Top tips for Autumn Cycling
We usually enjoy a relatively benign autumn this year, but eventually the clocks will go back and we will once again be plunged into those darker, murkier days, so if you are still rolling around in your summer bibs, you’ll soon be placing them in hibernation for the winter months
The autumn months can be schizophrenic in nature – blue skies one moment, torrential rain the next, so never is it more important for the road cyclist to be meticulously prepared for changing weather patterns. Factor in the increased detritus and hedge clippings on the road surface and it’s easy for the unprepared to be found wanting. Encroaching cold and treacherous roads have a nasty habit of exploiting the exposed and vulnerable.
Advances in fabric technology in recent years has resulted in a vast selection of highly technical garments that are brilliantly suited for autumn riding, offering protection from the elements, yet still providing high levels of comfort, breathability and performance.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing goes the saying and planning ahead is imperative in autumn. Check the weather forecast and choose your wardrobe accordingly.
Overdress on a warm day and you’ll be uncomfortable; under dress and you’ll be fighting the elements – and there is only going to be one winner. Effective combinations of clothing is the key to success – base layers, arm and knee warmers come into their own in autumn and always remember that the last thing you put on will be the first thing you take off once your body warms.
Buying things towards the cheaper end of the market can be a false economy and good quality gear is invariably manufactured using high performance textiles that ensure maximum comfort. Furthermore, the design, cut and simply the way the garments are sewn together are all aimed to make the clothes function perfectly and specifically for the road cyclist and they will last longer too, keeping their shape and colour. Layers of badly fitting, roughly sewn clothes can make riding in the colder months a painful experience in all the wrong places!
So, getting your clothing selection right is autumn is a priority. A rule of thumb is to protect your core and extremities. If they are warm and shielded from the elements then you are going to be riding in relative comfort. Get your wardrobe selection right and autumn riding is arguably the best season for cycling.
When the temperatures have fallen to the point where only the masochists continue to wear fingerless gloves, wear a pair of lightweight full fingered gloves – preferably a pair that utilises a windproof membrane to guard against low temperatures. If you intend to ride in the rain and wet, a more robust, waterproof pair is worth investing in. Cold hands are one thing, cold wet hands can be debilitating. Whichever pair you opt for, ensure they have a good grip and are not so bulky that they impede your finger movement – losing control of your bike is not an option.
Gore Wear C5 GWS Gloves are a great autumn option – lightweight, ergonomic fit and incorporating Gore’s premium Windstopper fabric on the outer side, to ensure the worst autumn chills don’t freeze your digits.
Naturally wicking, a pair of merino wool socks are not only luxuriant, but will insulate even when wet. Your family will also appreciate your choice of merino, as it also does a good job at managing odour too. Endura’s luxuriant BaaBaa merino socks are a great option, but man made textiles can mimic natural fibre though and the Prendas autumn/early winter ThermoCool-Carbon Socks are a cheap, but effective option.
A lightweight overshoe or oversock will not only help to keep your feet dry, but protect your sparkling pair of white Sidis from road spittle. Keep your heavy duty overshoes locked up until the thermometer is nearer zero – in autumn temperatures they will only make your feet overheat which, on long rides, is going to make life uncomfortable, both during and after your ride.
A lightweight pair of waterproof overshoes, such as the new RaceAqua X Overshoe from Danish accessory specialist, GripGrab, are perfect for riding in changeable conditions.
Arm and Knee Warmers
Arm warmers and knee warmers bring a versatility to your autumn kit and also prolong the use of your short sleeve jerseys and bib shorts. They will keep that early morning chill at bay, but if the temperature or your body warmth increases, then they are easily removed and stored to regulate your temperature. Arm warmers especially, are an essential piece of clothing to counter fluctuating weather conditions.
Again, go for quality – a windproof or water resistant fabric will increase the cost a little, but provide that extra bit of protection against autumnal rain and cold. Ensure they come with decent hem grips to stop them slipping down and the stitching is not going to irritate the crook of your arm or behind your knees. Some examples have an ergonomic, articulated construction, which ensures a snug fit.
As the names suggests, Gripgrab’s AquaRepel Arm Warmers and Leg Warmers provide a good level of water resistance and a windproof front panel mitigates against the chill of cold winds.
Your head is one of the most exposed areas of your body and the push for ever more light and vented helmets means that air flow over your head is unrestricted. A cycling cap is a great option in the autumn – providing a little warmth and when worn with the peak down will help to protect your eyes from both rain and low sun. Autumnal weather rarely calls for a thermal hat, but a headband or cap will certainly help redress the balance, yet still allow your scalp to breathe, and can be stuffed into a pocket when the sun finally breaks through.
Rapha’s Pro Team Shadow Hat benefits from a water resistant fabric and a clear visor to aid visibility.
Keeping your core protected from the elements is vital elements, but it’s important that its temperature is well regulated, so wear a good baselayer – a synthetic or merino wool vest is adequate for the cooler months. Naturally wicking, soft on the skin – pull on a merino baselayer and you have the right foundations in place. (Please check out the comments below from members on the benefits of using a synthetic base layer for higher intensity rides).
On milder autumn days a short sleeve jersey, with the addition of arm warmers is going to suffice., but on colder autumn rides a long sleeve jersey is preferable and the choice available to cyclists has exploded over recent years, with new manufactures arriving on the scene to compete with the more established brands. There are styles out there to suit all tastes, from retro to striking and colourful designs and most manufacturers will offer both a standard long sleeve jersey and also others that utilise Roubaix fabrics for extra warmth.
Invest in a good gilet – again, it is a garment that provides versatility. Perfect for taking the edge off that early morning chill, but lightweight enough to be stashed away. Go for a windproof version at the very least and ideally one which is water repellent and has some venting at the back to ensure you don’t overheat too quickly.
The beauty of a gilet is that the lightweight versions can be popped into a rear pocket (or even folded neatly and stuffed down the back of your shorts) to be pulled out if the temperature drops or the rain begins to fall. The penchant over the last couple of seasons for fluro colours means that there are now several hi-viz gilets on the market, which bearing in mind that you are more likely to be wearing these in murkier conditions, also adds to the benefits of having one to hand.
A last note on buying a gilet. Always double check the gilet has storage – some brands, especially those that herald from the Continent, tend not to. So if you anticipate carrying accessories or fuel on your body, then you could be disappointed to find your brand new gilet has no pockets!
During the seasons when light levels can fall suddenly or fluctuate, visibility is an obvious concern, especially if riding alone on rural roads. Rapha’s Brevet range of clothing is primarily aimed at the long distance Audax cyclist, but is proving to be popular with their customers who want to ensure that they are as visible as possible to other road users. Reflective detailing is a hallmark of the range and their long sleeve Brevet Jersey features reflective bands around the torso and plenty of storage for longer rides in the cold.
The launch of Castelli’s Gabba jersey in 2011 ushered in a turning point in autumn (and spring) riding. Castelli collaborated with Gore to develop the 4-way stretch Windstopper X-Lite Plus windproof and waterproof fabric, which is what marked this close fitting, race cut jersey out from those produced by its rivals.
The Gabba was quickly adopted by the pro peloton – a sure sign of a products success – and now several manufacturers have produced Gabba inspired jerseys, as detailed in our feature on the proliferation of ‘rain jerseys’ on the market. Furthermore, as new fabrics are developed, garments are becoming increasingly season specific – the Castelli Perfetto Jersey being a case in point – a sort of Gabba-lite, ideal for milder autumn and spring days where the threat of rain is a certainty.
dhb’s Aeron Rain Defence Jersey is one of the latest ‘rain jerseys’ to come on the market.
Always carry a lightweight waterproof if is likely you will encounter some showers. At 50g the Sportful Hot Pack Ultralight Jacket claims to be the lightest on the market. It is on the pricey side, but is windproof and water repellent. Bear in mind that if you are caught in a sudden shower then a quality waterproof could be the difference between an epic ride and a miserable one. Ensure that cuffs and collars are all tight, without being uncomfortable. For more information on what attributes to look for, check out our feature on Five of the Best Packable Waterproofs.
A standard pair of shortspaired with knee warmers will be adequate from most on a milder autumn day, but if you want a little more protection around your kidneys and groin, then many manufacturers now offer thermal or water resistant bib shorts, specifically for autumn/spring riding. If you tend to feel the cold, then you can always reach for your bib tights, but a decent pair of thermal or water resistant short, coupled with a complimentary leg warmer, will see most riders through the worst autumnal weather.
The Fiandre No-Rain Bib Shorts from Italian brand Sportful, sister company of Castelli, provide an effective barrier against the wet at an affordable price for such a technically advanced piece of kit.
Be seen! Invest in some high visibility or fluro clothing. If you are averse to wearing a full, high visibility jacket then the recent fashion for fluro colours means that there is a plethora of hi-viz accessories from overshoes to arm warmers out there that allow you to create an accent of bright colour without compromising your sartorial flair.
Murky mornings, damp misty days or a sudden fall in light levels means it is essential to have at least as small pair of lights to ensure you are seen by approaching traffic. There is an increasing array of small, effective ‘be seen’ lights that can be quickly slipped onto your bars and seatpost. The Lezeyne Femto is a robust little light which is switched on by pressing the front, so no need to take off gloves or fumble for small buttons. It’s a natty design and with a 15 lumens output it has a big punch for its small size.
The British brand Sealskinz, stole a march on their rivals in 2014, when they unveiled their Halo overshoes, which featured a small light in the heel. It was an ingenious innovation and it’s no surprise that other companies have launched other accessories with integrated lights for the darker months, including helmets and backpacks. How long before clothing features hi-viz detailing and integrated lights for optimum visibility? For now, you will have to make do with the Halo range, which now features the All Weather Cycling Gloves.
Mudguards – some hardcore cyclists would rather have an arc of farmyard slurry running up their backs than fix a guard to their bike, but if you want to stay comfortable in the saddle when the roads are wet then a decent mudguard is an essential accessory. If you have a bike with mudguard eyes, specifically marketed as a winter trainer, then you have a distinct advantage and as full mudguards also reduce the amount of wet and dirt your wheels flick up behind you, so your fellow riders will reap the benefit too! There are plenty of other options available, of varying quality, that can be slipped between all but the tightest forks and rear stays, or opt for a guard that clips onto your seat stay like the excellent SKS S Blade or for that minimalist look, invest in that pro peloton favourite, the Ass Saver!
Falling leaves have an annoying tendency to land on other leaves, obscuring potholes and manhole covers. Throw in a bit of moisture, hedge clippings and detritus on the roads and it’s no surprise that autumn riding increases your chances of puncturing. Changing to wider tyres with more grip is the best option and will carry you through the Winter when traction and puncture resistance needs to be at its optimum best. Schwalbe’s Durano Plus impressed us during the winter of 2013, providing unrivalled puncture resistance in the unrelenting wet weather, good grip and they come in 23c, 25c and 28c versions. Our feature on the best winter clincher tyres provides a good guide to the options out there.
If you have been toying with the idea of switching to tubeless tyres, then the feature Tubeless Tyres Explained and Demystified provides valuable background and our review of Schwalbe’s Pro One Tubeless tyres, Wheelsuckers’ member Alan Penny charts his personal journey from being a tubeless sceptic to tubeless ambassador!
Wet weather riding can quickly strip the lubricant from your drivetrains, so consider investing in a wet weather specific lube for your chain. Dorset based Muc-Off have been the official supplier of lubricants and cleaning products for Team Sky for a couple of seasons now and have developed part of their range in conjunction with the British Team. Their C3 Ceramic Wet Lube comes in a 120ml tube or a handy 50ml dispenser, though their Wet Lube is also ideal for keeping those cables and shifters operating smoothly even in the wettest conditions. Marginal gains, but you will reap the benefits!
Cycling in cooler conditions takes a harder toll on the body, so if you intend to pack in the miles then ensure you take plenty of fuel on board and have a recovery shake after your ride. But don’t take our word for it, just take a look at this short video from the guys at Global Cycling Network, which explains how to change your fuelling strategy for riding in the colder months.
If you enjoy a bit of self-massage prior to a ride then these are definitely for you. Embrocation creams are becoming increasingly popular – they are a bit like deodorants – once you find one that works for you then you stick with it. A good cream will not only loosen and prepare your muscles for maximum exertion, abut will provide warmth and protection when the mercury dips. There are several on the market, though a particular favourite with the Wheelsuckers’ team is the Luxury Warm Up Cream from Muc-Off, a brand synonymous with lubricants and cleaning products, who also pedal a classy line in products to pamper your body with too.
Autumn also takes a harder toll on your bike, so don’t leave it sitting in your garage covered in the detriment picked up on the road. A good hose down at the very least, enlivened with a brush, cloth and toothbrush will take the worst of the muck off – your bike will love you all the more for it and the components will last that little bit longer.
Autumn is a transitional month, but if you are prepared for it then it is arguably the most spectacular of the seasons in which to cycle. Get it right and you can hold off reaching for your full, thermal winter wardrobe for a few more weeks.