Surviving cycling in winter

Our most recent blog comes from Mad Seat participant Rebecca Hamilton. A keen cyclist and hockey player, Rebecca shares her top tips for keeping safe and enjoying cycling during the winter season.


A morning cycle into work is a lovely idea when it’s sunny and you can wear shorts and sunglasses for the commute. Fast forward to the cold and dark days, and the number of active commuters significantly drops. However, the benefits of active travel are not only environmental but have also been shown to have countless benefits for health and fitness on a national scale, all year long. More locally, active travel charity Sustrans estimate that in 15.3 million bike trips were made in Edinburgh in 2017. Through their ambition of doubling cycling trips, they calculate that between now and 2040, cycling could avert 4,400 long term health conditions – saving NHS Edinburgh £42 million annually and making our city a healthier and cleaner place to live. 

Generally, the reasons people tell me they don’t cycle in winter are around fears for safety and lack of motivation. These are my tips to help conquer these.    

Top tips for cycling in winter

  1. Be visible. Yes, good lights can be expensive, but a worthy investment that are vital for keeping you safe on the road. LED rechargeable and detachable ones are my preferred choice for brightness and sustainability. Don’t cycle without lights and if one runs out of battery mid-way through a cycle, avoid cycling in the dark until this can be replaced as soon as possible. And of course, use hi-vis clothing and embrace the wild colours.
  2. Stay warm. Investing in winter cycling clothing is never going to be bad thing. Good gloves, socks and some kind of buff to cover your face I’ve found the most helpful. Wearing waterproof clothing on those wet and drizzly can make a big difference. I sometimes include waterproof trousers in the mix and although it does mean dressing head to toe in plastic, I tend to be happier when I’m dry on the inside. 
  3. Check the weather. I always advocate for safety first so if you feel like it’s not going to be safe don’t risk it. However, I have found that most days in the winter are still perfectly good cycling days and developed my own weather criteria to help me decide this. My wind speed limit is 20 mph. After that, my effort becomes inefficient. Rain, anywhere within light to medium rain I normally say ‘yes’ and medium to heavy I normally say ‘no’. This does sometimes depend what wind speed the rain is in combination with and my own energy levels. For example, if the forecast tells me it’s going to medium levels of rainfall and 19 mph winds, I leave it to my energy levels to dictate whether I’m up for that cycle or not. Snow and ice, if there’s a weather warning for this my advice is ‘no’. However, mostly throughout winter, are days of light frost. My advice for this is know what paths and roads are well gritted. Sometimes it’s better to switch to the roads rather than the less busy cycle path if you know it’s been well gritted. Additionally, if you let your council know you would like a cycle path gritted better to aid more cyclist commuters, they might respond – you can do this on Twitter or through their website. 
  4. Simple but key – obey the rules of the road and be nice to pedestrians and cars, even if they’re not nice to you! It may be inconvenient or annoying at times but it’s important to keep you and others safe, and remember you’re a role model for other cyclists on the road.
  5. Create a cycling routine. Everyday can be a daunting and unachievable task. So, start with committing to cycling one day a week. Maybe it’s every Wednesday, and if the weather is bad, switch to another day. You can also experiment with different routes. You don’t have to go the fastest route and sometimes the longer, quieter one might make your cycle more enjoyable.
  6. Other investments; a helmet, a bell, a good lock and bike maintenance. These do all add up and once you’ve spent money on everything, it can feel you’re forking out a lot of cash. However, in my experience the overall cost is way less than what I would spend on public transport or car usage.  

I’ve grown to love my morning cycling routine and starting my day with fresh air and exercise. The end of the day tends to be more difficult to put the gear on and get on the bike but I’m never sorry for it when I do. So, stay safe, but maybe give cycling a try this winter! 

Source: Sustrans (2019) Transforming cities: The potential of everyday cycling