Equipment advice: Winter cycling

Applies to cycling as to all outdoor activities: There is no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothes. | Photo: Lars Schneider
Applies to cycling as to all outdoor activities: There is no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothes. | Photo: Lars Schneider
Cycling keeps you fit, is environmentally friendly and fun. But what’s it like in the rain when it’s cold and windy? Globetrotter expert Björn Dilg explains why the bicycle does not have to stay buried in the basement in the depths of winter.

Björn Dilg (49) has been giving advice to customers on bikes at Globetrotter Cologne for three years now. In his spare time he likes to be on his mountain bike or road bike in either the Siebengebirge, Bergisches Land or Westerwald. His best tour to date was from Lübeck to the Müritz just after the wall came down. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Björn Dilg (49) has been giving advice to customers on bikes at Globetrotter Cologne for three years now. In his spare time he likes to be on his mountain bike or road bike in either the Siebengebirge, Bergisches Land or Westerwald. His best tour to date was from Lübeck to the Müritz just after the wall came down. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Björn, I cycle to work every day. What do I need so I don’t have to use the car in winter?

Most important are the clothes. Of course the safety also plays a big part too: Especially at the cold time of year when it gets light very late and dark very early, it is extremely important that you can see everything as a cyclist and that you get seen too. If you then get your bicycle ready for all kind of winter weather with just a little work, and look after it regularly, you do not have to worry about inclement weather. 

Cycling clothes? Can’t I just wear normal outdoor clothes?

I would not recommend it. Sure, your normal rain jacket is good enough if you just cycle to the bakery around the corner in the rain. But no later than when you cycle to work every day, you will notice that your standard rain clothes have disadvantages compared to special cycling clothes. The latter are more comfortable and safer in the traffic. 

Rain jackets are longer in the back. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Rain jackets are longer in the back. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
What are the differences?

The sitting position on a bicycle is so much different in comparison to other sports: The jacket is cut longer at the bottom and for the arms, and it can be shorter over the stomach. The trousers are pulled higher on the back of the waistband and tight on the ankles so they do not get caught in the chain. Cycling clothes are designed to hug the body so the headwind does not slow you down much. Still, the arms and legs are cut such that there is enough free movement.

 

“Rainlegs” by The Rainwear Company (34,95 €, Globetrotter order number 12.87.00) provide protection for surprise showers. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
“Rainlegs” by The Rainwear Company (34,95 €, Globetrotter order number 12.87.00) provide protection for surprise showers. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
What should I watch out for when buying a bicycle jacket or trousers especially for the cold season?

First of all you should be sure about the area of application: Are you after light rain protection which you can quickly put on when required? Or do you need sturdy clothes which are still waterproof after hours of constant rain? A thin and light rain jacket is usually good enough for the journey to work but you should definitely focus on wear comfort and reliability when you are planing a trip across the Alps or a longer tour.

Which details are important?

It is important to choose the right colour: I recommend eye-catching colours to my customers. Especially when you cycle to work in the traffic at dusk, in a colourful outfit car drivers will see you better. In addition, there should be many and big reflectors – they also increase visibility. If you prefer a jacket in a discreet black, you can also wear a reflective vest on top. How many pockets you need depends on your taste. Some cyclists also want to have a hood.

The Vaude Helmet Raincover (9,95 €, No. 20.02.75) with reflector areas. | Photo: Globetrotter
The Vaude Helmet Raincover (9,95 €, No. 20.02.75) with reflector areas. | Photo: Globetrotter
What can be said against a hood on the rain jacket?

Usually, you wear a hood underneath the helmet because it is too tight to put it on top. But that then limits ventilation and visibility, especially during the important look over the shoulder. A better solution is a waterproof helmet cover. It allows you to look around freely, does not rustle and lets air circulate around your head and neck. Such covers are even available with flashing lights at the back of the head, to increase visibility. However, when you use a helmet cover you need a jacket with a tight and high collar to keep the rain out.

 

Only for short distances: the rain poncho. | Photo: Michael Müller/KME-Studios für Vaude
Only for short distances: the rain poncho. | Photo: Michael Müller/KME-Studios für Vaude
Should I use the multi-layer system as a cyclist too?

That is not necessary for the trip to work which does not take longer than half an hour for most of us. I would rather shiver a bit at the beginning and then warm up after a few minutes of movement. For a longer tour, it definitely makes sense to wear layers. When you are going uphill for a while, you can simply put on the rain jacket above the shirt. During a break or on the way down, especially people sensitive to cold can do with another insulating layer of clothing. 

How do I find out how sensitive to cold I am?

My experience shows that most people judge that pretty well. Some sweat fast and do not feel cold often whilst others do not get warm after fifteen minutes of paddling away. All that helps is to trust your own feeling and to gain experience. I would suggest beginners take an extra layer along just in case. After the first tours or one week cycling to work, you will know pretty well how warm your clothes should be. 

Mudguards, spike wheels, exemplary lightning and reflectors – that’s the way to cycle in winter. | Photo: Pressedienst-fahrrad/Kay Tkatzik
Mudguards, spike wheels, exemplary lightning and reflectors – that’s the way to cycle in winter. | Photo: Pressedienst-fahrrad/Kay Tkatzik
Should my jacket definitely be waterproof?

If you are looking for reliable weather protection, yes. However, there are wind and water-resistant soft shell jackets which are a good solution for the transitional season. They protect you from the air stream and can also resist a shower. But if you end up in constant rain though, you will get really wet. Softshells are more comfortable than rain jackets. I would definitely first buy waterproof clothes and later on, for autumn and spring, a softshell outfit.

 

 

Gloves to protect against the wind and rain. Waterproof Seal Skinz Ultra Grip Gloves (Order-nr. 23.86.98)  | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Gloves to protect against the wind and rain. Waterproof Seal Skinz Ultra Grip Gloves (Order-nr. 23.86.98) | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Now I know everything about bicycle jackets and trousers. Do I need any other items of clothing?

Gaiters are very important. They keep the feet warm and dry in the rain and when temperatures are below freezing. Also, you should get some proper gloves, as just like the feet, the hands are in the airstream and almost do not move. The gloves should not be very thick so that you do not have a problem changing gears or braking. When it gets cold outside, I would recommend a windproof headband or a thin beanie – to keep the ears warm. Not a piece of clothing, but also a good idea is to wear a pair of glasses with clear glass so that the eyes do not run much and are protected against dirt and insects. 

You have just mentioned gaiters. Can’t I just use waterproof bicycle shoes?

Sure, of course. Bicycle shoes, however, have a decisive disadvantage for commuters: If you do not want to arrive with dirty shoes in the office, you need to take a pair of spare shoes in your luggage. Underneath the gaiters, you can wear your normal shoes. On a bicycle tour, cycle shoes can be convenient because of the click system. I’d still prefer a well ventilated shoe and not a waterproof model – and when it rains, I’d cover it with gaiters.

Clever heads wear a helmet on the bicycle – Björn will find the right one. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Clever heads wear a helmet on the bicycle – Björn will find the right one. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Are there special helmets for winter?

Not exactly. I would make sure however, that my helmet has a visor. Otherwise the rain will hit your face straight on at a certain speed. It is also important that the helmet sits well and encloses the head properly. By the way, whether you are in the city or on a tour in the Alps – a helmet always needs to be on your head. Accident statistics show that bicycle accidents – especially when cars are involved – are much more tragic without a helmet than with. 

 

It is hard to see cyclists without lights in the dark. | Photo: Michael Müller/KME-Studios für Vaude
It is hard to see cyclists without lights in the dark. | Photo: Michael Müller/KME-Studios für Vaude
Let’s talk about lighting. What can or should be on my bicycle when I’m on the roads?

The law is complicated and quite comprehensive. Basically the bicycle needs to have a white spotlight and a white reflector at the front. At the back, there needs to be a red non-blinking spotlight as well as a red reflector. Also, reflectors on the pedals and on the spikes or wheels are obligatory. There are standards regulating fitting them and the type of light. If you want to know exactly what the requirements are in Germany, please have a look at the German Straßenverkehrs-Zulassungs-Ordnung (StVZO). It is all accurately described. Anyway, all the lamps we sell as bicycle lights are StVZO-approved.

Sigma Mono back light (22,95 €, No. 23.66.03) | Photo: Globetrotter
Sigma Mono back light (22,95 €, No. 23.66.03) | Photo: Globetrotter
What is – not only from the legal aspect – a great spotlight?

It needs to be waterproof and should under no circumstances dazzle other motorists or cyclists, and ideally it should also be visible from the side. Furthermore it is important that the spotlight is fixed properly and that you keep an eye on the battery. I like the rechargeable spotlights: First, re-chargeable batteries are environmentally friendlier than normal batteries, and second, I can charge my bicycle light at home via USB and do not have to buy a new battery all the time. 

Trelock LS 450 (29,95 €, No. 19.37.60) | Photo: Globetrotter
Trelock LS 450 (29,95 €, No. 19.37.60) | Photo: Globetrotter
What do you think about additional lighting such as flashing lights or head lights?

In general, the more noticeable, the saver you are! There are little lights you can attach to the top of your helmet with Velcro. They make sense because they are fixed on the highest spot and are therefore visible from far away. There are also helmets which have a little light integrated in the helmet adjuster at the back. A head light only makes sense on tours outside the cities when I need light in the direction I am looking and cannot dazzle anybody. Nothing, however, replaces the compulsory lightning. 

Some bicycle bags also double up as chic everyday companions. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Some bicycle bags also double up as chic everyday companions. | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Now I will get safely on my bicycle from A to B and stay warm and dry. But what about my laptop?

I recommend a waterproof cycle bag or a waterproof backpack. Devices and documents will stay dry, even if it chucks it down. The most convenient is a cycle bag because it is easy to pack and can be used as a shoulder bag at the destination. A backpack, however, does not need to be fixed to the bicycle. For a longer tour, I would make sure that the backpack is comfortable and sits well. If I have a lot of luggage, I need a cycle bag anyway. 

How do I get my bicycle ready for winter?

You have many options: There are, for example, special winter tyres made of soft rubber and with a rugged tread. If you are cycling on ice now and again, you should get wheels with spikes so you do not slide away in the curves. There are special rubber mixes for rim brakes. You can also upgrade disk brakes with an additional surface so that they grip well in the wet. Mudguards are necessary on the bike. They keep away the spray water and prevent a lot of cleaning. 

Special oil for the chain: Green Oil Chain Lube (7,95 €, No. 22.94.14) | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Special oil for the chain: Green Oil Chain Lube (7,95 €, No. 22.94.14) | Photo: Moritz Schäfer
Water, salt, ice: Does my bicycle need special care in winter?

Definitely. Otherwise after one or two winters you can take your bicycle to the scrap yard. Especially the road salt is poison for bicycles. So already in autumn you should pre-treat all movable parts and contact areas with penetrating oil. Very important: Do not treat the brakes the same way, otherwise they loose their effect. Apply special oil to the chain which is thicker and does not disappear so quickly. On longer tours, you should take along small amounts of the lubricants with you too because you can’t avoid having to look after your equipment. Apart from that, I would wash the bicycle regularly – depending on the usage several times per month – with clear water, dry it and apply fresh grease and oil. We have a complete care set in our range which has the right lubricants and a set of brushes so the bicycle will survive the winter without any damage. But of course you need to clean it yourself.

 
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