It can be difficult to justify the costs of keeping a car on the road. The spiralling road taxes, fuel prices, road tolls, extortionate insurance prices, servicing and maintenance charges all add up.
The argument for the car is the comfort, speed, convenience and ‘status’ it offers. Understandably for some it’s hard to argue otherwise particularly here in Ireland with the inevitable wet and wild winter weather along with the shortening days and lack of safe cycling lanes. Added to this, the distances people are travelling nowadays to and from work are increasing as high rents force people further away from their work.
Nevertheless, the simplicity, health benefits and eco friendliness of cycling your bicycle are worth occasionally feeling like a damp squid!
So how should you best prepare for the winter commute? Things to consider: keeping dry, both you and your bike. Safety, make sure you can see in the dark as well as be seen. Are you going to be carrying a load on your bike, a laptop, grocery shopping or books?
First thing to consider would be mudguards. There are many mudguards on the market, some better than others. I tend to avoid the plastic, seat-post clip-on mudguards favouring instead a more solid full length mudguard with attached stays (metal attachment connecting your mudguard to the bike). Unfortunately some bikes, such as racing bikes and MTBs are designed without frame eyelets to allow for full length mudguards. On my bike i use Velo Orange mudguards, they’re solid, uncompromising and aluminium. I have them for two years now and they are pretty great. Be aware of your wheel size when buying mudguards, my wheels are 26″, so i need a mudguard that’ll fit. For extra protection, you could attach a mudflap to the bottom of your front mudguard to stop extra spray from spinning up towards you and your bike. You can buy these commercially but they are easy to make by attaching a piece of plastic, such as a strip of milk carton to your mudguard with a small nut and screw.
On our cycle tour of Mongolia to Ireland i had a side mirror attached to my drop bars which eventually bore the brunt of too many crashes and ultimately was smashed to pieces. The mirror is a great comfort and is really truly appreciated only when you don’t have it anymore.
Keeping your chain clean and oiled is important for smooth winter cycling. The chain will get clogged and dirty and end up wearing out other components unless it is looked after. You should degrease your chain before applying lube/oil. Degreaser can be expensive so instead make your own with baking soda, vinegar and lemon, it works just as good.
Some people say spraying some silicon on the frame or on components that are prone to gathering dirt helps deter gunk building up. The silicon forms a slippery surface and is difficult for dirt to stick to. Rather than spend more money on bike polishing products, just wipe with some WD40!
Jacket vs. Poncho
During my time in Japan I cycled through, typhoons, rainy season, and snow storms and experimented with various bicycle rain gear. A lot of people in Japan use ponchos while cycling in the rain. They can be fairly effective but not very aerodynamic and sometimes it can feel like you are sailing along rather than cycling which is fine and well until it’s a head wind you’re facing into! Ponchos offer great ventilation and are pretty good at regulating your temperature. I used a Carradice Pro-Route Cape, which is specifically designed for cyclists. It’s a slicker design than the regular oversized poncho, offering less resistance to the wind and has internal straps that secure to the bike and yourself. It works pretty well, but unfortunately being the self conscious cyclist that I am, I couldn’t handle the pointed fingers and little sniggers, as I whizzed around looking like a pedalling fluorescent traffic cone! So back to the drawing board. What I liked about the poncho was it kept you relatively dry while allowing better air flow, what I didn’t like was looking like a plonker! I decided to aim for a breathable waterproof jacket with as many air vents as possible. You generally get what you pay for. My dream waterproof cycling jacket would be a Showers Pass Elite Jacket but it’s a little on the pricey side. So I ended up somewhere in the middle by choosing a Japanese made rain jacket with vents, little known out of Japan called Polewards.
When choosing waterproof trousers for your cycle commute try and aim for something that can easily fit over your everyday trousers, and that can be fasten or tighten by the ankle so it doesn’t get caught in the chain while cycling. I use Polaris Surge over pants. They’re very light and waterproof but not very breathable. If you’re looking for more breathable waterproof trousers then you need to consider forking out more cash.
This may seem like a bit of an odd one, but to protect my feet from the rain, I wear Keen sandals with Seal Skinz Socks, the socks are warm and waterproof. I pack away my regular socks and shoes in a pannier and put on my sandals with my Seal Skinz socks when on the bike until I get to my destination, where I’ll put my shoes and socks back on. Of course there is nothing wrong with wearing a pair of wellies instead!
Another fool proof way to keep your clothes dry is to strip naked, bundle your clothes into a waterproof bag and belt off like the clappers of hell!