It's that time of year where a single snowflake in London causes chaos whilst up in the cold, dark north people still think it's not quite cold enough to put the central heating on yet. Up and down the country we've seen plenty of ice and a reasonable amount of snow in most places. This sort of weather can be a cyclists worst nightmare, but it doesn't have to be...
Now, if you're all expecting to me slope off and chat about how we should stick to the indoors and get racing around the fantasy island that is Watopia, then you've probably come to the wrong place. As I so often say, it's a beautiful tool for the time crunched cyclist or even those that whole heartedly just don't fancy the risk of riding outside in the adverse British winter, but put simply, it's not for me. Admittedly, had the weather been as bad in Yorkshire as it was in the Midlands then I might have reconsidered.
I believe that unless you pick some truly awful conditions, such as going out in the rain when it's just around freezing, you can still pretty safely enjoy riding outside in winter if you want to. I'd go so far as to say it's actually sometimes better weather at this time of year. Okay, yes it's pretty cold and sometimes icy but the joys of a winter high pressure system mean you can get some amazingly calm and clear days to ride in. We shot some amazing film of riding in the snow on such a day and it was awesome.
If you're sensible then these days are great fun. Typically, if I'm going to ride on a snow day I'll pick some pretty main roads to start the ride so that things have time to warm up before I hit the smaller roads. If it's looking completely shady then I'll avoid them for the most part but not always. You can usually get a pretty good sense of which roads will have been gritted in your area as well so you can plan a pretty good route in the knowledge of relative safety.
You can't always avoid the icy bits of road on a ride either; sometimes there are just patches that the sun doesn't hit and the grit hasn't gritted so you have to make your way over them to carry on. If you have chance to see them coming up then you can get off and wander around them n your cleats but you're just as likely to fall over then anyway. I tend to scrub off enough speed to be able to roll over the patch of ice but be slow enough that a fall would be less painful.
When you're riding over anything icy the key is not to panic. If you grab some brake or twitch those bars then you're going down. You have to relax and just let the bike roll in a straight line over the ice before you pick up the pedals again or grab the brake. No sudden movements. Lots of people tense up instinctively but it's best to try not to. Obviously, you can't always see the ice so the above might not apply. However if you've chosen sensible roads and aren't sat in the gutter then the above shouldn't matter anyway.
There is also a big difference between snow and ice when it comes to riding. Snow acts a bit like sand in that it can be a bit slippery but your tyres will sink into it providing a bit of grip. Ice on the other hand is just a slippery nightmare. Be careful of re-frozen snow too; often it hides a layer of ice.
If you've chosen sensible roads then sensible kit is pretty important too. We all know that multiple layers work best for retaining heat so wrap up well. As I said above, there isn't much point riding in freezing and wet conditions but on the dry and really cold days instead. I use electric tape to cover all the vents on my shoes to help keep them warm and then add a thick winter overshoe on the top; inside it's a pair of thick merino socks. A good pair of thermal tights and a nice high cadence takes care of the legs usually and just leave the upper body.
The upper body is usually coldest as it's not moving. Here I use a combination of a merino base layer and a long sleeve merino base layer. I've found that by putting a pair of nano-flex arm warmers on underneath the merino jersey your arms stay really toasty and if you do catch a shower, the nano-flex keeps the water off. On top of the merino jersey it's a gilet usually and a buff around the neck. A nice thick hat stops you losing too much heat off your head as well; a part of the body not very thermally efficient. Always carry a waterproof jacket just incase it does rain though.
Aside from that I keep plenty of gels on me just incase; keeping warm uses a lot of energy in addition to keeping the pedals turning so you're more likely to get tired faster. I've also invested in a thermal bottle that keeps your drink hot so that I'm not pouring cold liquids into my throat; you can grab one here. You sweat more than you think under all those layers.
It might sound like a faff watching out for ice, planning a route and dressing up to go outside when the warmth of the turbo room draws you in but sometimes it's great just to enjoy the beauty of winter. Not every ride has to be outside but it's important to spend some hours outside alongside the turbo training. It's either than or I can come throw snow at you to give things that virtual reality effect...