SLJ’s Tips for Winter Riding

I’m not alone within our club in wanting to continue to ride throughout the year, and some of our best and most enjoyable club runs take place against the typical backdrop of winter in the sometimes inhospitable far North East of England – in other words freezing cold, soaking wet and impossibly windy.

There’s something about being out with a smaller, select group of foolhardy mates and battling everything Mother Nature has to throw at you. In one sense, the worse the weather is, the more challenging the ride becomes and the greater the sense of personal achievement. On top of this the difference in form and fitness between those who ride and those who hibernate until the Spring is always quite marked.

Oh and as an added benefit, the queues in the café are generally much, much shorter in winter too.

Winter rides actually give us some of the best the weather has to offer, crisp, clear winter days under sparkling blue skies. There is of course also a fair share of rain, drizzle, sleet, hail and snow, gales and gusts of wind, frost and deadly ice and filthy-dirty, hacky-mucky, muddy-clarty road surfaces, liberally dotted with craters, crevasses, splits and fissures, pools, puddles, swamps and lagoons of freezing cold rainwater.

There’s lots of websites offering tips on winter riding, although I don’t think any of them have ever changed what I do, so I guess a lot of what they purport to teach you is just common sense and a bit of a waste of time.

Anyway, no one ever accused me of originality, so for what it’s worth here’s my one one-hundred-and-twentieth of a pound and hopefully, 1 or 2 tips that actually make it beyond the: “Yeah, so what, tell me something new” filter.

Dress the Part

Make sure your extremities are well covered – feet, fingers and ears are the bits of me that suffer the worst, so they’re the bits I pay most attention to.

Invest in a good pair of socks. Apparently the trick here is not to pile on so many layers that you have to squeeze your feet into your shoes, restricting blood flow and actually making things worse.

My own personal favourites are Prendas Thermolite socks, which I’d heartily recommend, even if I always think Thermolite sounds like some kind of extremely dangerous and volatile explosive.

Thermolite fibres, I’m continually being told, mimic “polar bear fur” and you’ve never seen a polar bear shiver have you? That’s because they wear Thermolite socks their fur is hollow and provides excellent insulation – and so apparently are Thermolite fibres.


polar-bear-socks
“Aha! Excellent – Thermolite socks, my feet are bloody freezing.”

Of course socks actually made of polar bear fur would ultimately be the best, but good luck trying to shear one of those suckers. (Now there’s a challenge for Rapha, and something that might actually justify their elitist pricing policies).

I’ve tried other Thermolite socks (Agu do a relatively cheap pair via Planet X) but haven’t found any that are near as good, but your mileage may vary. The best thing about the Prendas ones are that they retain their warmth even when wet through – something that seemed to be a worrying trend last year as we saw extensive flooding and forged through some impressively deep puddles.

In extremis, a thin pair of over-socks, or Belgian booties worn over your shoes, but under neoprene, waterproof shoe covers can provide an additional bit of insulation. It’s even a simple enough task to make your own Belgian booties from an old pair of socks, just remember to cut a hole in the bottom to accommodate your cleats!

It has the benefit of giving you something else to do with old socks, once you’ve had your fill of sock puppets and if you’re wearing them under overshoes, Auntie Vera will never know her hideous, unwelcome Christmas gifts have been cruelly desecrated to fuel your cycling obsession.

Up top, I find wearing a hat under my helmet a little too warm, so wear a headband that covers my ears, but leaves the rest of my head uncovered for ventilation. Of course I’ll admit the drawback is it makes me look like sad disco diva from the 80’s (I’ll admit I can be a bit of a diva, but disco? Never!) Still, I feel it’s a small price to pay for toasty ears.

In heavy rain, a cycling cap worn under the helmet also works well, the peak will divert a lot of the road spray out of your eyes and it can also be useful to combat a low winter sun.

I have various different weights of glove depending on the temperature outside. Mightiest of all are some “Mr. Krabs” lobster mitts that look utterly ridiculous, but are the warmest I’ve found yet and, again keep their insulating properties even when completely waterlogged.

For less extreme days I choose the gloves to suit, often paired with a thin pair of silk glove liners that can be worn for added warmth, or quickly pulled off and tucked away in a back pocket. The glove liners were only a couple of quid on eBay and well worth the price. They were however dispatched from China seemingly by an over-worked, under-nourished, asthmatic carrier pigeon, so are probably best ordered before July if you want to wear them through the winter months.

A few club-mates have taken to carrying a spare pair of gloves so they can swap them out if the originals get soaked through. This certainly beats the singed-wool and wet-dog smell of gloves steaming on the fireplace at the café, or the utter horror and impossibility of trying to pull cold, wet gloves back on after they’ve been abandoned in a sodden, muddy heap on the floor.

A buff or tube scarf is another useful, inexpensive article – (I’ve seen it referred to as a neck gaiter in some quarters – please don’t use this term I always read it as goitre and it makes me feel very queasy.) Anyway, this is supremely practical to plug the gap between collar and neck, or it can be worn as a head covering, or pulled up to cover your chin, mouth, nose or lower face (if you’re feeling particularly bad ass and gangsta).


neck
Neck gaiter, good … neck goitre bad

It’s also supremely useful just to wipe sweat, dirt and accumulated crud from your face, hands, specs, or even your bike.

In direct contravention of Velominati Rule # 34, I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter bike. The recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.

For example, just last year we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood when a felled tree blocked the road and a ride which ended in a snowstorm saw me pushing the bike uphill on the pavement as the only way to avoid the cars sliding sideways down the road toward me. Both these incidents would have been infinitely more difficult to cope with in my road shoes with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.

Of course there’s a bit more expense involved if you need to buy both MTB shoes and road shoes, but decent MTB shoes are relatively cheap, last forever and save you destroying your best, carbon-soled racing slippers by riding them throughout the winter.

A few riders in our club use dedicated, waterproof winter boots rather than overshoes. This also might seem like an expensive option, until you consider the fact that overshoes tend not to last much beyond a year and are in almost constant need of replacing. I would imagine the investment in a dedicated pair of winter boots would not only keep your feet warmer and drier, but pay for themselves in the long run. Hopefully I’ll soon find out, I’ve added a pair to my Christmas list.

Of course, if any water does get in to these boots, it tends to stay there, which is what happened to Crazy Legs on one of the more extreme, rain-swept Wooler Wheel sportive rides. He eventually had to stop to take his boots off and pour out all the accumulated water, which I guess was a better option than a developing a severe case of trench foot.

I also use a range of good base layers of varying thickness and insulating properties and have even been known to wear two at a time. For the extreme cold a thick merino version has yet to be bettered.

My go to winter jacket is my Galibier Mistral, which is at least water-resistant if not downright waterproof. If it’s looking like a lot of rain, I usually put a waterproof over the top of this jacket. I’ve just bought a heavier Santini “Rain” jacket for just this purpose, and I’m reasonably confident I’ll get a chance to field test it very soon.

On the legs, tights or legwarmers made of that Roubaix fabric with the brushed back always seem a reliable choice. I quite like tights without a pad so they can be worn over shorts. This provides a bit more protection to the thighs through the double layer of shorts and tights. It’s also useful because I have half a dozen or more pairs of shorts, but only 3 or 4 pairs of tights. I can wear the same leggings for all my weekly rides by simply changing the shorts underneath for a clean pair everyday.

Some people suggest tights with a bib can serve better to keep your lower torso a little more protected and warm, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever noticed that much of a difference, although they do as a rule seem more comfortable for longer rides.

I use a pair of “waterproof” tights for commuting, but haven’t found them particularly effective and faced with a downpour I’m more likely to take a spare pair of shorts in my backpack so I have something dry for the ride home, even if the tights have become soaked through and don’t dry off in time.

The Ride

Winter means winter bikes for those that can afford them, or more precisely those who’ve been riding long enough to have bought a better bike and consigned their original steed to winter hack duties.

In some ways a true winter bike is more interesting, unique, more colourful and will have more character and more anecdotes attached to it than your more refined, “best bike.” Many will have long and varied back-story and an uncertain pedigree and provenance.

The incomparable, always entertaining Doc Hutch, writing in Cycling Weekly suggests, “a true winter bike is the one that just coalesces in a corner of the garage. Long forgotten and usually deeply-flawed components quietly gather themselves together until one day you find there are enough to build a bike. It’ll be a bike like no one else’s.”

He goes on to suggest, “It will be uncomfortable and it will rattle, but it will be yours in a way your summer carbon wonder-bike never will be. You will hate it, of course you will. But you’ll love it too.”

And here I think is the nub of the issue. The more you hate your winter bike, the less likely you are to ride it and given our long winters and poor weather is likely to last at least a quarter of the year, that’s a whole lot of riding to miss out on.

Even Taffy Steve can just about tolerate his thrice-cursed winter bike, although maybe he just tolerates it in order to keep his titanium love-child safe from harm and to build the anticipation of returning to it once the weather improves.

At worst then, I feel you need to lavish enough care, attention and unfortunately money on your winter bike to at least make it a neutral if not total pleasurable riding experience, even if it’s too unlovely to fully embrace.

The bare essentials I would insist on are a decent, tried and tested, comfortable saddle, full mudguards and winter specific tyres.

A few personal pointers:

Valve caps. You know those useless, little bits of plastic that the Velominati rules declare as useless and never to be used? How unseemly an impact do they have on how your bike looks? How much additional weight and drag do they add? How much quicker can you repair a flat without having to remove them? The answer to all these questions should of course contain the word “negligible” and you’ll find they’re actually a very valuable and useful asset in winter.

Without them the valves can become encrusted in salt and mud and crud, and almost impossible to open without resorting to mole grips or pliers, or in desperation teeth. Not a good place to be if you need to add (or remove) a little air from your tyres.

Similarly, it’s a good idea to drop your wheels out of the bike regularly when cleaning, just to check your quick release or wheel bolts haven’t seized solid. Bad enough to give your own personal spanner-monkey fits at home, but an absolute nightmare if you puncture in the middle of nowhere and can’t get the wheel out to change the tyre.

Our Glorious Leader even suggests that you occasionally remove, lube and replace your brake callipers, as he’s finding more and more bikes coming into his workshop with the brake fittings seized into the frame.

It’s worth buying spare brake pads so you have a set “in stock” ready at any time. The winter seems particularly harsh, chewing through them with great relish, often accompanied by that awful, gritty, grinding noise, that seems to signify your rims being ground to fine aluminium space dust before your eyes.

Your braking is likely to be compromised anyway by the fact that you’re on a heavier bike, with less effective equipment and often in wet and slippery conditions. That’s bad enough to contend with before you throw badly worn brake blocks into the mix.

Mudguards are often seen to be more trouble than they’re worth, ruining the aesthetic look of your bike and constantly and irritatingly rubbing and squeaking. But they’re worth putting up with for the benefits they can bring, most especially to anyone else you’re riding with.

Again, Doc Hutch through the auspices of Cycling Weekly suggests, “anyone whose winter bike doesn’t feature mudguards is both a fool and a blackguard.”

He adds that, “the carefree joy of guard-free riding is further enhanced while riding in a group, where the pressure hose of crap coming off the back wheel of the rider in front means you can pass the subsequent winter evening in front of the fire gently exfoliating your eyeballs every time you blink.”

As with all things winter bike related, I think the trick is to actually embrace them, rather than fit them grudgingly. Then again, once you’ve experienced the difference mudguards can make to your posterior, feet, bike, laundry and the disposition of your fellow riders after a wet, chilly ride, you’ll never go back. An asssaver might look hardcore, but it’s ridiculously ineffective in comparison to full length mudguards.

Really there’s no excuse for not using guards, given the wide variety of choice and fitting systems available – there must surely be a solution for every bike out there. My own advice would be:

Make them as wide as your frame will allow so you have the option for wider winter tyres and there’s less chance of them rubbing and driving you slowly crazy.

If they do start to rub, don’t try and adjust them on the fly. I tried to do this riding up a hill and caught my hand in the front wheel, getting a vicious, stinging slap for my stupidity, and very bruised, lacerated, bent and sore fingers too. It was a minor miracle I didn’t fall off to fully compound my idiocy.

Make your mudguards as long as possible. I recently laughed at Son of G-Dawg for wearing a full-facial mud pack which I was convinced wouldn’t help his complexion in the slightest. I was surprised when he told me it was the result of riding behind me, despite my standard issue long mudguards. I’ve since added additional mud flaps and have people squabbling to get on my back wheel now, knowing they’re going to be well shielded from spray and crud.

You can of course make your own mud flaps and I particularly like those homemade ones where you can still see the provenance of the plastic used – bright blue with a big label reading Domestos or the like.


mudflaps
Either one will work, but I particularly like the mudflap made from a bottle of honey as featured on Sheldon Brown’s website

For the lazy and cack-handed (like me) however there are store bought solutions readily available. I bought a front and back set from RAW that were a doddle to fit and I’m hugely pleased with. As well as adding additional protection for riders behind, I’m surprised how much drier the front one keeps my feet.

RAW also do mudflaps in a whole host of different colours and designs. These not so humble flaps can even be customised with your club colours and logo, although I’m already on record as declaring such frivolities as exceedingly gauche.

A few of my clubmates switch to fixies or single-gear when the weather gets really brutal, with the obvious benefits that there’s so much less to clean and maintain and fewer things that can go wrong. There’s also an appealing simplicity to riding a bike without gears.

I haven’t tried a club run on my single-speed yet, but perhaps with some heavier tyres I might give it a go, although I suggest it’ll probably be the end of me.

It’s worth investing in a decent set of winter tyres, even if it means more weight and rolling resistance. Fixing a filthy tyre in the freezing rain has no known positives, so the more you can do to avoid this scenario the better.

As far as tyres go, fatter seem to be better, offering more grip and a more comfortable ride at lower pressures. I’ve ridden Continental Gatorskins in the past but switched to Schwalbe Durano Plus to try and find a bit more grip without sacrificing too much puncture resistance. Others swear by Continental Four Seasons or Schwalbe Marathon’s.

I’m semi-tempted to try Schwalbe Marathon tyres once my current ones are past their shelf-life, although I’m somewhat leery of them too, as they are notoriously difficult to mount and I have the upper body strength of an anorexic, prepubescent girl, coupled to a grip akin to what your Grandad’s aged and massive Y-fronts exert through their perished elastic.

I’m also a little put-off by the fact that their advocates constantly refer to them through the much over-used term “bombproof” – a phrase evidently employed by people much given to hyperbole and possessing a very poor understanding of the destructive powers of explosive ordnance.

Some winter hazards to watch out for:

Cross winds and unexpected gaps in hedges – the two simply don’t mix. Beware the sudden gust that can scatter a group of well-organised cyclists like a bowling ball smacking the king pin full force.

Ice, ice baby. Ice is about the only thing that will keep large numbers of our group indoors, turning grip and traction into a lottery. Crazy Legs has a patented pre-ride ice test involving running out into the street in his slippers and taking a running jump into the nearest puddle. If he lands with a momentous splash and drenches himself in frigid water, all well and good. If he skids across the surface of the puddle and falls on his arse, it’s probably too cold to ride.

If you do think the roads are likely to be icy, its best to try and stick to main, bus routes which have a greater chance of being gritted. You should also be particularly wary of ice lingering in the shadows at the side of the road, even on the brightest of winter days. It goes without saying that any hazards when wet – white lines, fallen leaves, gratings and manhole covers, are likely to be even more hazardous when icy.

Experience has also taught us that, if you stop to help push a car out of a ditch after it’s skidded across the road on black ice, it’s probably best to assume that the road will be equally as unforgiving to cyclists (and most especially to Dabman’s brittle bones) and it’s probably best to turn around and find a different route.

Thorns. Farmers seem to take great delight in hacking back their hedges at this time of the year and liberally scattering the roads with their cuttings and numerous unavoidable, steel-tipped, mega-thorns. These are probably the cause of more punctures in our group than all the glass, flints and pinch flats combined. I haven’t yet found a tyre they can’t defeat and can’t see how they can be avoided. The best you can do is be aware and be prepared for the worst.

Finally, beware assorted toffs, often found milling aimlessly around in the middle of the road in winter – often in tweed and silly hats, occasionally carrying firearms and invariably accompanied by packs of barely-trained quadrupeds. They’re generally very jolly, but it’s best not to startle them too much, or get in their way.

So, there you have it all the encouragement and advice needed to keep you riding though the winter and the worst of the weather, it beats another torture session on the turbo every time.

Booty Contest

Booty Contest

Club Run, Saturday 5th November, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  93 km/58 miles with 804 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 9 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          All the y’s – chilly, wintry, gusty and showery


 

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Ride Profile

The Ride:

Business as usual on Saturday, as OGL and G-Dawg returned from their sojourn north of the border and the weather reverted to the kind of wild, windy and wet weather we’ve come to expect so late in the year. In fact, the BBC weather forecasts leading up to Saturday looked positively apocalyptic with heavy wintry showers across the day, all accompanied by a blustery, gale force winds direct from the Arctic.

Saturday morning proved things weren’t quite as bad as forecast, with the constant rainfall that was predicted materialising more as a series of short, sharp showers. The day then didn’t look quite as unremittingly bleak as expected, but it was easily the coldest we’ve had so far this autumn.

Clothing choice now became the central concern and I loaded up for the worst, a light, long-sleeved base layer under my Galibier Mistral jacket, topped with a new Santini “Rain” waterproof. This latter is in a fetching shade of light grey, that Crazy Legs suggested matched my complexion and gave rise to him calling me John Major for the rest of the ride.

Full-length winter tights, Thermolite socks, shoes and winter overshoes covered the bottom half, while thick and reasonably shower-proof gloves, a headband and buff protected the gaps and extremities. I even remembered to tuck a spare pair of gloves away in a pocket, in case the first pair did eventually succumb to the rain.

The road down from Heinous Hill has now gained another strip of fallen leaves, mainly down the central meridian, but occasionally spilling across both lanes. I wasn’t keen to test whether the surface just looked slippery or actually was, so I scrubbed off speed and picked my way carefully around the corners, no doubt annoying the driver following close behind. I think he may have actually read last week’s blog and wanted to get into the fun of seeing if he could graze the rain flap on my mudguards without bringing me down.

Surviving the descent, I was rewarded with my first blast of icy rain as I crossed the river and began to haul myself up the other side. Here I would stop a couple of times to shed the buff and the headband and loosen a few zips here and there to get some air flow to counteract the over-heating. Despite this I made good time and was the first to arrive at our meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The BFG was the first of our group to appear, once again on his ultra-posh, much-too-nice-for-this-kind-of-thing, winter “hack” – kind of like wearing a white tuxedo to a Cradle of Filth mosh-pit. He reported his knee operation had been an all-round success, but he continues to recuperate and would turn for home early, “before his stitches started weeping.”

Meanwhile he educated me on the tricks of bike smuggling to avoid the censure of eagle-eyed partners. His infallible system is based on the principles of Trigger’s broom or, if you prefer something more highbrow, the Ship of Theseus paradox: Trigger receives an award for having the same broom for 20 years, then reveals that during this time it’s only had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

The BFG’s cunning ploy is not to buy an all too obvious complete bike, but individual components piecemeal, slowly replacing parts one at a time and upgrading an existing bike. Of course, he admitted, the only drawback was that he always had to stick to the same colour, otherwise the swap became too obvious. This could explain why all his bikes are black, which in itself was a revelation as I thought he simply hadn’t outgrown the mad-Goth affectations of his youth.

Taffy Steve arrived amidst another shower of cold rain, reaching delicately into his back pocket with a finger and thumb to extract a tiny bundle of cloth about the size of a matchbox. He then shook this out to reveal a gossamer thin, shiny Funkier gilet, in an orange so bright and whizzy it actually seemed to oscillate to a different frequency and brought tears to my eyes to look at.

This flimsy, ephemeral garment was all the windproof and water-resistant clothing he felt he could wear without seriously overheating and was the latest addition to his foul-weather armoury, along with a pair of shiny-silver, winter cycling boots that looked as if they were styled on something Dave Hill might have worn back in the heyday of Slade and glam-rock.

As the rain increased in intensity, we finally saw sense and relocated to the shelter of the car park. Here I found G-Dawg had finally succumbed to the inevitable, put away his best bike and was now out on his winter-fixie. He was also immeasurably proud of his rear mudguard, an ultra-slender sliver of black plastic suspended horizontally, halfway between his rear tyre and saddle, where it would be able to deflect … oh, I don’t know … maybe one-tenth of all the road spray we were going to kick up.

Having just about survived another Braveheart Dinner, he suggested the event was in serious danger of losing some of its lustre, especially as this year special guests had been thin on the ground with only Callum Skinner to add a note of class. So, no Bradley Wiggins or David Millar, no Marianne Vos, or Mark Cavendish and, as G-Dawg concluded somewhat ruefully, “even Sean Kelly gave it a miss” Things must be bad.

Of course his reaction may in part have been coloured by not only being forced to journey there and back in a car with OGL, but also having to share the same hotel room. He subsequently reported no new yarns, but plenty of old ones.


I was somewhat surprised that the usual, slightly-crazed winter-stalwarts and “usual suspects” were well supplemented by a sizeable contingent of others, although all the girls were conspicuous by their absence. This being the first Saturday of the month however, our dauntless Go-Ride youngsters were out in force and at least their numbers included several girls.

The Garrulous Kid was out with us again and having himself recently graduated from the kid’s section had to endure a few catcalls and good-humoured cries of “traitor” from his previous riding partners.

At precisely 9:15 Garmin Time, we left the relative sanctuary of the car park and 19 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out into the teeming rain.


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To the Cheese Farm!

I dropped into the middle of the pack beside Caracol and we were soon out into the countryside and heading up toward the Cheese Farm. As we approached the entrance to the farm a silver 4 x 4 poked its nose into the lane, saw us and then pulled over to stop and let us through. I would usually give such a considerate driver a cheery wave and big thumbs-up, but behind the windscreen I could see him sitting there, evidently furious, gesticulating angrily and mouthing off at us.

I then rounded his car to notice a big, new sign for the Cheese Farm, proudly declaring “All Cyclists Welcome!” Maybe not all the staff are quite “on message” yet.

With a rotation off the front, I caught up with Crazy Legs, who’d dubbed Taffy Steve’s gilet “the Beacon.” I wondered if he’d noticed the new winter boots as well. He informed me that he’d not only noticed them, but compared them with his own in terms of style, build and quality. This he casually referred to as “a booty contest” – until he realised what he’d said and began guffawing loudly. Honestly, sometimes this stuff just writes itself.

He then declared he hated turning left at the next junction and was determined to turn right, even if it meant riding off on his own, but we all went right anyway. I guess it’s a strange but universal truth of cycling that different riders tend to grow to hate different bits of road and it’s never as obvious or simple a reason as it just being a hard-climb – although Szell’s love-hate relationship with Middleton Bank might be an exception.

The bits I hate tend to be “false-flats” where there’s a very slight, almost imperceptible rise and you struggle along them wondering what’s wrong with you and why it’s suddenly become so hard, not realising you’re heading ever so slightly, but very definitely uphill all the time.

We regrouped briefly after the climb to Dyke Neuk and found ourselves testing the uneasy peace between cyclists and horse riders as we converged on the gathering point for one of the local hunts. At one point one of the horses panicked and began crabbing across the road toward us, while I pressed ever further into the verge on the opposite side of the road as I tried to edge past. Large, dumb equine beast with flailing, iron boots narrowly avoided, I managed to finally exhale and press on.

The horse-people were unfailingly chipper and cheerful, despite the foul weather and appearance of a dozen or so unruly bike-oiks in their midst. Perhaps hunting and killing small frightened mammals grants you an inner, zen-like calm, but I have to admit it passed me by last week when I had to batter one of Mouse (the cat’s) errant mouse (the mouse) playthings to death with my cycling shoe in the “Blood on the Cleats” incident. Perhaps the horse people were just glad they weren’t having to cycle anywhere in such appalling weather.


 

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Negotiating an uneasy alliance

As we dived down and then up through Mitford I caught up with Grover, perhaps the only one of us who hadn’t yet transitioned to a winter bike as he sat proudly astride his shiny Pinarello. I queried whether he had a licence for such profligacy and he explained his only alternative – a vintage bike he’d restored with 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears, was too heavy. I suggested he might need a different bike, he suggested he needed to get fitter … and I suggested he needed a different bike.

The Garrulous Kid was suffering in the cold and miserable conditions and wanted to know how much further it was to the café. One last hill, I promised as we swept through a road spanning puddle of dirty frozen water and his day became yet more miserable.

The Prof was having a jour sans and complained of being humiliated as we dropped him on the climb up towards Bolam Lake. We waited at the top, where G-Dawg suggested the Prof would ride straight through us without stopping and attack off the front, but he must have been feeling really off his game, as he reigned in his inner mad-dog enough for him to just take the front and try and control the group.

We were however closing in on the café and the speed was being wound up all the time. We were strung out in a long line as we swooped down through Milestone Woods and up the rollers, where the Prof was washed away off the front and I made up good ground sliding from the back to the front of the group, swerving around the Garrulous Kid as he pulled his shoe out of his pedal bindings.

I held there until the final corner and the last series of upward drags when G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Captain Black jumped away. I hung onto their wheels until they pulled me clear of everyone else and then watched them pound away to fight for the honours, rolling up behind them.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:

Taffy Steve’s majestic, elephant’s scrotum purse made a reappearance, leading to a discussion about cycling wallets and purses in general. OGL flashed his waterproof wallet complete with British Cycling Licence, which he suggested he always carried because he was surprised how many of us went out without basic id on them and he’d been called on to try and identify a number of cyclists involved in accidents.

I remembered a cyclist just last year who was killed in Yorkshire and for about a week nobody knew who he was, only that he was a middle aged man found with a Carrera. I know there’s a bit of a bike snob in all of us, but surely his family and friends weren’t that embarrassed to own up to knowing him just because he bought his bike at Halfords?

OGL suggested he’d once even considered having his name and blood group tattooed on his bicep just for identification purposes. He didn’t quite get it when Taffy Steve and I agreed it probably wouldn’t have gone down to well with Nazi hunters and we told him he’d have to avoid holidays in Israel, while we commented on his typically Aryan, blue-eyed, blonde-haired looks. When he still didn’t catch on, I told him that the type of tattoo he described was a trademark of the SS, but he completely misunderstood and started rambling on about an ex-SAS, ex-member of the club, to much eye-rolling around the table.

The Red Max had enjoyed his holiday in Spain, riding with a few local clubs and enjoying perfect weather and hospitality. He generously offered to lend anyone his solid bike boxes too – “as long as it doesn’t clash” which Taffy Steve immediately took to mean you could put anything in them, as long as it was red.

OGL commented that one of our esteemed members, Facebook posting, carbon stress-testing, Guiness slurping, pie chomping, platter spinning, real ale swilling, curry sampling, all-azione, Thom-Thom, was off in Glasgow for the weekend, enjoying the track cycling at the Chris Hoy velodrome and indulging in the local hospitality.

I saw that he’d posted on Facebook how he was enjoying an evening curry at one particular Indian, someone had then recommended another and he’d replied along the lines of: “Good. That’s breakfast sorted then.” I like his style, but I couldn’t cope with his lifestyle.

OGL also said that he’d returned from the Braveheart ride to find G-Dawg diligently washing his bike in the hotel bath. I have to say I was completely unsurprised.


On the way home I had a chat with young-tyro, Jimmy Cornfeed, obviously about bikes, but also touching on this blog, how he didn’t seem to mind his own blog persona and how he thought the Garrulous Kid was the perfect moniker for, well the Garrulous Kid, obviously … or he did after looking up garrulous in the dictionary. There you go then, proof if ever it’s needed that my blog is not only mildly irritating entertaining, but slightly educational too.

We determined that the Garrulous Kid was particularly garrulous about sharks, which he seemed to feed randomly into any conversation whenever it was possible and appropriate (and occasionally when impossible and inappropriate.) We then decided he either had a deep fear of sharks (galeophobia, according to Mr. Google) or an unhealthy fascination with them, which I guess would make him a galeophile?

As we hit Berwick Hill, Jimmy Cornfeed took the opportunity to stretch his legs, floating effortlessly up the inside past all the stragglers and off on his own. I let him pull me across the gap and up to the front group where I dropped in behind the leading pair to find OGL growling about keeping it steady and not attacking the hill. I tried to counter by making a case for youthful enthusiasm, which I don’t have, but can at least still appreciate, but would imagine it made little impact.

Slotting in beside the Red Max for the final stretch we noticed a lone rider approaching, but still at a considerable distance and we both instantly recognised one of our own. Sure enough a wildly grinning Laurelan soon passed us, heading out as we headed back and leaving both the Red Max and me worrying about how easy it was to recognise someone just by their riding style and form on the bike.

Then we were through the Mad Mile and I was swinging off for my solo trek home. As I passed one large municipal roundabout en route, I noticed it was desultorily scattered with a few huge, tired and rather sad looking fabric poppies and I couldn’t help wonder what purpose they actually served and if the money wasted on the display wouldn’t be better donated straight to the relevant charities.

This annoyed me almost as much as the furore over FIFA stopping the national football team from playing in a one-off shirt emblazoned with a poppy. After all, can you think of any group of individuals less suited to represent the incredible heroism, bravery, stoicism and sacrifice of our military veterans than a group of millionaire dilettante sportsmen kicking an imitation pig’s bladder around a paddock? How much difference would this completely hollow, token gesture actually make to veterans and isn’t there some other, more dignified way we can commemorate their sacrifice?

How much time and money has been wasted discussing, designing, making, marketing and arguing about our football team’s right to wear these stupid shirts and how might all that time and money and effort been better spent doing something meaningful?

I’m no apologist for the ultra-corrupt, ultra-stupid FIFA, that somehow manages to make the UCI look competent, but their rules on this issue are quite clear in this instance and I for one am quite happy for them not to start blurring anymore lines.

Even more astonishingly the Football Association had already proposed such an empty gesture a few years ago and had been very firmly rebuffed, so why so recklessly disregard the past and plan the exact same thing again? Are they so bereft of creativity and wisdom that they cannot come up with anything more novel and appropriate, or are they just out to make mischief?

And finally, why does the scarily nationalistic, increasingly xenophobic, frothing-at-the-mouth British press treat this as some great indignity and national insult and feel the need to write about it with such mock outrage. Personally, I just think everyone need to get out on a bike and restore some balance, calm and consideration to their lives. Works for me.


YTD Totals: 6,093 km / 3,786 miles with 60,722 metres of climbing

Galibier Mistral Foul Weather Jacket Review


To be totally transparent from the off, I really like, own and very regularly use lots of Galibier kit including; shorts, tights, leg warmers, gloves, overshoes, a headband/bandana and a rain jacket. In fact they are responsible for my favourite lightweight gloves and their winter ones are pretty damn good too.

I find their products to be of good quality and durability at very affordable prices, although I feel they are sometimes let down by some strange aesthetic designs and decisions.

When I was looking for something a bit better at coping with the rain than the usual lightweight, waterproof but unbreathable rain jacket, they were my natural first choice.

From their website I discovered the Mistral being marketed as a foul weather jacket. This seemed to tick all the boxes in terms of breathability and triple-layer wet weather protection. Most comparable jackets were 2 or 3 times the £72 price, and the design of the Mistral promised “the wind, rain and cold protection of a jacket, but with the comfort of a jersey.”


 

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The Galibier Mistral Foul Weather Jacket

Galibier state that the specially sourced fabric of their jacket was designed for use by the German military, and given the traditional quality of German Army materiel, (think MG42 or Panzerkampwagen V), this sounded like a ringing endorsement to me.

With their usual efficient delivery service the jacket was soon in my hands. The first thing I noticed was the packaging – the Mistral came very neatly and impressively folded into its own, perfectly serviceable Galibier musette and one of their buffs was included free for good measure.

Perhaps this latter addition was Galibier’s way of addressing one of my own slight gripes with the jacket, but more of that later.


 

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Classy packaging

 

The product itself looks very well made, double-stitched throughout and with the Galibier name prominently embroidered on the left hand breast – a big quality step up from the usual short-lived, less than durable transfers they typically use to brand their gear.

In minimalist black with a contrasting red cuffs, collar and zip and a matching red “skunk stripe” down the back, the design is neat, serviceable and looks the part, although it’s not especially distinctive in either cut or colour and is never going to engender any “I want one of those” product lust.

The material of the jacket is the interesting stuff, it does feel akin to pulling on a jersey, but the fabric is thicker, somewhat stiffly elastic and quite smooth and slick to the touch.


 

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The triple membrane construction

 

There are 3 very deep pockets with reflective trim and mesh bottoms, presumably because the fabric is so waterproof water would pool in the pockets if they didn’t have an outlet.

These pockets are excellent – one of the best features of the jacket because although deep and wonderfully capacious, the taut elasticity of the fabric means they don’t lose their shape and hold everything safely and securely with very little bulging or movement. Ideal for winter rides where I tend to carry a few more tools, kit and spares.


 

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The pockets are just fabulous

 

Pulling on the jacket feels very much akin to pulling on a winter weight, race-fit jersey, and you do have to actively pull it on – it’s close cut, with no excess material to flap around in the wind. Once on it feels very warm, supportive and enfolding.

The jacket has what Galibier refer to as a diaphragm cut, quite short on the torso, so there’s no uncomfortable bunching up of loose material once you’re tucked into a riding position.

This had me somewhat self-consciously tugging the front down when I first tried the jacket on, but it comes into its own once you swing a leg over your bike. In contrast the tail is slightly dropped to give additional protection for your lower back.


 

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The cut comes into its own once you’re on the bike

 

The sleeves appear long enough to cope with even my gibbon-like limbs with material to spare, so there’s no excuse for having any annoying gap between cuff and glove. As with the body the sleeves are quite close fitting and supportive – you will inevitably have to pull them inside out as you take the jacket off.

The inner cuff, in the contrasting red fleecy material, seals the sleeves effectively from the wind, but experience has taught me these cuffs are not made of the same water resistant material as the shell, and, if accidently exposed, will soak up and retain water like a sponge.

The zipper appears to be of good, robust quality and sits in front of a windproof “storm flap” of protective material. There’s also a neat “zip garage” built into the top of the collar, which would perhaps be a good idea, except I don’t think I’ll ever use it. This is because, (my one criticism of the cut of the jacket), I find the collar too tall, restrictive and uncomfortable so never zip it fully closed. I’ve often wondered if this is a recognised shortcoming and the reason Galibier supply a free buff with the jacket!

First impressions are overwhelmingly positive, so how does the jacket actually perform?

My first few rides in the Mistral are short commutes to work where I paired the jacket with just a thin base layer. To wear, the garment is supremely comfortable, so much so that you forget that you’re actually wearing it and I can’t think of a better endorsement than that.

It’s also impressively windproof and warm – almost too warm in any temperature over 11°c to 12°c especially, though not surprisingly, when climbing hills. It also pleasingly shrugged off any showers or light rain, and when caught in a sudden downpour I could see the water beading on the surface and running away without soaking through the fabric.

I’ve since comfortably worn the jacket with a double base layer in temperatures (taking the wind chill into account) of -1°c to -2°c, and feel it will cope with just about anything the British winter can throw at me just by regulating what I wear under it.

The jacket is also highly breathable, so even if I’ve worked up a sweat I’m confident this will eventually dissipate through the material so you’re not left with a cold, clammy and chilled feeling for the rest of the ride.

My one disappointment has been with how the Mistral performed when faced with heavy and persistent rain. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect the jacket to keep me totally dry throughout the ride, but I wasn’t expecting for it to surrender quite so meekly and quickly.

To be fair I think you’d struggle to find more testing conditions than the very heavy, very persistent rain we faced on our club run of 7th November. A list of the Strava titles my companions used to label their rides may give some indication of what we faced; “Biblical Rainfall,” “Ou Est Mon Bateau?” “The Life Aquatic” and “Yo, Noah, Where Art Thou?” being just a few selections.

By the time I reached our meeting point after about an hour of riding into the downpour I could already feel cold water slowly creeping through the jacket, especially down the arms and back.

Now Galibier are perfectly honest and don’t claim that the Mistral is 100% waterproof, in fact there website clearly states that “The softshell is highly water resistant, but due to the superior body stretch of the material, the seams cannot be internally taped, so in a downpour, the rain will eventually get through.”

This being the case it makes me wonder why they then inserted the contrasting red skunk stripe down the back of the jacket, effectively adding two full length, unprotected seams to one of the most exposed areas and sacrificing functionality for aesthetics.

After another couple of hours of prolonged, unrelenting driving rain and high pressure road spray, the Mistral was pretty much soaked through and everything under it was decidedly damp. The jacket was surprisingly heavy when I took it off in the café to try and let my inner layers dry out a little, and not particularly comfortable to pull on again when it was time to leave. Despite this however it did serve its primary function – keeping me warm throughout the ride.

In conclusion then, the Galibier Mistral is a well-made, very competitively priced and supremely comfortable winter jacket. Although it isn’t going to keep you dry in the most demanding of conditions it should be able to cope with all but the heaviest rainfall and, no matter what, will remain windproof and keep you reasonably warm.


 

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The Mistral jacket, not quite as waterproof as I would have liked, but fast becoming an essential piece of winter kit

 

I’m happy enough with its water-resistant properties enough to forgo carrying a separate waterproof, although I would probably look for a different solution or additional protection if I’m likely to face prolonged and very heavy rain throughout a ride.

Its versatility has meant that I’ve pretty much abandoned all other winter jackets in favour of my Mistral and I guess that means I’ll soon find out how durable it is too.


Mistral foul weather jacket – £72.00 from Galibier (www.galibier.cc)

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All photos from galibier.cc