Victoria Pendleton's Tips For Cycling Your Commute This Winter

Cycling around the park with your basket full of fresh flowers, enjoying the rays of warm summer sunshine might be the dreamy idea you had when you first thought about getting a bike. But forget all that - because becoming a commuter cyclist in the winter is probably the best time to do it.

Don't let the cold put you off your bike (Halfords)
Don't let the cold put you off your bike (Halfords)

I've been commuting in London by bike since 2009 and autumn and winter commutes have long been my favourite, so I'm keen to extol their virtues to help more women to find their inner cyclist. After all, being a fairweather cyclist in this country means very occaisonal rides.

Olympian Victoria Pendleton shares my desire to see more women cycling, and has even worked with Halfords to design a range of bikes and accessories especially for us ladies, so I caught up with her to get some tips to get you started

Victoria with the Drake bike from her Halfords range
Victoria with the Drake bike from her Halfords range

The first thing you notice on London roads is how male cyclists massively outnumber female, how can we encourage more women to cycle?

"The comptitive aspect of cycling seems to appeal to men more so it can seem like a very male-dominated environement," Victoria agrees.

"But women tend to gravitate towards individual goals and achievements and because cycling can be a communal or a solo sport, you can make it all about your personal achievements so it's perfect.

"And I think that's what we have to get women to realise - it can be whatever you want it to be."

THE BIKES

Why did you want to make a range of bikes that were gender-specific?

"Weight was a really big thing for me. There's nothing worse than lugging a huge bike around that makes you not want to bother with it," Victoria explains.

"And we wanted to go for an entry level price range to encourage women starting out and getting involved for the first time.

"I want women to look at my bikes and think 'that could work for me'.

"So we went simple, beautiful, not overcomplicated.  A beginner doesn't need a hundred gears so we made them stylish and easy to get on with.

"And comfort's appealing too. It's all about bums on saddles!"

Victoria has focused on matching sleek style with usability (Halfords)
Victoria has focused on matching sleek style with usability (Halfords)

VP's people sent me off to try out a few of the range and I was genuinely impressed. The highest priced bike in the arsenal is her road bike, which is BEAUTIFUL. I fell in love on sight. It's very light, agile and smooth and great if you're likely to be cycling a long, flat route.

The newest and cheapest in the range, the Drake - is a looker too. Navy with orange banding on the wheels, it's light, easy to use and compact. Ideal for beginners who don't want to spend a fortune before they know if it's their thing or not.

But my favourite, and the bike I'm using this winter, is the Dalby. She's white, sturdy and sleek, with stylish purple mud guards (though depending on how rural your journey and how bad the weather, these may need replacing with something a bit sturdier!) and smooth enough gears to get me up Archway Road without wanting to die (incredible).

If you are planning to start commuting Victoria has some tips for beginners:

1. Pick your bike carefully. It's a very personal choice and you'll find yourself becoming very fond of it - or very annoyed if it's not right for you. Make sure you do test cycles and if anything isn't perfectly positioned, do insist on adjustments.

2. Get used to your bike before you start cycling to work. It's especially important if your new bike is a different style, or if you're at a different angle to previous bikes. Make sure you feel confident using the gears, brakes, signalling and looking behind you before you tackle the roads.

3. Prepare for the hills. Get into the right gear early, so you're not clunking through them halfway up, straining your legs.

WHY CYCLE NOW?

Cash
For a start budgets are tight at this time of year. We can't be the only ones who'll be paying off Christmas until the spring?

And commuting by bike can save you a significant amount of money. Once you've made the initial outlay, bikes are very cheap to run. Keep yours clean and well oiled and give it a service once a year (around £50) and it's likely all it will cost you only the occasional puncture repair.

Using the Cycle To Work scheme, if it's available to you, means that you don't even need to make an initial outlay and the cost per month of your new bike will be a lot less than either petrol or public transport.

Quiet
The roads are quiet. In terms of cyclists, at least. In the summer you can't move for all of us in our day glo lycra, irritating all the motorists, cutting lights (not me and not recommended!), hogging the showers and filling up all the bike racks at the office.

In winter all is calm. If you're kitted out properly and have the necessary hi vis clothing and lights you can easily commute comfortably, warmly, dryly and in a relaxed fashion.

This also means you can avoid public transport, which can be confusing in the winter when you're all bundled up for the cold and then get underground or on a super-heated train or bus where it's boiling and suddenly you're sweating and it's AWFUL.

So, you will need:

A hi-viz waterproof jacket
Nice soft, sweat-wicking shirts (optional, I usually use old t-shirts)
Decent trainers/cycling shoes
Cosy socks
Non see-through legins/cycling shorts/trousers
Cotton scarf
Face protector (something like this, but optional)
Helmet
Lights
Nice mug for tea when you arrive at work

You might need a few attempts to get your layering right. For instance, it doesn't matter how cold it is, I can never wear more than a sports top and thin waterproof hi-vis jacket. But once you've nailed it, you'll only be cold for the first few minutes before you forget all about it are are suddenly boiling.

And if it's raining? Just focus on the tea.

You'll love it.

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