Cycling in the cold and flu season

Winter is here and with it the threat of all those colds and bugs that seem to do the rounds in the wetter, colder months of the year.

Cycling keeps you fit, healthy and strengthens your immune system, so there’s no reason to stop riding come winter – but there are a few things you should bear in mind.

Here’s our advice on avoiding colds and flu in winter, and how to know when you should ride, and when you should put your feet up with brew.

How to avoid the common cold and flu

Advice for cyclists wanting to avoid virus’ is the same for everyone else: wash your hands, stay hydrated, and eat a healthy diet balanced. And exercise, but you do that already.

Germs are spread when a person carrying a virus transfers them to an object, that’s touched by another person, before they put their hand to their mouth, eyes, or nose. To stop the cycle, wash your hands regularly.

If you work at a desk, keep it clean, giving the keyboard a regular wipe – surfaces such as desks, keyboards, and even telephones are often overlooked and common breeding grounds for germs.

Eating well, staying hydrated and exercising keeps your immune system strong, a healthy body fights infection much more effectively. Very hard exercise, such as interval training, does weaken your immune system for a few hours after a session, so if you are completing testing workouts, make sure you get a good recovery meal afterwards to help your body to stay strong.

Though Echinacea, zinc and vitamin C are all recommended as cold defences on a regular basis, NHS advice suggests there is little evidence to support the benefit of vitamins and supplements.

Does getting cold and wet on the bike make you ill?

It can be tempting to abandon the bike on cold or wet days, but that needn’t be necessary – getting wet and cold certainly will not cause you to get ill. As is explained on the NHS Choices website: “The only thing that can cause a cold or flu is a cold or flu virus. Getting cold or wet won’t give you a cold.”

In fact, since virus’ are spread through germs left on surfaces, taking crowded public transport in fact puts you at greater risk – and going by bike keeps you healthy, which strengthens your immune system.

Despite this good news, If you are beginning to feel the first symptoms of a cold, backing off exercise and keeping warm is a good idea. As Dr Hasmukh Joshi, vice-chair of the Royal College of GPs explained for the NHS: “If you are already carrying the virus in your nose [getting wet or cold] might allow symptoms to develop.”

If you do find yourself sodden after a ride, have a warm shower as soon as you can and wrap up warm and dry – this removes the damp and warm environment that encourages germs to breed, and can mean that a developing cold is stopped in its tracks.

Should you keep cycling if you do get a cold?

When you aren’t well, your body needs to put its energy into fighting the infection. In an ideal world, you would put your feet up, drink plenty of hot drinks, and let your body concentrate on recovery.

However, you may want to ride your bike, you may have to ride it to get around, and in some cases a little light exercise may make you feel a little better, as endorphins get to work.


Dr Alastair Jordan a lecturer in sport and exercise sciences at Leeds Trinity University has carried out research into topic and said: “A rule-of-thumb about when it is or isn’t OK to exercise is called the “neck check”. If the symptoms are above the neck – a head cold, say – it’s OK to exercise. Anything below the neck, such as bronchitis, tightness in your chest or muscle or stomach pains, it’s not OK to exercise.”

He did add that if symptoms are above the neck, you do still need to be cautious.

Your immune system still needs to do its work, so you should ride gently, and keep the intensity low and duration shorter than normal if possible.

Wash your hands, stay hydrated, eat well, and exercise

Eat a good meal after hard exercise to promote recovery

Getting cold and wet will not make you ill, but can allow an infection already present to develop, dry
off and get warm as soon as possible to halt this

If you do pick up an infection, rest up if symptoms are below the neck

If symptoms are above the neck, you can exercise, but keep it gentle