Winter riding guide

Helen Pollard By Helen Pollard

​Many children (and some big kids) will have a bike on their Christmas list this year but sometimes winter can be a challenge to get out on these shiny new wheels. Helen Pollard gives us her top tips to keep wheels turning until spring returns.​


Once you have overcome the challenge of unwrapping the bike, then before you head out on any adventures you need to make sure your bike is set-up correctly.

If you have purchased your bike at an independent bike shop, they should have done this for you. With an internet purchase you will have to do a bit of DIY.

Successful winter riding does need a bit more kit and preparation.

Bike wrapped in paper

5-step set-up checklist

  1. Get the saddle height correct. Put the ball of your foot on the pedal at its lowest point without stretching. Your leg should be straight.
  2. Adjusting the handlebar height. A good position to start is with your handlebars at the same height as your saddle. Make sure brakes are within easy reach.
  3. The right tyre pressure. Recommendations are often found on the tyre or give it a squeeze it should NOT feel like a squishy banana.
  4. Tighten. Ensure everything that SHOULD NOT move is tight e.g saddle.
  5. Moving. Check that parts that SHOULD move such as gears do so smoothly.

Although we’d admit that it’s hard to beat cycling around in the summer, with short-sleeves and no waterproofs there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had from winter riding – let alone the benefits of keeping your legs turning, and a bit of (very) fresh air.

However successful winter riding does need a bit more kit and preparation. Remember it's a good idea to allow children to have a practice on a new bike before setting off on a marathon ride, especially if they are getting to grips with gears for the 1st time.

Bike on snowy hillside

Winter proofing you!

Clothing

The most important factor in winter weather riding is, of course, clothing. This is essential when riding with children who are less able to regulate their body temperature and cold hands will take the enjoyment out of a ride very quickly.

  • Layers will help you manage changes in temperature during the ride. Include lycra leggings worn over shorts and thermal base layers (merino wool has natural antibacterial properties).
  • Cycle-specific clothing; other sports clothing may not have the correct fit in a riding position, or the correct properties to keep you moisture-free. Parents don’t be tempted to dress children in thick fleeces they will sweat and ultimately get cold.
  • Gloves; good quality properly fitted winter/windproof gloves. Remember too tight and fingers get cold.
  • Feet; overshoes are ideal for commuting cyclists or neoprene waterproof socks are another option and come in children sizes. Remember walking boots are great for walking but not flexible enough for cycling and will cause cold feet!
  • Head; tubed scarf is essential kit and can be used in many ways include over the head under the helmet to prevent drafts.
  • Eyes; clear or lightly tinted glasses are a good idea to keep spray and grit out of your eyes.

Child on balance bike in waterproofs

Not sure whether you have enough clothes on (or too many)? Then go outside before your ride and see how it feels. You should not feel too warm.

When riding with children we always carry an emergency spare set of clothes including gloves.

Remember that the effort of riding will warm you up considerably especially in hilly areas.

Food and drink

Eating enough before and during a ride is as important in winter as it is at any other times of year. Be aware that some energy bars can become very hard during low temperatures, so keep them somewhere warm. Jelly babies are a good alternative.

Keep drinking regularly too. It may not be obvious that you are sweating under all that clothing, but fluid loss happens when cycling at any temperature. If the temperature is really cold, we always carry a thermos of hot chocolate perfect to revive cold little fingers.

When riding as a family including a cafe stop as part of the planned route is excellent motivation, giving you a chance to have a hot drink and a large slice of cake. Make sure you stay warm and don’t cool off too much when you are stopped.

Winter proofing your bike!

Man showing kids how to fix puncture

Punctures

Punctures are an unfortunate part of winter riding, so don’t forget your tubes and pump.

Take care if you are considering using CO2 cartridges low temperatures, the gas can cause the head of the canister to freeze, including to your gloves or fingers.

Lights

In winter, when riding on the road we always have lights on as it can get very gloomy on overcast winter days when the sun is at its weakest.

Small, light and very bright rechargeable LED lights can be cheaply purchased and are perfect to be seen with. Make sure that your lights are charged before every ride. Remember the cold will zap the battery!

Tyres

Wider tyres are great for winter riding, on and off road. Opt for tyres that offer a degree of puncture protection and are harder wearing. Continental Gatorskins are excellent for winter riding on roads, but many other tyre manufacturers offer similar models.

Mudguards & Maintenance

Use mudguards – your backside and the rider behind will thanks you for it.

Salty water off gritted roads or mud can cause lots of problems with moving parts, and water getting into exposed cables can cause upset gears. Give your bike a regular look over and try and wash off the accumulated grime regularly. Check for wear on rims and brake blocks, as wet weather can be particularly harsh on these areas.

Keep your chain oiled regularly, and make sure that your cables are in good shape.

Be prepared

Check the weather before you leave and be prepared for the worst. We use the mountain weather information service www.mwis.org.uk. Remember as soon as you climb the weather can change dramatically.

Make sure you plan a sensible route to match the predicted weather forecast. If you are going alone tell somewhere you are going and expected return time.

Helen & daughter Daisy on a ride

Suggested kit to include

  • Spare clothes/extra layers
  • Charged phone in waterproof case (loaded with OS locate, OS maps)
  • Paper OS Map of the area
  • Battery pack (excellent in cold weather for recharging phones and lights on the move)
  • Snack (essential for motivation for kids)
  • Water
  • Money (cafe/pubstop)
  • Group shelter (can be used for food stops as well as emergency).

It is very easy to become inactive over winter. But getting outside is just as essential as in summer. It will combat bored kids’ syndrome and boost everyone’s immune system and mood helping to fight off winter bugs.

For more cycling inspiration, take a look here.

Helen Pollard By Helen Pollard

About:

Helen spends her days, managing a cycling business, chasing her daughter Daisy, running with dogs, falling off her bike, and hopefully encouraging others to do something similar.

Find out more about Helen Pollard.

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