Sarah Flynn from the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) has teamed up with Beryl to bring a guide for Londoners looking to keep riding through autumn and winter.
Autumn can be one of the best times of year to ride a bike – the rich colours in parks, the sunsets as you ride home, the illuminated streets even some extra space on busy cycle tracks.
Shorter evenings, however, and changeable weather conditions encourage some to roll their wheels from the road to the shed. But we think autumn is a great time to stay on your bike. With some simple, easy tips, you can make cycling this autumn just as comfortable and pleasant as summer and enjoy London in all its autumnal glory!
Layers are a cyclist’s best friend. Sticking with a combination of a few lighter layers will help retain your body temperature without overheating. A good trick is to get dressed, then before leaving the house, remove one layer and stash it in your bag.
If you tend to get cold fingers and toes, invest in some merino wool socks and glove liners. We’re a fan of liners as they’re layers for your hands. Great for chilly autumn riding, and when the temperature really drops, simply pop your waterproof gloves on top and you’ve got a recipe for warm, dry fingers.
A waterproof and breathable jacket will do a good job at keeping out the weather. Materials like Gortex, Sympatex, and Entrant are both waterproof and breathable, enabling you to stay dry and not get sweaty.
Though admittedly not the most stylish, most regular winter commuters keep a pair of waterproof over-trousers in their panniers or bag. You can also buy over-shoes for the occasional heavy downpour. You’ll thank yourself when you arrive to your destination dry and happy.
Mudguards are also an essential piece of kit for keeping you dry on the bike, not to mention the fellow riders behind you! There are a number of different options, from light-touch Ass Savers to snap on guards to more permanent fits, but understandably you’ll sacrifice some functionality for the easier set ups.
As the daylight wanes, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself commuting in the dark. Reflective materials on your clothing or bike can help to make you more visible to other road users. Besides a jacket or vest, reflectives on moving parts (like your legs or wheels) are also a solid choice. However, reflective materials only work well at night when they can reflect other beams of light.
During the daytime, opt for colours that contrast with the surrounding environment to make sure you stand out. It goes without saying that a good set of lights is essential for autumn and winter cycling. As a general rule, pick lights that offer flashing modes, as that will help make sure you stand out as a cyclist amongst the other road users.
Using a second, static rear light alongside your flashing light helps drivers judge their distance from you. We offer a free set of Beryl Pixel lights for new and referring members, or you can pick up your own on their website or in cycling shops across the country.
While cycling is statistically a safe mode of transportation, it never hurts to refresh on the basics to ensure you’re aware of the greater risks that do exist, whatever the season. In terms of seasonal-specific safety advice, however, one thing we do recommend is to avoid rolling through piles of leaves, as you never know what might be underneath and it can be a recipe for punctures.
Autumn also means changeable weather conditions, so watch out for drain covers, leaves and other non-tarmac surfaces in wet conditions, as they can get really slippery.
When riding on the roads, keep your distance from HGVs, particularly those with high cabs. Beware of left turning lorries as driver visibility is low to the left and immediately in front of the cab and ensure that when riding you are positioned with enough space behind or in front of the lorry so the driver can see you. You can check out LCC’s Lorry Safety Project website for more tips and information on cycling safely near lorries.
Another good piece of advice to keep in mind is to ride at least one metre out from parked cars to avoid the dreaded “dooring” scenario. Don’t be afraid to “take the lane” – cycling in an assertive position in the middle of the lane can help make sure you are seen by other road users, and also prevents drivers from overtaking where the road is too narrow or it’s unsafe to do so.
If you’re looking to brush up on your skills, Urban or Advanced Cycle Skills training sessions are available to everyone who lives, works or studies in London, and they’re usually free.
Your bike is a living, breathing, conscious being. OK, maybe that’s not true but we think bikes are brilliant and we hope you do too. Taking care of them doesn’t have to be a hassle and with a few simple tips, you can ensure you’re rolling smoothly all year long.
Regarding autumn/ winter specific maintenance, we recommend some small tweaks, like swapping over from dry to wet lube, as it’s more viscous and therefore won’t wash away in the rain. Just try not to go crazy, little and often is the key!
On rainy days, you may want to run your tyre pressure at the lower end of the recommend pressure range (this can be found on the sidewall of your tyre) to provide you with more grip on the roads. When it’s wet or snowy, slapping on some mudguards help protect you, your bike and the riders behind you from the grit and grime on the roads. All of these simple fixes will give you better grip and stop you from sliding around on the roads.
And while we know no one wants to hear this, with the wetter weather your bike will need to be cleaned more often. One particularly important part of the bike to check more frequently is your brake pads as these will wear out quicker from the water, grit and mud on the road. If you’re not too keen on doing the dirty work yourself, or don’t have the space, there are a number of services that offer a pick-up and clean service.
While we’ll admit autumn ultimately means winter is coming, we encourage you to make the most of it. Autumn means a change of scenery for London’s landscape, beautiful foliage and a chance to take in the capital while most others are prepping for hibernation. London parks are an absolute must in the autumn, and most will allow cycling on some paths.
But why go it alone? Join a community led ride (LCC’s local groups offer a wide range of London-based and outer London led rides) or link up with the dozens of active cycling clubs across London catering to all kinds of cyclists, from total novices to racers to tourers, BMX riders, women, BAME, disabled cyclists, children, families…there’s something out there for everyone.
Even when commuting, think about opting for the slower, but more attractive routes along canals or choose some back streets over the main roads and give yourself a quiet moment to take in the sights and smells unique to this magical time of year.
Simply put, we hope you choose to stay on the road. Try not to think of the end of summer as an end to cycling, but rather the start of something new. Sure – your morning preparation in the autumn and winter might mean a few less minutes asleep in bed, but we reckon the fun you’ll have will far outweigh the effort.
Make the most of it – the changing of the leaves, the quiet, frosty mornings, the excuse for extra stops to fill up on cake and a hot bevvy at the weekend. Whatever the weather, we think London is always better by bike.
LCC is a charity working to make cycling safer; to get more Londoners cycling, and to bring more high-quality space for cycling to London. Members automatically get free third-party insurance, the London Cyclist magazine and a huge package of perks and discounts. And, if you join and support LCC this autumn & winter, you’ll even get a free set of Beryl Pixel bike lights. Visit lcc.org.uk/brighter for more.