As I sit looking out of my window, on this blowy, grey and wet Monday lunchtime, it is clear that winter is well and truly upon us. From my weekend rides, it is also equally clear that the number of cyclists actually out on the road has reduced substantially from the first COVID lockdown fuelled explosion in numbers riding during the summer. The conditions last weekend (both Saturday and Sunday) were grey but otherwise totally sublime and the first wind free rides I can remember for months, yet I only saw a handful of riders out enjoying the mid-single digit temperatures.
You may not agree, but in my opinion winter is certainly not what it was when I was a younger. I know we have a natural tendency to get starry eyed (and perhaps distort the truth a little) when reminiscing about how things used to be, concluding that things were always ‘better’. Winter, in my memory, wasn’t necessarily ‘better’ but I have no doubt that it was more exciting. Even as late as 1998, I can remember numerous occasions where we were actually ‘snowed in’. By that, I don’t mean a sprinkling of snow that comes with authorities advising you only go out if absolutely necessary, where we all then sneak off to the pub at lunchtime. I mean the type where just from opening my eyes in the morning I could tell that something extraordinary had happened from the unusual glow of the daylight on the curtains, and the absence of any sound from outside.
The only noise inside was the local BBC radio station, where my mum would sit waiting for confirmation that my school was closed, which since we were in most rural Lincolnshire, it invariably was. It seemed to be an annual event where we’d have 4 to 6 inches of snow on the ground, and then you couldn’t go out in a car even if you wanted to. The only time we would leave the house for days was in wellies, with the accessories required to build a snowman, or to have a nasty incident on an old wooden sledge, crashing into a garden wall at the bottom of the local hill (otherwise known as the sea wall). Or, as I got older, it became law that on such occasions you must go to the local pub to sit in front of a roaring fire for hours drinking Batemans XB, or if you were there long enough moving on to Drambuie. I look back with a huge fondness for those times, and in particular it brings back the best memories of my childhood and spending quality time with my late parents.
Maybe I am just showing my age, or perhaps this is a real demonstration of how fast climate change is actually happening? We just don’t get those weather events with the same frequency any more. I can’t remember the last good dump of snow we had. I missed much of ‘The Beast from the East’ due to travelling with work, but otherwise, I think it was probably early 2012. While on the one hand this makes me quite sad, on the other, as a cyclist, I do find some solace in this new meteorological trend.
Winter riding is, by default, harder. Everything about it is harder, except for the opportunity to ruin your ride and become miserable, which becomes much easier. Your mind set, expectations, preparations, clothing, fuelling and in many cases even bike will be different. But nothing worth doing was ever easy, and I personally find winter miles emmensely rewarding, and sometimes even ‘enjoyable’.
I think I’ve learned to live with riding in the winter, largely as until recently it was a necessity as I didn’t have an ‘indoor’ training option, and having done one winter season a few years ago and feeling the benefits when spring came, I am never having a winter off through choice again. One of the first gems of advice I was given by a cyclist was ‘Winter Miles – Summer Smiles’. And YES, it is so true. Not just in terms of fitness, but also in appreciating the suns warmth and light evenings even more when they eventually return! Similarly where winter is concerned, I have learned to embrace the contrast with the other seasons. With leafless trees, and hedgerows chopped back, the world looks very different, and lets you fully appreciate the temporal nature of our terrain. Don’t just look at the road, or the spray coming off your mates rear wheel… look around!
I used to have very strict rules on being back by dusk, not going out with a sustained wind speed of over 20mph or a temperature below 2 celsius, but over time all of these have gone out of the window! As I’ve got stronger a 20mph headwind is no longer a catastrophe, and my current ‘no-go’ is more qualitative than quantitative. The need to ride in daylight is offset with magnificent modern lighting and reflective materials. While, temperature is interesting and one rule that I have stretched and am now reinstating my original limitation.
Last winter saw me take too many risks. I got away with it, but I am conscious that I got away with it. Cycling luck, as with ski luck (which incidentally I ran out of twice before the final ceremonial elevation of my skis in to the loft) is not infinite, and I have flirted with what I call ‘Swarovski tarmac’ for the last time. Fortunately without coming off, I have realised that when the road is twinkling in your headlight, two 25mm wide tyres are not sufficient to guarantee you make it home safely to your loved ones, who didn’t want or understand you going out on your bike in the first place. And hence I bought my indoor training kit, dismantled my ‘winter bike’, and reinstated my 2 celsius rule to keep everyone happy – me included!
That said, you can get the clothing that will allow you to ride at many degrees Celsius below my threshold, and it really is jolly impressive in terms of performance, but unfortunately in general, also £’s! And this brings me nicely onto my new go to clothing item… the Castelli Perfetto ROS Long Sleeve Jersey. Now, if you can’t find this on your online searches, make sure you’re searching for a Jersey. While I firmly believe it’s a jacket, Castelli call it a Jersey. Confused yet? You will be. I’ve seen much written about this jersey / jacket over recent years, and also possess two of the original Perfetto short sleeve jerseys from 4 years ago. I bought the new long sleeve version from Wiggle for £120, that is £80 off! One of my other cycling rules is that I NEVER pay full price for anything. You just don’t need to!
What you do need to do is get your head around Castelli sizing, and realise that it is sized for children. Anything that you’re normally a Medium you are an Extra-Large or bigger. And your choice of sizing will be further questioned when you put on the the Perfetto Long Sleeve Jersey / Jacket for the first time. It feels utterly wrong around my shoulders. But, when you sit on the bike, all becomes clear and it’s as it’s Italian name would imply… I’m assuming that you’re not buying a cycling jersey or jacket to wear to the shops, nightclub or the semi annual dental check up, so it fitting perfectly when sat astride your steed is reassuring about the quality of your new garment. You can go snug fitting with confidence too. You don’t need room for the fleece of a freshly shawn sheep underneath. Despite the apparent lack of any substantial material, this jacket / jersey (whatever you describe it as – perhaps its the lack of bulk that make it a jersey) performs miracles and will keep you warm with a minimal long sleeve base layer down to 6 celsius, while the collar has plenty of room for a head thingy, snood or scarf to keep out the elements. The Gore-Tex Infinium material isn’t playing all of it’s cards even when it successfully manages the typical dowsing from above or spray from the road with admirable aplomb. It’s final triumph is when it warms up, 2 handy vents in the front allow you to regulate temperature with airflow, while the general breathability means your unlikely to come home looking like you’ve been to the Sauna in your kit. My ONLY initial criticism was the choice of 2 large rear pockets rather than 3 smaller ones, though I’m getting used to this through a new approach to my packing strategy…
Perfetto? For winter and maybe even cooler autumn and spring days, you bet… I really don’t need another jersey / jacket (whatever it is!) except maybe another Perfetto for when yesterdays is in the wash.