Cycling in the winter can be enjoyable, just ask Marten Van Riel
© Jelle Lapere/Red Bull Content Pool
A ride on the road when it's bitter and cold outside doesn't have to be uncomfortable. Triathlete Marten Van Riel is here with some tips that'll have you spinning throughout the colder months.
Hitting the road with your bike always requires some preparation and even more so in the winter and spring months. Getting out on the bike during these months shouldn't be any less enjoyable as long you prepare for your ride properly, have the right equipment, dress appropriately and, of course, accept the weather conditions.
Triathlete Marten Van Riel trains at home in Belgium, a country where wet weather, the biting cold/wind and filthy roads are common conditions in the months through autumn to spring. No one is better placed to know what to do and what not to do on a winter ride than he is. Read on below for his riding tips.
1. Adjust your bike set-up for the conditions
Van Riel has his road bike primed with specific components or equipment that are suited to weather or road conditions in the winter and spring when it can be wet and cold. For instance, he upscales the tyre size on his road bike so his tyres are bigger and tougher. In the summer, many road riders go out on 23mm or 25mm tyres.
"I have 28mm tyres on my road bike during the winter. They provide some extra grip and comfort and make riding a lot more pleasant. Also, the extra rolling resistance from such tyres will make you stronger," Van Riel advises.
It’s also worthwhile to opt for a tyre with more puncture protection due to a lot more road debris on wet roads. Running tyres at a lower pressure helps with grip.
Mudguards are a definite upgrade you should make to your bike for winter and spring riding. They’ll keep dirt off your clothes and bike. This not only keeps you drier, but should also make the components on your bike last much longer.
"A mudguard or an Ass Saver is indispensable during the winter months. When the roads are wet you can come home with clothes that are a lot less dirty. Also, your friends will be very grateful, if you ride in a group, and you don't splatter them with mud or rain spray," says Van Riel.
A repair kit is also essential, Van Riel adds. "Mine consists of a good pocket pump or CO2 cartridges, one or two spare inner tubes (depending on how long the ride is), tyre levers and a multi-tool." If you don't want to carry all this on your person, you can put it in a water bottle or put a saddle bag on your bike,
2. Keep warm
It's no fun being out on the road if all your bits are freezing in the cold, so being kitted out properly is very important. Buying cycle clothing for the winter and wetter spring months that are specifically temperature regulating and have waterproofing is a good idea. Also layer up, starting with a base layer for your upper body and then adding jerseys and jackets over that. For the lower body, cycling tights are essential
"I always wear long cycling tights, a warm base layer, a water/windproof jacket, a buff that I pull up to my nose when it's very cold. Also, I wear glasses with a clear lens to prevent my eyes from getting wet in a cold wind and ear muffs or a thin cap that covers my ears but still fits under my helmet," says Van Riel, who is also keen to mention that you shouldn't neglect your hands and feet when riding.
"The end bits of your body always cool down the fastest. Therefore, make sure you have a pair of warm socks, waterproof shoes, overshoe covers and a pair of waterproof/windproof gloves with which you can still comfortably hold your handlebars."
3. Be visible
Not only is it cold when you go out riding in winter months, but it's also most likely to be darker, cloudier and mistier in the mornings while daylight fades early. So make sure you're visible on the road with suitable bike lights and with your clothing.
"Obviously, a front light is necessary if you go on the road early in the morning or in the evening. As far as the rear light is concerned, I recommend always using a flashing light. This will make you even more visible, especially on a grey day," advocates Van Riel.
"During the dark winter months it's always handy to wear cycling clothing in striking colours or with reflective strips."
4. Don't forget to eat and drink
It's always important to have a nutrition strategy, whatever season you're riding your bike in. Staying hydrated is important, as is taking on carbohydrates during a ride, which helps to maintain blood glucose levels.
"For rides that last longer than two hours, I always take one bar, banana or biscuit for every hour I'm out riding. During the winter, I prefer energy drinks rather than water. Water doesn't go down so easily when it's very cold. You'll be able to replenish your energy and moisture reserves better if you have something tasty in your bottle."
5. Pick the right route
Avoid roads that have technical aspects, that are narrow or have sketchy descents is Van Riel's main tip. Roads can get "pretty slippery and dirty in winter". Use map routes apps like Strava for inspiration and route planning in this regard. If conditions are very sketchy out on the road, then change bikes to a mountain bike or cyclo-cross bike if you have that option
"If there is snow or salt on the roads, it's better to take a mountain bike or cyclo-cross bike. That way it's not only more fun, but also safer on the road."
6. Always prep for the next ride
Before going out on your ride, do a bike check to make sure everything is running as it should. Van Riel always checks his tyre pressures to see if the drivetrain is running smoothly. He also makes sure his bike is clean for his next ride out by cleaning it when he gets back to his home base.
“It's not the nicest job, but it has to be done, especially if you've been riding on wet or dirty roads. My cleaning routine is to first spray degreaser on the bike chain and other drivetrain components, and then rub them with an old brush. I then wash my frame with warm water and bike cleaning liquid and rinse everything. I let the bike dry and then after a few hours I lubricate the chain again."