Cycling in winter – A complete guide

Let’s face it, cycling through the winter can be a pretty miserable experience for rider and bike. It’s cold, wet, dark and more often than you finish a ride spattered with dirt from the road. But it’s far from all doom and gloom though. There are those crisp mornings where the air is perfectly still and the fields are lightly dusted with crystals of frost. These are the days that make winter rides worthwhile. It also makes a refreshing change of scenery from the turbo, plus you get to have a catch up with your clubmates. In winter cycling the complete guide, we list the things to do and to avoid to improve your winter riding experience.

Here is our list of the Do’s and Don’ts, the steps you can take to improve your winter riding experience. Whilst also keeping both you and the bike in peak condition for the start of the new season.

Do’s

Little & Often

Cleaning that is. Wintry roads are littered with dirt, grime and sometimes by courtesy of those big Yellow trucks, road salt. If you venture out after the gritter has deposited its gifts it’s highly advisable to wash down the bike immediately post-ride. You can only imagine what damage road salt will do to a drivetrain! Similarly treating the bike to some TLC after a wet weather ride prevents the components from becoming gunked up and working inefficiently.

A clean and lubed chain keeps the drivetrain working efficiently.

Fit Mudguards

Mudguards are the perfect tool for protecting you and the bike from the worst of the road spray and grime. If your bike has mudguard eyelets you can fit a set of full-coverage guards. \In the absence of eyelets, why not fit a set of clip-on guards which are still very effective. Two of the most popular clip-on style mudguards are SKS Race-Blades and Crud Roadracer MKIII’s.

Almost every bike in the Ribble range is designed for all-season riding. Just like this winter perfect CGR SL

Fit winter tyres

Nobody enjoys being stuck at the roadside, fumbling around for the source of a puncture with icy fingers. This includes your poor clubmates who are stuck waiting for you. Fitting tyres with improved puncture protection and grip is the order of the day. Look for a tyre that has a decent puncture protection belt and good grip levels on damp surfaces.

Tyres like Schwalbe’s Marathon’s offer outstanding puncture protection and a grooved tread for clearing water.

Fit Lights

Invest in a decent set of lights or two for riding in the dark or on those murky, grey days. When shopping for lights, ask yourself the questions, do I need lights to see by? Or do I need lights to be seen? For example, if you regularly ride along poorly lit streets or country lanes you will need a front light that is bright enough to light the way. Look for something with 800 lumen+ and remember to have it pointing towards the road. Alternatively, look for one where you can easily dip the beam to avoid dazzling other road users. Likewise, if your rides are along well-lit streets lower-powered LED lights are more than sufficient.

Compact LED lights are powerful enough to be seen on city streets.

Stick to the plan

If you have planned to ride 3 times this week, do it! Don’t let a bit of rain or a strong breeze dissuade you from heading out. It’s easy to lose motivation in winter and its a hell of a lot harder to regain it. Once you’re out, you know it will be worth it and when spring arrives you’ll be fighting fit.

Stick to treated surfaces where possible

Few things unnerve experienced cyclists quite like black ice. To the unwary, the first signs are the inevitable off, followed by you and the bike sliding down the road in perfect unison. If you do decide to brave untreated surfaces (let’s face it a lot of us do) try and stick to flatter routes. If you have ever been met by the sight of cars sliding backwards down a climb, you know its time to cut your losses and head for the lowlands. (true story, the climb was the Trough of Bowland ).

Winter Ribble CGR AL Snow
Cycling in winter isn’t all cold, wet days. Crisp mornings are a joy to behold as is the sound of the tyres carving through snow.

Wear Layers

As you get deeper into a ride your body generates more heat and it can be trapped by insulating layers. Now, if you are wearing a number of thinner layers this is not a problem. However, if all you have on is a jersey and a big bulky jacket your options are limited. Your choice is to continue to sweat or remove the jacket and freeze. It’s much more practical to layer up.

Most road cyclists tend to mix base, mid and intermediate layers with gilets, windproof jackets and capes to match the conditions. In this way, you can shed layers as necessary but they are still available if it turns cooler again.

Don’ts

Don’t store the bike in a damp area

When storing your bike, try not to store them in a garage or shed where it will be subjected to the cold and damp. If you have to store them in such environments, use moisture-absorbing crystals to counteract the damp. Think of those packets of silica gel that you often encounter when opening up new items of clothing or footwear. You can even buy these online.

Don’t ride through puddles

Now we’re not saying that you should avoid every puddle because this would be nigh on impossible. What we are saying is that with the state of the roads these days more often than not, that seemingly innocent-looking puddle can sometimes hide a chuffing great pothole. Just waiting to swallow up the wheel of some poor unsuspecting cyclist. For the sake of your wheels (and potentially face) try and avoid where possible.

Don’t use a jet wash or hosepipe

A jet wash or hosepipe on jet setting should be avoided at all costs. It is all too easy to wash the protective grease out of bearings. If you must use such equipment avoid the wheel hubs, bottom bracket and headtube. Even better, don’t use one at all and just fall back on the trusty soapy water and sponge combo.

Don’t double puncture

You know what’s worse than a puncture? Two, on the same ride! Even the most puncture-resistant tyres can succumb to the dreaded puncture. Especially if the tyre is worn out. In fairness, it doesn’t happen often and if you have a good set of boots (tyres) fitted the chances are greatly reduced. But it is always best to (as the scouts would say) be prepared. Pack 2 tubes for any long winter ride. If you only have room for one, take some puncture repair patches as well.

Glueless repair patches are an excellent fall-back option, particularly if you have a punctured spare tube too.

Don’t be afraid to go crazy with the lube

Dirt and grime from the road are hard on components and can really affect the efficiency of the drivetrain. Not to mention the premature wear of the components. Once you have given the bike a wash down don’t be shy with the lube. Treat most moving parts to a quick splash of lube. You can even squirt some down the cables from time to time to ensure they aren’t clogged up.

But beware of spraying lube anywhere near disc brakes! If you contaminate the pads with lube you will experience the full force of the dreaded disc brake squeal. The only cure for this is to remove the pads and sand them down or to replace the pads entirely.

Always use a specialist chain lube on the chain and match it to the conditions. Wax, wet and dry lubes are all available.

Don’t forget your extremities

When cycling in winter, your fingers and toes are extremely susceptible to the cold. The feeling of numb fingers and toes whilst riding your bike can be extremely unpleasant. Not to mention the pain when normal blood flow is restored as you heat up. Investing in some decent overshoes and gloves is an absolute necessity. If however, the thermometer drops to freezing or below more than one pair of gloves may be required. For example, when the ‘Beast from the East’ struck in February 2018 it was not unusual to see Ribble staffers wearing 3 pairs of gloves. In cooler conditions, liner gloves are your friend, as are a pair of warm socks or 2 underneath your overshoes.

Overshoes and a good set of gloves help to keep the fingers and pinkies warm when cycling in winter cycling

There are certain cycling essentials that you should never leave home without. To avoid being caught out whilst on your ride, you can these listed here.


Meet Ribble Weldtite’s newest rider, Cameron Jeffers. Read our blog to find out more about this perfect match.


Do you own a Ribble bike that you wish to ride through winter? Read our blog on how to convert it to improve cycling in winter.

12 Comments
  1. In California our winters are very mild (Bay Area, San Francisco). But we do get rain and it does get chilly.

    A first rain after months of dry weather results in VERY slick roads – be careful out there. After a few rain showers the roads are pretty well washed clear of oils and grease and are much safer.

    But now the biggest hazard comes from drivers who don’t pay attention. Drivers in the United States are awful. European / UK drivers who drive here are usually astonished at the unprofessional character of American “road warriors.” Cell phones? No problem. Distracted driving? What else is there.

    So I suggest that you ALWAYS use your lights – day or night – and that you wear reflective gear, especially when weather reduces visibility and puts our (awful) distracted drivers at greater risk of skidding / sliding / doing stupid things – and hopefully NOT running in to you.

  2. All good sensible advice for riders exercising in wintry conditions. However, I would have included cycling with a mate where possible as it is easier for two people to cope with a puncture or mechanical when fingers are wet and cold!

    John Garnsey (senior).

  3. Glasses – no need to use expensive clear riding glasses, buy some protective eyewear from screwfix…. they do the same job and cost less than £10!

  4. Great article, the motivation bit is so true. If I leave it or can’t get out I then find it harder to make the effort. Go for personal monthly mileage records which over the years you can try and beat. Perhaps worth a mention are tubeless tyres (I now very rarely get a puncture), food is important as you are burning a lot more calories and disposable foot warmers are the only thing that stopped ice cold feet. Water is important too. And carry or have back up lights. And take it easy as Strava segments are for better conditions!

  5. Good advice here from Ribble. I’ve cycled 3 times/week off-road over the last 5 British winters in all weathers. I would add just two things. If you are regularly off-roading in winter mud, consider buying a quicklink and two chains which you alternate between – this prolongs the working life of chainring & sprockets. Fit the spare chain which you have cleaned, dried and lubed offline. The other tip is, when going out cycling in torrential rain – carry a second rain shell in your rucksack for the return leg. When you start the return leg, put the dry shell on underneath your soaking wet jacket which has become damp inside. This double skin keeps you dry in the most extreme situations.

  6. If you want to use the photo it would also be good to check with the artist beforehand in case it is subject to copyright. Best wishes. Aaren Reggis Sela

  7. Hi,
    Thanks for commenting. We will only use our own stock images or free to share images from the web.
    Regards
    Team Ribble

  8. Hi,
    Thanks for posting your comment,
    As a glasses wearer myself I don’t need such an accessory but I would certainly agree with your suggestion that it is always a good idea to wear some form of glasses. In the summer to keep out pesky bugs and in the winter for protection from cold winds, rain and snow/hail.
    Regards
    [email protected]

  9. Hi Phil,
    Thanks for taking the time to post your comment. Very good advice, I have to say I have been slightly disappointed with tubless. However, I may just be unlucky in the fact that every puncture I’ve had has been glass and the tyre failed to seal the void! There’s a separate blog about what you should carry when out on the bike which includes back up lights. Its a pet peeve to see experienced cyclists who should know better riding along with 1 light set.
    Happy Cycling
    [email protected]

  10. Hi John,
    Thanks, for taking the time to post your comment. It’s always nicer to have company that’s for sure, though I cannot really include this as a necessity, more of an ideal scenario. Besides my mates bloody useless with anything mechanical or puncture-related! 🙂
    Happy Cycling
    [email protected]

  11. Hi James,
    A huge hello from this side of the pond, we don’t often get too many of our American cyclist friends commenting on the blogs so it makes a refreshing change to hear from you. Unfortunately, it is getting much the same over here and has been steadily getting worse since the first of our National Covid Lockdowns started in March. Cyclists being bullied by drivers and having them drive in a very aggressive manner is becoming all too commonplace, which is sad because the proper cyclists are very careful to protect themselves on the roads and behave responsibly.
    Happy Cycling from the UK
    [email protected]

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