November bike blog: Safe winter cycling

November 20, 2012 2 Comments »

A key piece of kit for winter cycling: a good back light.

In this month’s post, yourCardiff bike blogger Simon Nurse talks about a controversial month for his sport, and how to stay safe on your bike during winter. Simon cycle commutes daily, races cyclo-cross for Cardiff JIF, and edits the Odoni sponsored cycle blog Contact him on Twitter @cyclestuffblog.

It’s been a pretty dramatic month for the world of cycling. Armstrong has finally fallen on his sword and the great and the good of British cycling have fallen on passing bonnets. Whilst the latter was pretty shocking, the former was quite expected.

Few in race cycling will be surprised with Armstong’s speedy fall from grace. Consider the story; triathlete turned cyclist, who survives aggressive testicular cancer and goes on to win the Tour De France seven times in the latter half of his pro career. It’s the stuff of pulp fiction.

There was always the suggestion that Armstrong had been using drugs; claims that were allegedly adeptly suppressed using a regime that was expertly orchestrated.

Perhaps the greatest surprise is just how long Armstrong kept this stuff at bay. Imagine if he had been less greedy, settling for 2 or 3 wins and gradually faded from the public consciousness? Without axes to grind, we may never have known.

Many will see this episode as further proof that professional cycling is the most corrupt of all sports, but to its credit, the anti doping regimes are incredibly strict.

Cycling certainly has a shady past, with drug taking allegedly endemic amongst pro teams almost since the sport first began. Pro cyclists have long been expected to perform super human tasks on their machines and to a degree there is a certain inevitability that some competitors will push to the limit – and break – the boundaries of legality.

This in no way legitimises drug use. Using drugs to elevate performance is not only the worst type of cheating (as it perpetuates an evolutionary style arms race) it also hugely dangerous to health. Yet cycling is also the most high profile of all sports when it comes to trying to clean up its act through the application of harsh anti-doping policies and stringent penalties. In a week when Frankie Dettori has proved positive for using banned substances, it would be fascinating to see similarly rigorous testing employed elsewhere.

Moving from doping to safety, it seems unbelievable that two of the highest profile characters in British cycling could be victims of road accidents in quick succession.

Bradley Wiggins was hit by a van whilst training in Lancashire suffering broken ribs. The following day – co-incidentally also in Lancashire – British head coach and Cardiff resident Shane Sutton was also hit, suffering serious head injuries. Fortunately both will make full recoveries, but it is a constant reminder that no matter how experienced you think you are, there is no way you can account for all of the variables on the road.

So to use the old adage, be safe and be seen (and keep your wits about you during the darker winter months). With that in mind – and considering the time of year – here are my suggestions for (mostly) essential safety kit that could be very useful for the cyclist in your life when Santa does his rounds (if not before).

  • LED front lights. LED technology has come on in leaps and bounds, with some very sophisticated lights available at relatively low cost. The Lezyne micro light is rechargeable and with a maximum setting of 300 lumens, packs a punch. Its costs around £50.
  • A good back light. Recently I replaced my rear light with a ‘comet’ manufactured by Moon (pictured above). Bright (35 lumens) and also rechargeable. The excellent ‘O’ ring fitting means that it can be fitted and removed in seconds (so pop it in your pocket). £35 approx.
  • A good helmet. Nothing divides opinion amongst urban riders more than helmets. Should you wear one? Do they help? Do cars treat you differently? Research findings can vary radically on these issues and there are cycle groups on the continent that actively promote cycling without helmets. Undoubtedly choice is a huge factor here; continental cyclists do not wish helmet use to become mandatory. I have sympathy with this view. If you cycle predominantly in car free parkland on cycle paths, then a helmet is by no means necessary. If however, you mountain bike, ride/commute/train on the roads then in my view and experience, a helmet is a very wise investment (speaking as a cyclist who suffered concussion after crashing). A helmet with good ventilation and adjustable fitting system will cost from £50 upwards.
  • Courier bag/Rucksack with reflective piping. This can be an incredibly effective way of killing two birds with one stone; carrying your kit and being seen. Many cycling bags such as the Ortlieb velocity messenger bag (£65 approx) have very discreet scotchlite style piping that reflects superbly well. This particular bag is also entirely waterproof , a key Welsh consideration.
  • Reflective badges. By no means essential and I don’t use them, but reflective buttons from spotme are effective, funky and at £10 for 3, a very nice stocking filler. A good gift perhaps for a cycling relative or to pop in the kids stocking.

Wherever possible, try local bike shops for these items (I use Cyclopaedia on Cryws Road). Fostering a good relationship with a cycle shop can be hugely beneficial in the long run and lead to a shared understanding of your cycling needs.

Organised cycle events on the local scene have pretty much dried up at this time of year, but you can still get your competitive fix via the Welsh cyclo-cross league. The remaining fixtures in November are:

  • Sunday November 18 – Melin Myncach cross, Gorseinon, Welsh League round 8
  • Sunday November 15 – ‘Cross over the canal, Govilon, Abergavenny, Welsh League round 9

Details of all fixtures are available via the Welsh cyclo-cross league website.

Ok, so November is relatively lean when it comes to organised cycling activity. But as the nights continue to draw in, don’t let those dark evenings put you off; by investing in good kit, being well lit and riding in company there is still much to be enjoyed this time of year (especially if you’re a night time mountain biker, but more about that next time!)

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  1. John D November 20, 2012 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Sorry to see you've linked to Amazon site for your mention of the Ortlieb bag. Surely we cyclists should be boycotting these tax-avoiding bastards!

    • simonnurse November 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm - Reply

      Sorry…….Not me actually. I suspect its been added for pictorial purposes. As I mentioned above, always try and support your local bike shop. My Ortlieb came from Cyclopaedia.

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