Autumn and winter cycling and commuting

Autumn cyclepath
I’m still seeing lots of people cycling in September. Great! People seem to have really got into cycling in the UK in the summer and the continued dry, warm weather is helping. People are out early in the morning when I’m training and in the evening when I’m riding home from work. Lots of these cyclists have bags on their backs so they’re in the habit of cycling to work and home again. Running alongside some atrocious traffic this morning (the kids are back at school and this is now “normal traffic”) cycling has got to be a better way of commuting. Especially with all the great cycle paths we have in South Wales. Sometimes following a cycle path might give you a longer route but in many cases it’s even shorter than driving as they follow old railway routes.
When autumn comes it’s going to get colder, and then wetter, and then darker. One advantage of shorter days and darker mornings is that for many mornings on the bike you’ll get to see the sunrise without having to get up early. Sunrise on the bike with no traffic and none of that horrible glare or reflections from the glass in your car makes for a proper sunrise. Sunrise in a car is annoying. Sunrise on the bike is lovely. It’ll put a smile on your face. A sunrise seen between misty trees when cycling through the woods or the sun rising over the sea’s horizon is a great start to your day.

The cold is easy to manage. Get some good quality long fingered gloves, a thin hat to cover your ears (they hurt when it’s really cold) and fit under your helmet, and many of the layers you already own will work just fine on the bike. You may find you want some thinner, well fitting layers but keep cycling as it cools and see how the stuff you have works.
We will have some rainy days but from spending a lot of time outside and living in South Wales for 20 years I’ve found that it never truly rains all day. You will get wet cycling in to work some mornings, and it is tricky for many people to find somewhere to dry their kit before cycling home again. A couple of things can help here. You can plan ahead and find somewhere to dry stuff. If you’re in a shared office wet cycling stuff drying on radiators can be a bit stinky, but there may be a room out of the way somewhere that you could place some chairs in or something to hang your kit off. If you keep a small towel or two at work you can place one under your drying stuff to catch the drips. In the university we have some rooms with freezers in that get nice and warm. Creating a small space in there to leave damp kit means it will be nice and warm and dry by the time I leave. We also have some nice shower rooms with warm rooms to leave towels and clothes so we’re well looked after.
Another nuclear dawn
The other thing you can do is keep some spare dry cycling stuff at work. It doesn’t take up much space and when you do get wet you’ll have some dry stuff ready to ride home in and you can leave your damp stuff to dry for a couple of days. It should be good to go again by then. Bear in mind that if you get some really good waterproofs (jacket, trousers, overshoes) your clothes shouldn’t get too wet and should dry quickly. Most of the rain gets in around your neck. Get yourself one of those cycling caps with a little peak. They’re great in the rain as they keep the rain out of your face and off your glasses. They really do change the way it feels to ride in the rain.
Considering rain, if you’re looking at buying some gloves for the autumn consider a waterproof pair. Good gloves that let your hands get wet become no use at all. Have a look at Sealskinz’s stuff. They’ll get your fingers and toes through the winter.
We’ll see some sunrises and we’ll see some sunsets. But then the days will become so short that we’ll start riding to work in the dark and later we’ll be riding home in the dark too. You’ll need some good lights and bike lighting technologies have never been better. The stuff I used to have to struggle with in training is long gone and all today’s lights use super bright LEDs with huge beams and long battery lives. It’s getting cheaper too. You can pick up many different types of high quality rear light for less than £15 and these things are really waterproof, easy to fit, and last for ages. The range of front lights available is much broader and the high end stuff turns night into day. I used to worry about riding in lanes in winter evenings and being blinded by the main beam lights of cars. Now I worry about blinding car drivers. I use lights by Hope that are beautifully engineered and produce more than enough light for riding through dark wooded cycle paths and unlit roads. Cars see me. This can be a significant expense, as can really good quality waterproofs, but if you use them daily instead of driving you’ll still be saving money as this stuff lasts for years. The Hope service department have really looked after me well.
Autumn is the most beautiful time of the year for cycling. It’s better than the summer in many ways with the changing colours of the trees and landscape. Watch out for the slippery leaves but keep going, never stop. If you keep cycling through the autumn and winter not only will you keep hold of your fitness but it will keep developing. You’ll start next year in really good shape and you’ll earn that cake. Go shopping for some good kit. Oh and mudguards. Mudguards are good.
Winter riding
See this other article about riding when it gets really cold: How to stay warm on the bike.