Chattering Classes

Chattering Classes

Club Run, Saturday 13th January, 2018            

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    103 km / 55 miles with 1,082 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            4 hours 21 minutes

Average Speed:                                   23.5 km/h

Group size:                                          20 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                     7°C

Weather in a word or two:             Mild


 

2018 1
Ride Profile

A relatively mild, dry and wind free day was promised, as I headed along the valley on my way across to the meeting point for the club run. The open sky was thickly layered and muffled in grey cloud which became suffused in muted, pale colours as the sun slowly leeched away the darkness.

The cloud filtered and muddied the colours, like looking at the world through Old English Spangles rather than just Spangles, although, I’m sure by now most of you are scratching your heads and wondering what the hell I’m talking about …

As I pushed along, two consequences of my pre-Christmas commuting tumble on the ice became evident. The first was that the replacement saddle and new seatpost weren’t quite dialled in right. The saddle in particular looked level, but must have been infinitesimally tilted up at the nose, and I felt like I was constantly slipping off the back and having to adjust my position.

The other was, that somewhere on the ride across, the hairline fissure in the rear mudguard opened to become a yawning chasm as the back half slipped down. Now, whenever the road surface became rough, the two halves would bang together, like the manic chattering of a demonically possessed skull.

It was a sound that unfortunately was going to accompany for the entire ride, an audible indicator of the poor state of Northumberland’s roads, or, another blast-from-the-past, like riding behind someone with an annoying Clackers obsession. No, that’s not a euphemism.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

At the meeting point I raised and adjusted the saddle. It helped a little and would get me round, but it still wasn’t quite right. There was nothing I could do about the infernal chattering of the mudguard though. I’d just have to live with that, along with every other unfortunate rider I shared the road with.

I learned that last week’s ride had been enlivened when, in attempting to unclip from his pedal, G-Dawg had instead managed to detach the entire pedal from his bike, and it came away still firmly latched to the sole of his shoe. His ride home had then been a largely one-legged, imbalanced, lop-sided affair, trying not to put too much force through a hastily jury-rigged repair. This in turn had led to strange muscular aches and pains over the next few days as his body tried to recover from its unusual ordeal.

 I suggested that in the aftermath he must have looked like a drunken sailor, rolling down the gangplank for 4-days shore leave and he confirmed he’d spent several days inadvertently walking round in circles and had to tack to get anywhere.

The rise in temperature from the sub-Arctic to heady, shockingly temperate and mild, encouraged lots of crazy talk of best bikes and shorts. Seriously? I know it was probably 6 or 7° warmer than it had been last week, but the temperature was still firmly sunk into single figures. Surely we haven’t become all that toughened and inured to the cold?

I know for a fact that I haven’t, besides I’m not convinced the winter is quite done with us yet.

OGL turned up, sorely vexed that promising young gun, Jimmy Cornfeed has officially left our club to follow in the footsteps of the likes of zeB and the Monkey Butler Boy. Somehow OGL refuses to see that our “one-speed to suit all” club runs simply aren’t going to be challenging enough for anyone with a modicum of youth and fitness, or the slightest competitive impulses and ambitions.

I told him I thought the move was entirely predictable and I was just surprised it hadn’t happened sooner, after all what youngster wants to ride with a bunch of auld gits who can remember a world without Doritos, Twister, Tippex or the Toyota Corolla… you know what I mean, don’t you, the kind of person who references Clackers … or even Old English Spangles …

Displaying the patience of a soon-to-be martyred saint, Benedict tried a reasoned approach with OGL, suggesting we have the abilities and capabilities to change things up and could do much more to support youngsters or novice riders. His suggestions were washed away in a tsunami of derision, invective, rose-tinted nostalgia, recriminations and obdurate, self-righteous certainty. Plus ca change …

And so we trundle on and nothing fundamentally changes, besides a rising tide of general disgruntlement on all sides. It would appear we’ve wholeheartedly embraced Einstein’s view of insanity and are doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.

Still, showing us it is possible to change and old dawgs can learn new tricks, along with replacement pedals, G-Dawg’s fixie was improbably sporting a brand new set of mudguards! Crazy Legs said he thought hell would freeze over before he witnessed such a thing, while I was simply too shocked to comment, quite literally gobsmacked to use the local parlance. 

G-Dawg’s plan for the day was also to have a novel twist at the end, proposing a much travelled route, right up until the bottom of Middleton Bank, where we would take a sharp right and then climb up by a slightly different route.

The mild weather had drawn a reasonable crowd out, with 20 riders formed up and ready to go. We pushed off, clipped in and rolled out.


Things were progressing smoothly as we spun up Berwick Hill in a compact whirring mass, but a right turn at the top and a shallow, but long and winding descent naturally had the group more strung out. This apparently though translated to everyone being “all over the road” and elicited generally incomprehensible bellows of complaint.

“Oh, we’ll,” the Colossus countered sarcastically, “We’ll just turn gravity off, shall we?

Caracol and Crazy Legs ceded the front to G-Dawg and Zardoz, who in turn, eventually ceded to the Colossus and me and we called a brief pit stop beside Tranwell airfield before pressing on. As another long descent strung us out we zipped past a dog-walker who pulled two massive Rottweilers to the side of the road and swung his legs over them as we zipped past. I’m pretty sure he was simply trying to corral his dogs, but it looked like he was preparing to ride them back up the hill.

I wondered aloud if G-Dawg’s Labradors would make good sled dogs. The Colossus decided they would, but being Labradors, if you harnessed them to a bike, they’d probably take off in two completely different directions at once.

We now found ourselves on the long, hated drag up to Dyke Neuk, where we stopped to split the group, losing a handful to a harder, faster, longer slog up to Rothley crossroads, while the rest of us pushed on toward Hartburn. A further splinter group then took a left to head through Angerton, while the rest pushed on to Middleton Bank.

Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs decided to forgo the pleasure of G-Dawg’s route-wrinkle, pressing straight on for Middleton Bank. I found myself joining them on impulse. The Garrulous Kid tagged along and the four of us started the climb as the others turned off at the foot of the hill.

As we swept past Bolam Lake, Crazy Legs asked the Garrulous Kid to do a turn on the front and, very reluctantly, he pulled out, rode up to the front … and then charged off into the distance. Hmm, not quite what Crazy Legs had in mind.

Sneaky Pete took over on the front of our small group and we began to track our errant escapee. As we swept through Milestone Wood, I took over, attacking up the rollers to catch the Garrulous Kid, who immediately sat up and drifted back to latch on to a rear wheel.


rrREC017_Moment2


I pulled us over the last slope, down the dip and up toward the final climb. All the while, my rear mudguard chittered and chattered away, providing a manic commentary to the ride, like chimp on speed. I wasn’t going to be sneaking up behind anyone today.

As I rounded the last corner, the Garrulous Kid, with supreme predictability, jumped away again and I let him go, sliding back onto Sneaky Pete’s wheel as we bounced and jolted our way upwards over the broken and distressed road surface.

As the last few ramps unfolded, I increased the tempo and started to reel in the Kid, but I’d left it too late and ran out of road, so had to sit up just before I caught his rear wheel.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café, Crazy Legs tried to explain to the Garrulous Kid some of the niceties of group riding and in particular doing a bit of work to everyone else’s benefit. What others might see as blatant wheel-sucking though, the Garrulous Kid considers as his evil genius and supreme tactical nous.

I can only refer him to Velominati Rule #67 and hope he learns to leave his crass, callow and embarrassing behaviour behind:

Rule #67 // Do your time in the wind.

Nobody likes a wheel sucker. You might think you’re playing a smart tactical game by letting everyone else do the work while you sit on, but races (even Town Sign Sprints) are won through cooperation and spending time on the rivet, flogging yourself and taking risks. Riding wheels and jumping past at the end is one thing and one thing only: poor sportsmanship.

At the table, every time the Garrulous Kid tried to interrupt Crazy Legs evoked the spirit of Marcel Marceau and simply mimed being trapped in a glass cube, where annoying external sounds simply couldn’t penetrate to disturb his serenity.

This gave me a chance to trot out the old joke about whether you had to use a silencer if you wanted to assassinate a mime and Crazy Legs countered with the best Dad joke I’ve heard in a long while – how do you kill a circus? Go straight for the juggler. Ba-boom! (See, youngsters like Jimmy Cornfeed just can’t cope with these levels of mature, highly sophisticated mirth. No wonder they have to leave our club.)

Sneaky Pete mentioned he’d found a café called Teacake Max out on the coast and wondered if anyone had visited. We applauded the name, but for me it still doesn’t quite beat Sunderland’s Fausto Coffee cycling café. Meanwhile I warned my fellow riders away from the Pedalling Squares café, as Thing#1 was working there on a trial basis.

Crazy Legs has been told he bears a passing resemblance to the actor Dennis Lawson, a much better shout than some of the wholly improbable, “don’t you think he looks like …” statements that the Garrulous Kid comes up with. The Garrulous Kid tried Googling images of Dennis Lawson, but his phone seemed to take forever to conduct even a simple online search. This, he stated was because he only had “Free G” – I guess that’s what you have to accept when you don’t pay for your phone service…

The acting chops of Samuel L. Jackson came up in conversation and Crazy Legs suggested his greatest movie role (yet) had to be Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.

“But, but,” The Garrulous Kid protested, “Wasn’t he in Night at the Museum?”

Finally, as we were leaving, the Garrulous Kid finally managed to pique Crazy Legs’ interest with a fact about the discovery of fossilised bacteria on Mars. I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t fake news to rank alongside his contention that Donald Trump is reinstating national service, and because he was born in Norf Carolina and holds dual passports, the Garrulous Kid is in danger of being forcefully conscripted into Uncle Sam’s armed forces. (Remember, he’s already told me he would excel in the military as he’s, like a very stable, tactical genius.)

Despite it’s uncertain veracity, Crazy Legs determined that the statement about life on Mars was possibly the most interesting thing the Garrulous Kid had ever said – and charged him to come up with another interesting factoid for next week.

There was only time then for the Kid to unwisely insult the Colossus by referring to him as Ginger Ben and then we were out and gathering to head home. A pensioner volunteered to start us off with a wave of her walking stick and away we rolled.


Everything split on the reverse climb back up Berwick Hill and I managed to tag onto the back of the front group as we crested the top, hanging there until we entered the Mad Mile when G-Dawg, Caracol, the Colossus and Cow Ranger lined it out in a last mad dash and I was cut adrift to pick my own way home.

I rattled, clattered, clanged and chattered my way to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before taking a slight detour to call into Pedalling Squares to see how Thing#1 was getting on. They asked her back to work on the Sunday as well, so I guess she did ok.

Then, fuelled by one of Pedalling Square’s excellent espresso’s, I pushed up the hill and home to end my first club run of 2018.


YTD Totals: 215 km / 134 miles with 2,808 metres of climbing

 

Diadora Polarex Plus Review

Diadora Polarex Plus Review

Should there be such a thing as an avid and attentive SLJ reader (and Lord, have mercy on their soul) they may recall that last year, when I published my Tips for Winter Riding, I mentioned that I was keen to try proper winter boots, instead of different combinations of various shoes, socks, overshoes and ad hoc barriers such as tin foil, cling film or Asda carrier bags. (Other brands are available).

That was well over a year ago. Shortly afterwards, I did indeed buy a pair of boots, which I guess you could say have been thoroughly field-tested in some horrible conditions, and through the worst of what the North East weather can throw at cyclists. There is then nothing to stop me reporting on my impressions of these boots, except my own inherent laziness, so let me finally try and correct that…

My boots of choice were Diadora Polarex Plus shoes. I bought these as an early Christmas present to myself and then negotiated extra-special dispensation from Mrs. SLJ to use them straightaway, rather than wrapping them up and hiding them under the Christmas tree while my feet froze on winter rides.


BLAFLU


I got the boots for what I thought was a reasonably discounted price of about £70, from the Sport Pursuit website. I think this was around half-price at the time, they now seem to retail for just over £100, although I have, rather inexplicably, also seen them advertised for as much as £350!

While these Diadora Polarex Plus shoes form the basis of this review, in the wider scheme of things, I wasn’t so much interested in this particular brand, rather the concept of winter boots in general and how they compare with the alternatives. In this I’m assuming that similar winter boots, from Shimano, Gaerne, Mavic, Lake and Northwave et al, do pretty much the same thing.

I’ve had, and been happy with, 2 or 3 pairs of Diadora cycling shoes in the past and they’ve all seemed decently solid and reasonably priced, so I never felt I was stepping into the unknown with these boots. My usual, size 43, weren’t in stock, so I went for a 44, that proved a fortuitous choice. Diadora shoes are not the most generous of fits, and the little bit of extra room in the 44 size gives me a bit more comfort and allows for a little wiggle room – even with thick or double-layered socks.

I went with the version of the boot, which comes with a heavily rubberised Duratech sole, based on Diadora’s high-end, mountain bike shoes. In direct violation of Velominati Rule # 34 (Mountain bike shoes and pedals have their place. On a mountain bike) I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter and commuting bike, as the recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.

The value of my choice was illustrated a couple of years ago, when we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood, as a felled tree blocked the road, and then again on a ride which ended in a snowstorm, when I had to push the bike uphill on the pavement 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 slippers, with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.

It should be noted that, for the ultra-orthodox Velominati out there, Diadora also produce a road version, with a beautiful carbon-weave sole. I’m sure its impressively stiff, but I couldn’t attest to its durability. Still, even without the exotic carbon sole, my boots weigh in at happily light 400 grams, or so.

Technically the Duratech Rubber sole of the mountain bike version of the boots is rated as a 6 on Diadora’s 10-point stiffness index, whatever that means. In practical terms, I’ve found the boots to be extremely comfortable to walk in and haven’t noticed any flex when pedalling, although I’d be first to admit my feeble power output would be unlikely to trouble wet cardboard.

The chunky, heavily lugged, sole provides impressive levels of grip, which I’m sure would be a real boon out on a trail, or slipping and sliding on a cyclo-cross course. And, while the sole seems stiff and doesn’t flex, the studs and crenellations on the bottom are a soft, flexible rubber that does give, and aids walking.


diadora_polarexplus_0001


The boots came with a couple of rubberised strips to place over the cleat holes. I’m still not certain what their purpose is, I’ve never used them and haven’t missed them. I would be interested to know what the hell they’re for though, so if anyone can enlighten me …

The outside of the boot is constructed with “element-proof” Suprell-Tech. It’s matt-black and has a warm, rubberised feel to it. As well as being impressively waterproof, it seems to be extremely durable and the boots look little different now, to when I first unboxed them, even after a year and a half use, riding in some ultra-tough weather conditions.

They’re  a doddle to clean too, a quick wipe down with a wet sponge will usually do the trick, or, if muddy and “crudded” over, I just wash them in the kitchen sink, using a bit of dishwash detergent.

Appearance is subtly understated, as mentioned before a dull, stealth-black upper, enlivened only by a stiff, gloss protective heel cup embellished with red, white and green tricolore “beads” and the Diadora swoosh(?) on the outside of the toe, with the brand name on the inside. These are picked out in a high-viz green, which I think has been replaced on the latest version with white brand name and mark, or maybe that’s the distinguishing feature of the road version?

The boots have a wire boa closure, the first pair of shoes I’ve owned that uses this system. I have to admit that, despite my initial scepticism, I find these really excellent. They’re simple to use and adjust, and it’s really easy to dial in a good fit. Most importantly the reels and wires seem super-durable. Two strong, practical, reflective nylon loops on the rear help pull the boots on and off.

Around the ankle cuff, the rubberised Suprell-Tech gives way to a padded, neoprene cuff with a Velcro style strap-fastener. This is, if you’ll pardon the analogy, is the Achilles heel of the shoes and the only possible way I’ve found for water to get in, either because the strap isn’t tight enough, or in an extreme and very prolonged deluge, when it simply soaks through your tights and seeps down inside the boots.

(For this reason, in extreme conditions, Crazy Legs – who might not actually be a crazy as his name suggests – often uses tights with stirrups on that he can wear outside his (Shimano?) winter boots.)

If I had one criticism of the Diadora boots, it would be that the ankle cuff could have been a little deeper, reach higher up the calf and afford just a little more protection. (I think the Diadora boots are perhaps the shortest of those available.)

Aside from this, the  boots are, to all intents and purposes, watertight – to a much, much more impressive degree than any shoe, overshoe and waterproof sock combination that I’ve ever tried. On a number of occasions when riding through flooded roads, with the water lapping around my wheel hubs, I’ve escaped with completely dry feet and I’ve now joined the ranks of other, smug boot-wearers, who laugh at our miserable fellow cyclists with their water-logged shoes, cold and wet soggy socks and incipient trench foot.

According to the blurb, the inside of the Polarex shoes are lined with Diadora’s Diatex waterproof membrane and a soft, thermal lining for insulation. This inside lining has a fuzzy, fleecy feel that’s warm and comfortable and seems to provide a good degree of insulation.

I seldom wear more than a single pair of thermal socks with the boots, even in temperatures down to, or below freezing. While my toes can occasionally get cold, especially on longer rides, it’s never that debilitating, frozen feeling when everything becomes painfully numb and you scream like a little girl in the shower afterwards, as the blood comes boiling back into your frozen extremities. (Don’t deny it, we’ve all been there.)

Now, having tried winter boots I would struggle to go back to shoes and overshoes. They really did exceed all my expectations, and I consider them money very well spent. I also don’t think the price is too off-putting, especially if you take into account the cost of a decent pair of (still inferior) overshoes, which I used to continuously find myself replacing, as they never seem to last more than a year or two.

As for the Diadora Polarex version of a winter boot, should my current pair ever need replacing, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the same again. Luckily, as I mentioned previously, my current pair still look as good as new and I can’t help but feel they’re going to keep my feet dry and toasty for a good while yet.


 

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.