Tips & Recipes

Pro Tips: Cold-weather cycling

James Shaw shares his best advice for winter bike riding

February 9, 2023

James Shaw is staying home this winter.

After a long season full of travel, with 65 race days and his first grand tour, the Englishman has returned to the lanes where he first started cycling toget ready for 2023 out on the Peak District’s moors. The cold, wet English winter does not daunt James. He loves being out with the sheep, cycling from village to village between dry-stone walls. James grew up riding in all weather and has learned how to equip himself for the worst.

“If you fail to prepare, you’ve got to be prepared to fail,” James says. It’s a lesson he’s learned the hard way more than once. One time, he got stuck shivering in a gale-force snowstorm with a flat tyre and had to call home for a pick up. He has promised himself that will never happen again. In the winter, he’ll take his two dogs for a walk first thing in the mornings to check out the conditions and decide what to wear. No matter what, his Rapha rain cape goes with him. This is James’s best advice for cold weather riding.

“If you fail to prepare, you’ve got to be prepared to fail."

- James Shaw

Use tyre liners

I always run tubeless tires with the liners from Vittoria, because the last thing that I want to do is stand on the side of the road in two or three degrees and put an inner tube in my wheel. I try to prepare the best I can, because I have had a few moments in the past when I was on top of a moor, having punctured too many times, and had to stand in like two degrees in the snow and howling cross wind and just wait for someone to pick me up.

Keep your head warm

I always wear a merino collar around my neck and I always wear a merino skull cap and try to make sure that they join round the back of my neck, and then dark lenses so that no one can see the suffering.

Keep your feet warm

I’ve seen people wrap their toes in tin foil and then put their socks on and stuff like that. I have never tried it myself, but I always get Rapha’s good wool winter socks and then I double up with toe warmers under my overshoes. So, I go wool socks, shoes, and then my toe warmers, and then my winter overshoes.

Keep your hands warm

I remember in the past, having a mechanical group set and changing into the little ring, and then not being able to get back in the big ring, because my hands would be so cold. I just wouldn’t be able to push the shifter back. Now, I’ve always got a set of Rapha’s Deep Winter gloves ready to rock and roll.

Dress in layers

The morning dog walk is a good litmus test for what I need to wear when I go out on the bike. When it gets into the real winter, what I try and do is put a summer base layer on my skin, and then a long sleeve merino windblock one, because I find that the one that sits on your skin soaks up the sweat, and it stops your merino wool one from getting wet. So, the skin one acts like a sponge and soaks up the sweat and then the one that is keeping you warm stays relatively dry. As soon as something gets wet, it has got a limited time span for how long it is going to stay warm. That's why I love our new GORE-TEX Infinium jerseys so much. They fit tight like a jersey, but give you a windproof and rain-resistant outer layer.

Carry dry clothes and back up kit

I take a dry base layer in a sandwich bag, so if we stop at a cafe, I’ll do a quick pop to the toilet to put the dry base layer on and that first ten to fifteen minutes after leaving the cafe is not perishingly cold, because I have got a dry layer on. I’ve got a Rapha bar bag, and I take all of my extra gear in there. It’s a purple one. I keep a little sandwich bag rolled up with a nice dry base layer, maybe a dry neck collar, my rain cape, and then my spare tube and Co2 canisters for my worst case scenario. I make sure I have got the right length valve for my wheel and always take a quick link, that kind of stuff. I want to limit the amount of time that I may get stuck in the wilderness.

Use fenders

From the end of December to late February, you don’t see dry roads in the Peak District, so what I do is get a classic set of old-school mudguards for the bike. I get a big, heavy-duty, long one that goes right round the wheel, so it is not spraying dirt up my back, and then I put one up the front as well to keep my feet dry.

Ride indoors on really bad days

The winters here can get pretty cold. There are times when you have to abandon and get on the Wahoo KICKR indoor trainer and get some miles in on the Wahoo X Systm.

Warm up when you get home

I love when it is getting close to the holidays, and you have been out on your bike and done a long steady six hours or whatever. I’ve got a little log burner in the house, so I’ll get that going and then sit down and watch, I don’t know, Home Alone or something. It just gives this sort of bizarre, warm, comforting feeling, this real satisfaction, when you get cuddled up with the dogs. I must admit that when I watch the telly after a long winter’s ride—I don’t think I’ve ever seen the end of the film, because I have always fallen asleep midway through.

Embrace winter

I grew up wanting to race and wanting to be a professional bike rider. I never could afford to go on camps or anything like that, so when I stay and train in the UK it brings me back to my roots. I enjoy those long winter rides with friends that I did as a kid. The top of the moors is so exposed, and it is so vast and it can be absolutely blowing a gale and you can be riding into a headwind and trying your hardest and literally doing 19 or 20 kilometers an hour. You drop down from the moors into these little stone villages. Those rides remind me why I got into racing.

Share this story

Related Stories