your bike and ride.
For all we may complain about winter, it’s hard to beat the feeling of a ride on a cold winter’s day as the sun is gently dropping below the horizon creating that glorious golden hour that photographers and filmmakers love. The trails may be slippy and the days shorter but once you are out there riding, it can be hard to wipe the grin off of your face.