Winter riding can bring some of the most fun and memorable rides. Intense training for racing and events takes a backseat in the off season so it is easier to enjoy the scenery and ride with friends of varying fitness levels. There is also a valuable mental toughness to be built by riding in difficult conditions and a little mutual suffering quickly builds camaraderie among riding partners. And as a bonus, you can burn a lot of calories because your body is working hard to exercise and stay warm! Winter riding can also bring misery if you don’t respect the conditions. Dressing smart and utilizing a few quality clothing pieces makes all the difference.
- Start your ride cool. If you are warm standing around before the ride starts you will quickly overheat once you start exercising.
- Wind is your enemy! Wind whips generated body heat away while also making body moisture freezing cold. Wind protection combined with moisture transfer is of utmost importance.
- Thermal clothing decreases in importance under intense exercise as long as you can stay dry and keep the wind off of you. But be prepared for stops due to mechanicals or other problems. Once you stop exercising intensely you will quickly get very cold.
- Protecting your body core, head, hands and feet are priorities. Your body has to work hard to manage internal temperatures which draws energy away from other activities.
- Cycling puts little pressure on your feet and hands (if your bike fit is good) so you will not get the blood flow increase in your extremities like other exercise activities. Your feet and hands also bear the brunt of the oncoming wind being generated by your forward motion so the freeze quickly.
- Some people suffer from cold wind in their ears more than others. If you wear ear protection, make sure you can hear well so you are safe in traffic and around other riders.
- Winter riding often brings riding in decreased visibility conditions. Make sure you can be seen!
- Winter roads tend to have more debris from run off so be prepared for flats.
Cool to cold and changing conditions
- This is our most common local riding condition as well as the coast (barring thick, wet fog)
- Layers, versatility and jersey pocket packability are key
- Foundation is a good pair of shorts, a wicking base layer and a short sleeve jersey
- Arm warmers and knee or leg warmers protect your skin and joints
- Good quality wind vest (gillet) to protect your core
- Wool socks and possibly shoe or toe covers to protect whirling feet
- Windproof long finger gloves and glove liners if it will be cold enough or you have frosty hands
- Buff head protection - it breathes well, protects and can be pulled down to cover your ears
- If you will be starting and ending the ride in cold conditions without a lot of temperature changes
- Better insulation and wind protection are important and packability is less so
- Shorts and leg or knee warmers work but thermal knickers or tights are best
- A thermal long sleeve jersey with wicking base layer can be supplemented with a good wind vest or jacket or a standard base layer and jersey with a heavier jacket. Jackets must vent well to avoid moisture build up!
- Wool socks combined with full shoe covers to protect from numb, painful feet
- Thermal gloves (not too thick for bike control) or a glove liner combined with windproof glove
- Head, neck, ears and possibly face protection depending on your sensitivity. A doubled up Buff will protect your head and ears under your helmet quite well but some people are more comfortable with a thermal cap. A second Buff makes for a great neck gaiter to stop wind from coming in through the neck opening of your jacket and can be pulled up to protect lower face.
- A chilly ride can become dangerously cold once you get soaking wet and that happens quickly once you stop exercising intensely
- Fenders (even short clip-ons) keep a lot of water off of you and riding partners
- A helmet visor or cap visor helps shield your glasses a bit
- Waterproof gloves and shoe covers are awesome
- Many good jackets and vests will repel a lot of water before getting soaked (think of those as “shower resistant”) but a waterproof shell is needed for truly wet riding in lower temperatures.
- Beware of waterproof jackets that do not breathe. The body heat and moisture generated by exercise will create a greenhouse inside your jacket and you will get soaking wet.
- Riding in the rain is hard on your bicycle and it’s parts so be aware of that and treat your equipment nicely.