The urban bike magazine

Prepare Now. Pedal on! London tested and approved tips for cycling in autumn and winter

For whatever reason, autumn in London always tends to spark a feeling of existential dread - doubly so if you’re a cyclist. Well, no more I tell ya! Cycling in London in the dark and grey season is still very much doable. Here are my best tips to making it work!

Simon_Laumet_Honorcycles_01
Simon Laumet is the lead mechanic and cofounder of Honor Cycles based in London (UK). When he’s not fixing bikes, he’s either riding them, or writing about them.
Cycling in autumn and winter might be a challenge sometimes © Anjana Menon / Unsplash

For whatever reason, autumn in London always tends to spark a feeling of existential dread – doubly so if you’re a cyclist. As days get colder and greyness swallows our capital, many of my fellow townsmen just call it a season and relegate their bikes back to the shed for the rest of the year.  Well, no more I tell ya! While as far removed from pretty as humanly possible, cycling in London in autumn and winter is still very much doable.  Here are my best tips to making it work:

Staying Visible
Simply put, you need to make yourself as pronounced as a car. What you lack in diameter and road-ready steel you need to make up for with lights and highly-reflective cyclewear. With that in mind:

  1. Lights – Get proper lights, you’re in the big leagues now, small backup lights are no longer an option. Many people choose to fit tiny lights to their bikes because “they have to”, and although the law does say that you should have lights, it is in your best interest to fit ones that actually illuminate. This is true anywhere, but especially in a city like London where EVERYTHING is illuminated at night – you need to outshine all!
  2. Reflective Material – High vis vest, jacket or backpack is a must purchase. A pint of light blinking in the distance is eye grabbing for drivers, but it will still be hard to tell just how fast you’re going. This is where reflective materials are key – they flap in the wind and move to the rhythm of your pedaling, giving the driver a much better idea of whether or not they can safely pass you.

Keeping Warm
Controlling your body temperature in autumn is always a bit tricky. You can be freezing your behind off as you start, and still be sweating profusely 5 minutes in. Here are 3 ways to stay warm:

  1. Layers – get some solid base layers – they will help wick away the sweat while remaining breathable and insulating. The idea is that you wear as many thin layers as you need for the ride ahead. For example – for temps between 10-5°C, get 1 base layer, when it gets to between 5~0°C, upgrade to 2 base layers etc. Lastly, wear a thin waterproof jacket on top of it all to keep the wind and the rain out. If you start overheating at any point during your ride, simply shed a layer.
  2. Skull cap – a decidedly tight beanie hat keeps your head warm and dry will greatly increase your comfort level when London heads into its renowned sub-zero slump.
  3. Buff –  highly versatile and adaptable piece of clothing that will keep the city’s autumn and winter winds from nipping at your neck, nose and ears.

Staying Dry
Finally, a few common-sense tips to avoid becoming Aquaman on a bike:

  1. Mudguards – front and rear. London’s roads are fairly filthy (this is what they call ‘an understatement’) playing host to everything from traditional bacteria to corrosive chemicals. Mudguards will prevent you getting road – let’s call it – “spray” on your face and clothes. It also limits how much “spray” your rear wheel kicks up into the face of the cyclists behind you.
  2. Shoe covers or good waterproof socks – your feet are the closest part of you to the wheels and the ground, so they suffer the most punishment when it comes to rain and spray. Keeping your feet dry is paramount if you’re not a fan of the common cold, and will improve your comfort level 100 fold.
  3. Waterproof backpack – anotheroft-overlookedbut invaluable commuting gear, making sure your work clothes, laptop and presentation papers don’t get wet during the ride.
  4. Good Waterproof jacket and trousers / overtrousers (high quality). This seems obvious but many people don’t invest in decent waterproofs and end up with a miserable ride as a result. Just remember how much the tube would set you back even only for a few months, and those couple of £100’s will seem like a bargain!

Staying Safe
This is all about remaining on your bike when roads inevitably get slippery and wet.

  1. Tires – Get yourself quality wet weather tires with at least some puncture resistance. London’s roads not only get slick with engine oil accumulating atop the rainwater, but the strong winds also scatter small debris onto the road which can cause a puncture. Trust me when I tell you – you don’t want to get caught out in the middle of the rain, trying to fix a flat tire.
  2. Road Condition – Stay clear of manhole covers and tram tracks – they have almost zero grip in the wet regardless of your tire choice. Once most of your journey basically becomes manhole maneuvering, you’ll quickly gain newfound appreciation for the Tube, warts and all.
  3. Brakes – Get your brakes checked and serviced before the winter starts, and remember to brake a little earlier than you normally would on dry days – skidding is the fastest way to lose control.

All that being said, London can still be a beautiful city for cycling in autumn and winter. If you need ideas where to go, have a look at my recently published Routebook with 30+ bike rides in and around the city.  Or organize your daily commute via Bike Citizens App and online Route Planner and discover “your” city by bike!

Either way, embrace the greyness. I’ll see you on the road!

Simon_Laumet_Honorcycles_01
Simon Laumet is the lead mechanic and cofounder of Honor Cycles based in London (UK). When he’s not fixing bikes, he’s either riding them, or writing about them.

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