A typical winter in the UK can usually be described in three words: grey, damp and chilly. (Some people would say that's also a pretty good description of a UK summer, but that's not quite fair. Summers are just grey and damp.) And it's the continual greyness and damp that eventually get to us. We bleat about the cold, but the temperatures aren't generally that extreme. We just get fed-up with jet-washing the bike after every ride - and never being dry. With the exception of higher parts of the UK - like the Welsh hills, the Highlands in Scotland and the Peak District in England - it's unusual to see much snow or bitterly cold temperatures of the kind that seem to be common in North America. Temperatures certainly dip below freezing regularly in an average winter, but they rarely go double-digits Centigrade below zero, and they don't stay below zero for long periods.
That said, the winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 very definitely weren't average, and featured regular and prolonged snowfalls all across the UK, with prolonged stretches of much lower than normal temperatures. I didn't get outside on the bike for the whole of December 2010, after two heavy snowfalls (for my part of the world...) left all of my usual routes iced-up for the entire month. In the US, they'd probably all have been cleared 30 minutes after the snow fell, but despite the evidence of three years out of the last five, the UK still refuses to believe that snow comes regularly enough to warrant spending money on equipment to clear it, so we generally have to slide our way through to each thaw.
So far, this winter appears to be unusual in exactly the opposite fashion, and has been unusually mild (almost alarmingly so, if you're a global-warming worrier...). That makes it sound a lot like the US one so far, which isn't surprising really, given that that's where our prevailing weather comes from. Last Saturday and Sunday, I managed 53 and 34 miles respectively in temperatures that averaged 45F (must switch my Garmin to Centigrade; it doesn't match the BBC weather forecast...), which is terrific from this cyclist's point-of-view, but weird for the wildlife. There were bumble bees on some of the winter-flowering shrubs over Christmas, which I can't ever remember seeing before. So far this winter, I've managed to get out for at least one ride every weekend, and have managed rides on both days on most weekends. In fact, the first two weekends of October were so warm - up in the mid-20s Centigrade - that I was still cycling in short-sleeved jerseys and bib shorts - and got a normal July-ride tan in doing so! I can't ever remember doing that before. If this keeps up for the next two months, and my fingers are firmly crossed, I'll be logging way more on-the-road cycling miles than I usually do in winter. Clyde