Winter can be a chillingly expensive time, and it’s all too easy to get lured into the costly magical claims of toasty and polished winter wonder riding made by manufacturers.
Generally cycling through the winter – whether that's commuting, running errands, training rides or a combination of them all – will cost more to keep you and your bike running. Your bike and its parts will pick up more dirt which means using more maintenance products, and more layers means more clothing to buy, unless you stocked up the year before and it's all still in perfect working order.
It may have crossed your mind that there are some pretty generic-sounding products that are essential for winter riding that are possibly priced as such because they are marketed specifically at cyclists; and whether that's completely true or not, it hasn't gone unnoticed at road.cc Towers that there are alternatives that can do almost as good of a job as the product with 'cycling' stuck in front of it for quite a bit less.
Without further ado, here are our top tricks to save you some cash and keep on riding for less this winter. For our year-round picks of cheap cycling tricks, check out this article too.
Newspaper down the jersey
Here’s one straight from the good old days of bicycle racing. Stuffing a few pages of the local newspaper down the front of your jersey is a cheap but surprisingly effective way to stop the chill of the wind on a long mountain descent.
Admittedly, this trick works better in the mountains and with a soigneur handing you up the paper, and for non-racing cyclists, the sensible thing to do is carry a lightweight windproof gilet or jacket. But if you’re ever caught short in changeable weather, especially if you’re in hilly terrain, it could make all the difference.
- Essential wet weather cycle clothing and gear
Plastic bag over socks
Keeping your feet dry when the roads are wet is tricky. You could spend a fair bit of money on overshoes, or you could use some cheap plastic bags to wrap around your socks before you put your shoes on. Sometimes it’s nearly as effective as overshoes and doesn’t look nearly as strange; although it can lead to sweaty feet, as plastic doesn’t allow excess heat to escape.
Small sandwich bags work really well, and they aren't single-use items. No, we're not talking about using the same bag to take your lunch to work on Monday; you can use the same bags a few times before you reach for a new set.
Tights (yep, just regular women's tights)
Tried and tested for pre-millennium decades by chilled cyclists, male and female, and yet rarely talked about in public... wearing woman’s tights between your shorts and bottoms provides a surprisingly efficient and ultra-thin extra later of insulation against the cold.
Sure, it’s best to buy new tights, but when holy versions are ready for the bin then grab them and squeeze in. If you have big feet, it could be worth cutting them off at the ankles, although, naturally they also make for good foot warmers (as do pock sock style tights).
Tin foil helmet liner
There’s a whole lot of spare tinfoil around during the mid-winter months, so why not grab a small piece, double it over and line the top of your lid with it?
You only need around a foot of foil in all, and then fold and mould it into the top part of your helmet. Much as it does whilst roasting the Christmas turkey, the foil will insulate you’re the top of your head, which loses around 10% your body heat.
This hack is one for super cold days out and can be combined with an old-school headband/ear warmer to keep your bonce toasty, but not roasted.
Massage in a bottle
Trying to sip the dregs from a frozen water bottle when a café stop is off the radar is one of the many banes of a winter ride, and so having your own hot tipple on hand is just the tonic, literally.
Get hold of a small old school thermos flask, or better still nab a kid’s Barbie or Superman flask from a cheap school lunch box kit. Get your old water bottle, and then cut off the top, unscrew the thermos and remove the inner capsule. Use thin bubble wrap as a liner, and then squeeze into the bottle and then seal it in with gaffer tape.
This is best kept in the seat tube bottle cage and will allow you to have your favourite hot drink on tap during a ride.
Carry a spare undervest
This one is more of a nugget of practical advice over a hack. First up, when you buy into the great wicking and sweat-absorbent claims of expensive garment makers, do be aware that we are all individual and that we sweat at different rates. What you wear on top, the wind chill factor and so much more will determine just how much you sweat out on a ride, and how much of that gets wicked away (or not).
So long as you keep rolling, and as long as there’s not a long-chilled descent ahead, most of us can boil in the bag for the duration of a ride; however, if you do make a cafe stop, or even have an extended puncture stop, then that sweat soon turns to chilled hell, which can leave you with the sniffles or much worse.
No matter what claims are made of expensive undervests, they all still suffer from
this chilling truth. Simply carrying a spare undervest with you on a ride, in a plastic bag, and then swapping it when you stop mid-ride can be a real game changer whatever the season.
Applying the same idea of adding a layer of plastic between body and elements, surgical gloves are relatively cheap and can be worn underneath your cycling gloves to provide a bit more protection. Just be warned that you might get sweaty hands if it’s mild.
This is a great tip if you'd like to wear thinner gloves for maximum dexterity in cold weather.
- 21 of the best cycling winter gloves — keep your hands warm and dry
Clear Safety Glasses
You could spend £200 on the latest trendiest cycling glasses. Or you could go to a builder’s merchant and spend a couple of quid on a pair of safety glasses with clear lenses. We found these for just £2.49.
They certainly aren't the most stylish option, but if you need to protect your eyes from the freezing winter winds, lashing rain, or just have a clear lens option for night rides, these are a sensible buy.
- 11 of the best cheap cycling sunglasses — protect your eyes without spending big
Plastic bottle mudguard
Got a load of old water bottles collecting in the back of the cupboard? With a few minutes and some creative cutting, you could fashion one into a mudguard.
We first saw this years ago on Alberto Contador’s bike. Granted, it's not going to provide a huge amount of protection from road spray, but it's better than nothing.
Check out the video above for Dave's best Blue Peter impression. You might want to take a bit more time over your creation than Dave did, but this trick really works.
- 16 of the best mudguards for any type of bike — keep dry when it's wet with guards for race bikes and practical bikes
Vaseline has many uses, but did you know it can provide an extra barrier to the elements.
Some cyclists have been known to slather it on legs and bum to prevent water spray making you feel damp and cold. You can also use it as a wind barrier on any exposed skin on your face. Some cyclists even use it for chamois cream.
Getting it off can be a little tricky, so be ready with the wet wipes if you're planning to use this at an event like a sportive or race.
Embrocation warming creams
Embrocation used to be an old pro favourite before technical clothing got really good. Many bike brands offer tubs of expensive embrocation but you can buy the same stuff from your local chemist under the more common name of Deep Heat and bring back memories of the school changing room.
Just be sure to apply after you've done your chamois cream.
Foot and hand warmers
If you suffer from poor circulation, heat pads for your feet and/or hands can be a good way to stave off the winter chill on a longer ride. They're reasonably cheap and the small pads can be placed in your gloves and inside your shoe or overshoe to steadily release heat over the course of a couple of hours.
- How to keep your feet warm while cycling through the winter
Waterbottle with a nozzle cover
Country lanes are typically covered in mud washed out from the ditches or dragged along by tractors, so you'll inevitably get plastered with mud unless you've got some good full-length mudguards. There's not much worse than grabbing your water bottle and the nozzel being covered in mud and god knows what else. Some water bottle brands sell bottles with integrated mud caps, or you could make your own for pennies.
Silicone spray to keep the frame clean
It's inevitable you'll spend a lot more time washing your bike through the winter, but there's one easy trick to save time: cover the frame with silicone spray. Many bike brands sell it but it's not cheap, so instead head down again to your local hardware store and pick up a can for a couple of quid. We found this one for £2.79. Bargain!
If that's too expensive, you could always raid the kitchen cupboards for the furniture polish and use that instead. Just be careful not to get it on the braking surfaces!
- How to winterproof your bike — protect your ride from the wet, salt and crud
Washing your bike
You might think you have to use dedicated bike cleaning products when washing your bike, but inexpensive washing up liquid does the job just fine. Some people will tell you the salt content can damage your bike, but you’ll be washing it off before it has any chance to do any harm.
For degreasing the chain and drivetrain, instead of the very expensive cycling-specific products, a regular degreaser from a hardware or motor store will be just as effective. Some cyclists swear by using paraffin or white spirits to clean chains.
Café wisdom: road.cc readers' top budget winter hacks
It turns out you lot are pretty resourceful at turning household items into crucial cycling garments and accessories too. We've had loads of helpful tips over the years in previous versions of this article, and a growing collection over on our YouTube channel! Here's our pick of the best:
ktache said: "One to keep your thinnish winter gloves going a little bit longer - I caught a finger on the worn chainring whilst locking up my bike, small hole, got larger with time, very cold as it was where the finger met the metal brake lever. I didn't want to buy a new pair quite yet, they were still newish. So, I cut strips of the sticky bit of Elastoplast's Fabric, Extra Flexible and Breathable plasters, ones that you cut to size, and stuck them over the hole. It will last many washes, more than you think. It's better if it's stuck to itself too, so a thin strip loosely around the finger helps. They are still very grippy on the levers. Looks a little bit Hoboish, but keeps the gloves going. Worked on my full finger summer gloves too."
hobbeldehoy added: "I never buy cycle specific cleaning products. Marketing rip off."
bechdan said: "I don't understand why you'd put surgical gloves under your own gloves, sometimes I use disposable type gloves (black nitrile) over my usual gloves if its cold/windy/wet. They give good grip and prevent the inner glove from getting cold, yes a bit clammy but warm and clammy."
alg's top tip is this: "Blow dry your bike. Makes cleaning your bike in winter very much quicker - it takes so long to drip dry or rub down and you can never get the dampness out of all the bits. Here then is a good use of the most useless piece of gardening equipment - the leaf blower. Harmlessly blast the dampness off in moments ready to silicon spray, oil and whatever, and get an early cup of tea."
Redvee said: "I use vaseline when I'm wearing my waterproof socks to form a seal on my calves. I've found the socks regardless of size don't make a decent seal all the way round on my claves but applying Vasleine solves that problem."
Toon Army advises: "These resolved my cold issues -
Feet - Northwave Flash TH Winter thermal shoe ( +1/2 size ), thick woolley socks and overshoes.
Hands - DHB winter gloves and thin merino wool gloves underneath.
Body - Gilet underneath penultimate layer. More effective than being the outermost layer.
And underpants stuffed down my bib tights to protect my prized possessions. I have never looked back and happy to ride in -5c conditions when the road surface is safe enough."
TheScotsman added: To keep my feet warm back in the distant days of last winter when I was still working in the office (rather than from home) & biking the 10 miles there & back each day, I did this: put on a thinnish pair of cheap Planet X socks, then put a plastic sandwich bag over each sock, followed by a Planet X Thicky Merino sock. Worked an absolute treat, even down to -7C."
Have you got any more top winter hacks? Let us know below.
I liked the V1: many hours between charges, in light and camera mode. I can't see a reason to get this V3. Disappointed.
That Salford 'roundabout' is a very tight circle. I'm not sure I'd want to go around there in the wet...
The zip broke on my Harrington.
Can I ask you for a cite on those 900mm and 1200mm numbers, please, Dave? Very geniune question - I'm trying to get to the bottom of this. It's a...
Brammeiers' comments are probably factually correct but the tone isn't acceptable....
Just checking start time for Brugge -De Panne and it looks like the window shuts a little early at 8 am UK time. Looks like race starts at 10.30 am...
I suspect this has been on the cards since the early 90s, with rumoured lobbying from teams including March and Footwork.
Aha! *That* is the real reason that being able to accelerate is a "safety feature"! "In the event of fire, break glass (windscreen) and accelerate...
I'd rather take my bike to Halfords. That's something I thought I'd never say!
and then to be asked to comment on it! and yet, here I am