It’s easy when the tube strike is during the summer – cycling seems to be the obvious substitute for excruciating bus rides. Come October and the cycling becomes less obvious choice – the fears are unfounded.
Commuting in autumn is harder than in summer… but not by much. With the right kit you can protect yourself against the elements, leaving you free to enjoy all the positives of commuting by bike. If you rode to work through the summer do you really want to give up all those savings on fuel, fares and parking just because it’s winter? Believe it or not, autumn is also the best time to start commuting by bike. After a couple of rides you’ll realise that neither winter nor commuting is as daunting as you thought and you’ll also know that if this time of the year was so easily beaten the rest of the year will be a doddle.
The essentials for autumn/winter riding are pretty simple: lights, reflectives and the right clothing. If you’re just starting out you’ll need a lock too, look for locks with a high ‘Sold Secure’ rating and buy the best you can afford – it’s an investment in peace of mind. The great thing about all of this kit is that the British weather being what it is, you’ll get year round use from it.
You might think that the biggest difference between winter and summer commuting is the weather… not so. It’s the dark. All, or part, of your commute between October and March is likely to be in darkness. Being seen and being able to see are crucial to being a safe, and legal, cyclist. Lights are your first line of defence against the dark – reflectives are the second. You may want to go the whole hog and opt for a high visibility jacket, alternatively buy clothing, rucksacks or panniers with plenty of reflective panels, many also have LED tabs.
So you’ve dealt with the dark, what about the cold? The truth is that for most of us the British winter just isn’t that cold. We have fairly mild, wet winters to go with our wonderful warm, wet summers. The other big reason the cold isn’t such a problem is that riding a bike is hot work, even in winter. Luckily when it’s colder it is easier to regulate your temperature by taking off a layer or opening a vent. So supplement your basics: breathable jacket, jersey, trousers and baselayer with some extra protection for your hands and feet: winter gloves, thermal socks and overshoes; and top that up with a set of arm and legwarmers. When it’s cold but not too cold you can team these warmers up with shorts and a jersey and take them off as you heat up, but on really cold days they’re ideal extra layers of protection.
Now you are set up to take on whatever the British weather can throw at you – whenever it decides to throw it. Finally, the big thing to remember about cycle commuting at any time of the year is this: it isn’t supposed to be an ordeal. Who knows: maybe the custom will stick once the tube workers go back to work.