A guide to winter commuting by bike

Danish Bicycle History - Some Things Never Change

It’s cold, wet and dark. Why would you ever commute to work by bike in winter? Well there are a few things that you can do (or have) to make that cycle commute less daunting. Here are some ideas.

Lights

You should have a set of lights charged up; white for the front and red for the rear. If you are in an urban area with lit streets then use flashing modes to help you stand out a bit more.

Be considerate to other road users with your lights though. As a rule of thumb, if your front light is putting out 100 lumens or above, you should check the angle of your mount as you may be dazzling oncoming road users.

Visibility

See and be seen. Apart from having lights, you can also improve your visibility to other road users with reflectives. You will find reflectives on cycling specific clothing and bags. You can also find reflective ankle or arm bands.

Light doesn’t bend around objects or corners* so having lights and reflectives are only part of the solution. Your positioning is more important for seeing and being seen by other road users. All cyclists should consider getting cycle training with a qualified National Standard cycling instructor who can teach you about road positioning and more. We make no apology for the plug; the benefits of cycle training for cyclists of any ability are well documented. For London boroughs where we work, you can book your training session with us for free here!

*Light does bend on the astronomical scale by gravitational lensing as predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity but that probably has no place here.

Layer up

Layering up is the obvious preparation in winter. If you have a long ride, you should pay some attention to your layering set-up so that removing a layer mid-ride is an easy affair. Take a waterproof to work even if it’s dry in the morning; the Met Office can’t be 100% accurate day in, day out.

Cover up

When it inevitably gets bitterly cold, you will want to cover up as much as possible. There are cycling hats that can fit under the helmet and extend down to cover your ears too. A neck warmer is another good purchase as you can pull it up to cover most of your face. A pair of clear glasses is a bit of a luxury but works a treat in the hail or on eye watering descents.

Mudguards

We’re big advocates of full length mudguards. Even if it’s not raining, surface water will linger on the roads for a long time and, without mudguards, you’ll be wearing it all up your back. There’s an added benefit to the cyclist behind you too, in the form of avoiding an unwanted baptism by dirty water.

Black IceBlack Ice

You need to be aware of the possibility of encountering black ice in winter. If you’re “lucky” enough to go over black ice head on, the best countermeasures are: resist the instinct to brake, relax and keep steering straight. If you hit black ice on a corner… you’re in the lap of the gods, sorry.

Obviously, if you are not cycling on the road then you mitigate the risk completely. Assess the roads you ride on; are you in a rural area with sparse traffic or are you in a densely populated urban area? Unsalted rural roads will be peppered with black ice given the right (or wrong) conditions. The timing of your ride is also important; riding urban roads in the morning after peak traffic will slightly lower the chance encountering black ice.

Here we are, well into winter. We’re still commuting by bike so we’ll see you out there!

Diamond bike frame

Sorry if the title’s a bit of a clickbait – you won’t find an actual diamond covered bike here – but what you will find is the classic ‘diamond’ shaped bike frame plus some wonderful variations on the bike frame theme.

The modern bicyclebicycle_frame_diagram

We will leave the story of the origin of the modern bicycle for another day. Most people will recognise a Penny Farthing (known as the ordinary bicycle) which is not the safest option on two wheels: think high centre of gravity combined with stopping quickly and cycling up or down steep hills. So the need for a safer solution was clear. Through many iterations, we eventually settled on bike frames comprising a double triangle, hence the name diamond shaped bike frame.

Extreme variations

Modern technology, competitiveness and human yearning for pushing the boundaries has given us some very unconventional takes on the bicycle theme. The most famous ones must be the Lotus bikes and the Old Faithful.

Chris Boardman rode the Lotus 108 to victory on the track at the 1992 Summer Olympics 4 km Pursuit. He also broke the then hour record on board the Lotus 110. On the other hand, Graeme Obree built the Old Faithful from BMX tubes and bearings from a washing machine and went on to break the hour record on it twice.

Denise Mueller recently set a new women’s bicycle land speed record on board a specially designed bike. It still has the diamond shape but does look like a cousin of a chopper motorcycle. A closer look will reveal a range of suspensions, stabilisers and the double chainrings to give her a gigantic gear ratio on a fixed gear bike.

slingshotLess famously (some might say infamously) the Slingshot has no downtube, one side of the diamond shaped frame being replaced by a taut wire known as SlingPower technology (see pic). A quick search on the interweb reveals they are still selling bikes with this technology (though not massively popular so it must be an acquired taste).

Moderate variations

The triangle is a strong geometric shape which is why it features on bikes wherever possible. And you’ll find them in a lot of civil engineered structures too, as well as the humble corrugated cardboard. However, some commonly used bikes do away with the double triangle, diamond shaped frame.

The most obvious is perhaps the step through bike but fold up bikes and tandems have also done away with the diamond shaped frame for good functional reasons. Less commonly seen are recumbents and adapted cycles. Some of these may be heavier to make sure they are strong enough but none of them involves cycling 6 feet off the ground like a Penny Farthing, phew.

Consolation

To make up for the lack of diamond covered bikes in this world, there is a gold plated bike which was made by Ernesto Colnago for Pope John Paul II in 1979. Not many people would return a gold plated bike but that’s exactly what the Pope did after a year, stating that he wanted a bike with flat handlebars. Which Colnago duly delivered.

 

Cycle Confident’s Christmas Crossword

This week’s blog is a Christmas Special! If you’re feeling like you see the same old Christmas festivities every year, then gather round for our Christmas Cycling Crossword! Pre-heat room to 15-20 degrees Celcius, blend equal measures of Christmas and cycling, bake in well oiled brain and have a Merry Christmas!

You can also click here to download the PDF version for printing out. You will still need internet access for two of the answers though. Here are the two links that you will need for clue 1 and clue 10.

CC Christmas Crossword Image

 

Some inspirational thoughts on winter cycling commutes

Let’s face it, going outside in wheel autumn the winter is rarely an exciting prospect unless you’re making a snow angel. Some of you may already be reaping the benefits of commuting by cycling. Here are some thoughts to keep you going during the bleakest months.

No one is sneezing on the back of your neck

Unless you’re driving to work, the chances are you need to use public transport. Travelling en mass is great and relieves some of the strain on your local transport network. But it does also mean personal space can be compromised. The truth is being sneezed on at close proximity is no one’s idea of a pleasant experience and (stereotyping alert), since Brits are so polite, it’s a commuter crime that seldom gets reprimanded. The solution’s simple: get out there on your bike and enjoy the fresh air and personal space.

Arrive warmed up and pumped up

You’ll stand out from your colleagues when you arrive warmed up and ready to start working while everyone else is queueing up for a coffee and waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Ok, may be you will have cold hands and feet but if you’ve worn the appropriate clothing, it shouldn’t be too bad and the body will very quickly take care of them once you’re indoors.

It’s impressive

Don’t be the person to arrive half drenched, shaking the water off your umbrella on your way in and moaning about the rain. Instead, occupy the moral high ground and arrive on your bike, energised and enjoying a discreet boast about how you just braved the elements. Some external motivation is always helpful to keep you going when the weather really gets grim.

Cycling in WinterYou will toughen up

If you continually cycle in the winter then everything you do outdoors will eventually start to feel easier. Be sensible about clothing though; we aren’t recommending braving the cold in a t-shirt and shorts.

 

There’s no need to change those summer routines

Why change your travel routine when you can just carry on cycling to work all year round? There’s a risk of withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop; you may experience phantom cycling on your chair or signalling while walking to the store room. Jokes aside, combining physical activity with travel is how most people keep active in their busy lives so keep calm and carry on.

Catch the sunriseSunrise Over London

Make your morning a magical one. Catch the sunrise on a clear winter’s morning and give yourself a moment to simply enjoy being alive. Set off early enough to factor in a breakfast break somewhere with a great view. London Bridge is a superb spot to stop and admire the sun rising over Tower Bridge. It’s the perfect moment to ponder that novel you haven’t yet written or that dream bike you’re going to build one day…

Tune in to next week’s blog for things to consider to make your winter cycling commute safer and more enjoyable. Have you got any other inspirations you draw from for your winter cycling commutes? Let us know in the comments section.

RCA (Random Cycling Acronyms)

Question

Let’s use an adage to justify this blog: you don’t know what you don’t know. The cycling universe is huge and there’s lots for each of us to discover. So how many of these RCA’s do you know or can you work out?

Let’s face it. These days there’s precious little you can’t get an answer to with a few clicks on your keyboard so you can almost certainly complete this short game very quickly with a search engine’s help. But think of the satisfaction if you get there without! So make like the interweb’s not there and see how you do. Two notes of caution: one of these acronyms is completely made up (just for the sheer thrill of it), and yes, there are two LT’s, it’s not a typo.

In time honoured tradition, the answers are at the very bottom of this blog so be careful with your scrolling if you don’t want to spoil the fun.

Here goes then. Good luck!

 

WOMBATS, ECF, LBS, OEM, VAM, ERD, CV, YACB, CX, LT, ITT, NOS, GC, ASL, LT, OLD, TA

 

Answers in

.

.

.

.

.

3

.

.

.

.

.

2

.

.

.

.

.

1

.

.

.

.

.

WOMBATS – Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea Society
ECF – European Cyclists’ Federation
LBS – Local Bike Shop
OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer
VAM – Velocità Ascensionale Media (in English: average ascent speed)
ERD – Effective Rim Diameter
CV – Classic & Vintage
YACB – Yet Another Cycling Blog [completely made up]
CX – Cyclocross
LT – Lactate Threshold
ITT – Individual Time Trial
NOS – New Old Stock
GC – General Classification
ASL – Advance Stop Line
LT – Left Turn
OLD – Over Locknut Dimension
TA – Through Axle

 

Let us know in the comment section how you got on and if you found out anything interesting on the way!

What to do if you want to ride your bike but can’t

Some days we just can’t ride our bikes. Maybe it’s an injury, maybe the roads are icy, your bike’s in need of repair or you are just resting for a big ride the next day. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of cycling related pastimes to keep you entertained.

bike-balloons

Doodle-a-bike

Doodling is not reserved for boring lessons in school or whilst taking a long phone call. Doodle away with your wildest imagination. Doodle a whacky bike, a bike with too many wheels, a bike that flies, a bike that rides on something that replaces the wheels or just a normal bike; you will be surprised how many people can’t draw a normal bike without one in front of them.

Read our blogs

Well, you’re reading this blog instead of cycling anyway, so why not read our other blogs too? Of course there are also plenty other sources of cycling related material that will quench your cycling thirst.

Plan a routeroute

Perhaps you’re planning your next cycling challenge or thinking of trying a new commuting route. Or maybe you just started cycling and don’t know the most favourable routes to destinations. Plan some routes in your off-bike time. Use a paper map, online resources or discussion with cycling buddies.

Bike maintenance

Your bike needs your TLC or it’ll start crying (or at least making funny noises) before throwing in the towel completely. Don’t be that person who rides around with a squeaky chain. Check out our two previous blogs on how to breathe new life into your bike again and the must haves for home mechanics.

Visualisation

Close your eyes and think about where you could have been cycling. Is it a busy buzz around town, on rolling hills or gentle glide along the seaside? I guess you could call this day dreaming. Call it meditation and you might get away with it at work.

Watch other people cycling

If you can’t do the visualisation thing then why not watch other people cycling? You can do that on the computer, TV, at a race or just standing on the street corner.

Self reflection

What are you even doing not riding your bike? Do a serious evaluation what’s stopping you. If you are injured, think about how to avoid injuries; if the roads are icy, is it time to consider a move to a different country?; if your bike is broken, then I will refer you to point four of this blog; if you are resting for a big ride the next day, then read point three and start packing what you need for the ride.

cat-and-bike

Here’s a cat visualising cycling. What do you get up to when you are desperate to ride your bike but can’t? Let us know in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

How to love riding in the rain

water dropsWe can debate all day whether or not we get more rain in the UK and the whole business of pessimism. Raindrops will fall, we will ride our bikes but it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the two together. There are many ways to make riding in the rain more enjoyable.

Mudguards

They just make sense, they shield the bike from most road grit, you won’t get a trail of dirt up your back and the cyclist behind will silently thank you too. Some bikes are compatible with the traditional full length mudguards and if not, most bikes are catered for by clip on mudguards. Upside down your mudguards make two massive smiles and you’ll be adding your own once you’ve seen the difference they make to riding in the rain!

Enough of summer

There’s no denying summer’s over. But for the cyclist, the heat can be far from ideal. Cycling can be warm work and in many ways the cooler (and even wetter) months can be far better suited to it. And you’ll find the cycle lanes and bike parking suddenly look a whole lot less crowded too.

Waterproof / water resistant clothing

You don’t have to spend loads of money on technical clothing. Some sort of waterproof or water resistant jacket will go a long way and waterproof over-trousers are super practical too. To avoid boiling in your jacket, look for one with ventilation features like underarm zips or settle for a water resistant jacket that is more breathable. If it’s a great jacket, you will be glad of the rainy opportunities to wear it.

Your bike will thank you for the wash

Bike maintenance and bike washing should be a regular occurence but if they aren’t then a rain shower might help clean some of the grime off. (Don’t count on it though; a clean bike getting wet is going to attract dirt so perhaps just make sure your bike’s very dirty in the first place!)

Have food waiting for you at the endall gone

No matter how grim your rainy ride may be, looking forward to a warm shower and a filling meal at the end will make it all worthwhile. Have a homemade cottage pie waiting for you or detour to your local fish and chip shop on the last leg of your journey.

 

So if we’ve not managed to convince you with all of the above, consider this: the majority of cyclists looking out at a rainy day may well ditch the bike and head for the tube or bus. Keep the resolve and get on your bike and we guarantee you a sense of achievement (not to mention the moral high ground) when you reach your destination!

How to save money on cycling

Ok, so you’re cycling already and you didn’t know you had to buy all these cycling accessories and gadgets. Next thing you know, your local bike shop tells you that parts need to be replaced and the job will cost you a fortune.broken-piggy-bank
There are ways to save money so you can carry on cycling without breaking the bank.

Sales

Let’s start off with the obvious one. There are bound to be sales on, whether that’s in a bricks and mortar shop or an online retailer. Catch the end of season sales or warehouse clearouts. Some brands do sample sales at pop up shops too. Think twice before passing on signing up to newsletters next time; you might miss the sales or the sizes of clothing you want.

Second hand bike

You might need a new bike. Why not shop for a second hand one instead? You should have some knowledge about bikes to avoid disappointments or surprises and if you don’t, take someone with you who does.

This may sound counter intuitive at first but buying another bike could save you money. If you’re a  recreational cyclist who cycle a lot and commutes by bike, think about buying yourself a second hand bike as your run around town bike or a dedicated bike for the winter. It will bear the brunt of the wear and tear so replacing parts will be cheaper than on your ‘better’ bike to save you money in the long run.

Upcycle

You might be tempted to buy all sorts of cycling accessories but there are many ways to upcycle old bike parts to save you from spending more money. Wheel spokes are the most versatile of the lot, you can bend them to shapes like hooks for hanging your cycling gears to dry, letters/ words/ shapes to go into a handmade card to your cycling friends or file them into picks to pick out bits stuck in your tyres. Old inner tubes can be used to rewrap tool handles or used as elastic cord to fasten loads on your pannier. You can make all sorts of homeware too like wheel shaped clocks, bike chain photo frame and small key rings.

Maintenance skills

I can’t say it often enough: “regularly maintain and clean your bike”. Your bike will work better for longer with regular TLC. Some maintenance jobs tend to be reserved for bike shops but you can do a lot yourself at home! Check out our must haves for home mechanics blog to get your tool box set up.

Meet like minded people

Last but not least, like minded people should be able to point you in the right direction for any of the above points. Sometimes they might be using something you thought you wanted but their honest review will help you avoid a huge disappointment. There’s always something spare they want to sell cheaply or a tool you want to borrow to use just once.

 

Must have’s for home mechanics

Allen keysRegular checks and maintenance of
your bike are highly recommended. And the good news is you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it yourself. Pick up the necessary skills at our maintenance classes and then all you will need is a set of tools. Here are some must have tools for basic maintenance jobs to keep your bike healthy.

Allen key set

All the other tools will be jealous of a set of allen keys
because they will be the clear favourite. Most components and accessories on your bike are held by bolts. Although the most used sizes are 4 and 5 mm, getting a set instead of buying one allen key at a time will be worth it for that one time when you need the 2 mm one.

Screw drivers (JIS)

You probably refer to your cross head screwdriver as a Phillips screwdriver but it’s not necessarily the one you need. If you’ve cursed at the apparent incompatibility between your Phillips screwdriver and the limit screws on your Shimano derailleurs, then brace yourself for a mind blowing revelation.

Shimano uses Japanese Industry Standard (JIS) screws on their derailleurs and Phillips screwdrivers don’t engage with these screws properly and “cam” out. Get yourself a JIS screwdriver and you will thank me for it.

track pump gauge

Tyre levers

Changing tyres should be one of the first maintenance skills you acquire and punctures strike when you are least prepared so have these at the ready.

Track pump

If you are committed to changing tyres yourself at home then treat yourself to a track pump. Get one with a pressure gauge too while you’re at it.

Cable cutter

I’ve tried to cut brake and gear cables with a pair of cutting pliers before; we learn from experience. Use a good quality cable cutter for a clean cut in milliseconds and minimise the fraying on a new cable.

Chain breaker

Changing the chain can breathe new life into your bike and you will need a chain breaker. Here’s a little tip: get an unused, round spoke and cut it to about 6 cm in length. Use a couple of pliers to bend hooks on both ends and you’ve got yourself a device to hold the loose ends of the chain together whilst you connect it back up.

Chain oil and lubricants

Clean your bike often and reapply chain oil and lubricants where appropriate and your bike will love you for it (you’ll know by the lack of squeaking, crunching noise from the drivetrain).

Rags

Sometimes even the charity shops don’t want your old t-shirts. Worry not because your bike does. Use them to clean your bike, wipe off excess chain oil / lubricants, wipe clean the drivetrain or rims. I normally give up washing the rags after a couple of attempts; I’ve got a stack of old t-shirts queueing up to be sacrificed.

Workstand

A workstand can be a bit of a luxury but it you are like me and want to avoid back pain at all cost then it becomes essential. You’ll need to find a balance between cost, sturdiness and portability when shopping for a workstand but it’ll change your whole experience of home mechanics.

 

Do you have a tool at home that you rely on that is not on this list? Let us know in the comment section!

 

How to breathe new life into your bike

We all grow attached to our bikes, sharing some great cycling memories with our trusty steeds, but they can become the worse for wear. Some say the frame is the heart of the bike so without changing the frame, here are some suggestions of how to breathe new life into your bike.

Handlebar tape

This is in front of you all the time and can make a bold style statement. Get yourself some new handlebar tape for a refreshing grip. This is your chance to experiment with a new colour or pattern. Maybe you want to try a different level of cushioning or material too?

Saddle

This is another contact point between you and the bike. If you ride your bike a lot and wear padded shorts, you are probably on a fairly firm saddle which will soften over time so it will need replacing. If you are very much on the side of sitting on plushy saddles then you probably don’t need to replace it for a while.

Tyres

Often overlooked but they can transform your ride quality. Get some new tyres and this is your chance to choose if you want to go for wider tyres for more comfort, more puncture resistant tyres or different tread if you go off road sometimes. This is another place you can add some bling to your bike with different coloured tyres now widely available.

Cablescable stop

Ok, we now have hydraulics to contend with but that generally has longer maintenance intervals. If you are still using cable actuated brakes and gears then replacing them should give you more responsive braking and more accurately indexed gears.

Chain

Old, worn chains present many problems which get worse the longer you ignore them. A new chain will help indexing your gears and reduce wear on the rest of the drivetrain. It should also mean you’ll enjoy a much quieter drivetrain.

Cleaning

You might have noticed that the suggestions so far involve buying something new. Cleaning your bike will surprise you with how different your ride feels afterwards. Shifting cfire hosean become more effortless, the drivetrain should be quieter and braking is more responsive. More regular cleaning intervals will make the job easier and also give you the chance to spot faults on your bike components before they catastrophically fail. Think about using bike specific degreasers to dislodge the more stubborn grime that soapy water is too weak to tackle.

Maintenance

This should go hand in hand with cleaning your bike. If you waited too long before cleaning it then the brakes and derailleurs will probably need adjusting. Replacing the parts mentioned in this blog also requires skill and tools which are essential if you are thinking of going on long rides or touring. If you are not sure about what to do, we run council subsidised maintenance classes regularly that can help you get started; check out our upcoming classes.

Watch out for next week’s blog about the Must have’s for home mechanics; you will need some of these tools to help you with the maintenance jobs we’ve mentioned in this blog. What do you do with your bike to give it a new lease of life? Let us know in the comments section.