Wrap up well, ride well
Staying warm while riding is important. Cold affects concentration; it also induces tension and inhibits mobility. But if you’re warm and comfy, it’s possible to enjoy year-round riding, whether commuting to work or taking an out-of-season tour. Good vision is equally important, so you’ll need to address the issues of visor misting and crud accumulation. Many of us are put off using our bikes the minute it becomes central heating weathers just by the simple issues of temperature and vision, but it needn’t be that way.
Staying warm is addressed by sticking to three basic principles: get insulated, get wind-proofed and stay dry. These three things can all be accomplished on a budget if you’re not keen on shelling out hundreds on specialist winter kit you might only use a few times a year. Insulation comes by trapping layers of air in your clothing and keeping it there, and by preventing draughts. For layers of air, read layers of clothes. If you can’t afford the latest fabric super-suit, no problem – just wear your leathers for protection with additional under/over layers and seal yourself with a windproof/waterproof outer shell.
Hands and feet
It’s your peripherals that will feel the cold first, so it’s worth putting effort into keeping hands and feet warm and dry. Hands are important when road conditions demand the finest steering control. While it’s possible to use heated grips, bar muffs, silk inner gloves and even washing-up gloves over race gloves to protect digits, it’s worth spending a few quid on decent, weatherproof winter gloves. Likewise with feet. While there are plenty of stop-gap measures (as outlined below), it’s worth considering inbuilt waterproofing next time you buy boots. There’s plenty of stylish stuff out there with a waterproof membrane and costs no more than the latest race boots.
Apart from specialist bike retailers, there are plenty of other places to find gear on the cheap. Look for builders’ safety clothing, or outdoor and angling kit in shops, markets, in catalogues and online you’ll find cheap, effective kit to keep you warm on your bike.
1. Add insulation, windproofing AND visibility for those colder, darker evenings all in one go (and for only £25) by buying a fluorescent overjacket from your local builders’ merchants. Pretty, no – but hard to top for value and practicality.
2. Wear a ‘puffa’ jacket or bodywarmer under a (very large) outer jacket and you’re kitted for Arctic conditions. With the flood of cheap imported clothing from the Far East, prices have tumbled and £20 will score a lot of insulation. For your lower half, get a set of long johns or for even more warmth, wear a pair of tracksuit bottoms over these.
3. You won’t get more warmth for less cash than by sticking a sheet of bubblewrap down the front of your jacket. This will add supreme insulation and eliminate chest draughts that can drop body temperature fast. If the mercury plummets suddenly while you’re out, stop at the next newsagents, buy a paper and use that instead.
4. Rubber over-boots, costing from just £7, will not only keep feet dry, but also add a good deal of warmth. Waxed-cotton variants do the same job, but are more hardwearing for £20. You can also get lightweight pull-on over-socks (above).The least intrusive – and most stylish – option is a pair of GoreTex boot liners (£10 from army surplus shops).
5. Balaclavas work, are cheap and, with a draught-free helmet, mean frost-free faces. When choosing a balaclava make sure the one you opt for has a long neck-piece, to ensure you keep the worst of the chills away.
6. For a cheap improvised neck-warmer part of an old tracksuit leg does the job fine. Silk headscarves, bandit-style, are effective, too. Cheapo high-necked fleeces can be had for around five quid. If you can’t afford that, grow a beard.
7. To keep your visor clear on the move (or for a quick clean-up at the lights), use this dispatch rider’s trick. Improvise a sponge holder/water reservoir – a tennis ball with a hole cut in it would be fine, but use your imagination and whatever is to hand – then fix it to your bars with cable ties. Just add slighty soapy water and a sponge scrap.
8. Although many winter gloves come with a soft, suede index finger patch to wipe moisture off your visor, they’re no good when drenched in grease and visor-scratching grit. To clear vision quickly and efficiently without risking visor damage, consider a rubber index finger-mounted wiper like the Bob Heath V-Wipe. It costs around a fiver.
9. Visor-misting is a hazard. It also leads to the visor being lifted, making you even colder. Anti-mist sprays and rub-on treatments are two-a-penny, but a Fog City insert is the preferred cure. It’s an apply-once cure for £20. Neat washing-up liquid rubbed on the inside of the visor until it vanishes – or even spit – are temporary fixes.
10. Hands are the first to feel the bite when temperatures fall and the most effective way of combating hand chill on the cheap (£20) is with handlebar muffs. Over-gloves are less intrusive and cheaper (about £10) and can be easily stored in a jacket pocket.
11. It’s wind-chill that makes riding a bike out of season so cold, so if you’re riding a naked bike, consider taking the elements on with a screen. A large, clear, bar-mounted screen will cost about £45 and is fitted in minutes. It won’t improve high-speed handling or make your bike look good, but, come spring, you can take it off and revert to summer mode.
12. The easiest and most effective way to keep winter at bay is a draught-free, one-piece, lined bike oversuit. Look through bike kit catalogues and you’ll be looking at £50-plus for such a garment – but look instead at discount angling stores and high quality, hard-wearing one-pieces can be sourced for around £35. That should warm your cockles.