Winter is on its way. The days are short, the nights are long, and the skies are often gray. Not to mention that it is colder than is comfortable. Many people put away the bikes when the weather turns bitter. But I want to let you know the fun doesn’t have to stop just because it’s cold, or snowy, or both. You can still get out and have fun!
“How?” you may ask. That’s a good question, because it is not exactly easy, and you do need thing you do not need during warm summer rides. So let’s go over some of the things you’ll need for winter riding.
Obviously, the first thing you’ll need is warmer riding clothes. Winter riding can be tricky, too, because if you start early, it will warm up and then you’ll be too hot if you dressed for the temperature at the start. Or if you start later in the day, it may cool off to the point you’re freezing. So how to combat the temperature swings? Layers. Thin layers of clothing are more effective at keeping you warm and dry than a single heavy layer, plus you have the ability to add or remove layers as you ride. So pockets or a backpack or a rack bag can be useful for storing the extra layers. So how should you dress for the start of a cold weather ride? I recommend starting such that you are just cooler than comfortable. If you dress such that you are comfortable at the start, you will first get hot, then sweat, then realllly cold after the sweat freezes! I also recommend layers that are either polyester or wool, NEVER cotton. Polyester will wick sweat away from your body and keep you dry and warm. Wool is more expensive, but will do the same, as well as keep you warm even if wet, AND it doesn’t stink like other materials. Cotton will soak up the sweat, but stay wet, and you’ll end up cold. I’ll give you a run down of what I generally wear at various temperatures:
50s: Cycling shorts with leg warmers, short sleeve cycling jersey with arm warmers and a cycling vest, maybe a light windbreaker. long fingered gloves, maybe an ear wamer/head band at start of ride, maybe toe booties over the ends of my shoes.
40s: Cycling shorts with mid-weight tights, long sleeve cycling jersey, mid weight cycling jacket, mid-weight long fingered gloves, ear warmer/head band or skull cap, booties over my shoes and wool socks.
30s: Cycling shorts with heavier tights, long sleeve cycling jersey with lightweight long underwear shirt underneath, mid-weight cycling jersey, heavier gloves, skull cap, winter cycling shoes and wool socks.
20s: Cycling shorts with long underwear pants and heavy tights, long sleeve cycling jersey with lightweight long underwear shirt, lightweight cycling sweatshirt, ski gloves, skull cap, possibly a face/neck warmer as well, and winter cycling shoes witth wool socks. Might carry some chemical warmers for hands and feet as well.
10s: Mostly the same as the 20s, though may throw an extra long sleeve jersey in there. And maybe ski goggles over my eyes.
Below 10: Every bit of clothing I own.
Your selection of clothing may differ than mine depending on your tolerance for cold, but you get the idea. Layers, and lots of them. And if I know or even suspect, that the temperature may change to one of the other ranges over the course of the ride, I take the necessary garments with me. You’ll notice that I never have parka listed (well, I would below zero, I think). Big, thick coats are great for when you are just walking around, but not while riding. Not only will one first overheat, then freeze you, but they’ll restrict your movement too much to be comfortable while riding. Thin layers will enable you to be comfortable and maneuverable.
Of course, being dressed warm enough isn’t the only hurdle to winter riding. The next is the short daylight hours. Which means, Lights! A bright front light so you can see when it’s dark. It’s hard to avoid riding in the dark during the winter, so embrace the adventure! Get a great bright light of at least 200-400 lumens and you’ll be able to take on any ride that you want. A good blinky in the rear is a smart idea, as well, of course. Necessary if you are on the road, but useful even if you are mountain biking so those behind can see you more easily.
Winter riding can also be more fun by changing up your normal cycling routine. Road riding can be cold during the winter. The cold, combined with the high speeds of road riding, can make for some brutal riding. So, go mountain biking! Slower speeds, but same or greater effort. You’ll stay warmer, and you won’t have such cutting wind, especially if you are riding in the woods. If there is snow on the ground, a fat bike can be just the ticket to making the riding even more enjoyable. When it’s icy out, I like to take the fixed gear bike out on the roads. It ads an extra challenge to the ride, and 50 foot skids are a lot of fun!
“But, I just can’t make myself go out in the cold, especially if it is also snowing or raining,” you say. So you don’t have the willpower to brave the cold. Okay, there is nothing wrong with that. I, too, often can’t make myself gear up to ride outside when the weather is foul.
So, ride inside! Why let your fitness go to waste just because it’s nasty outside? Don’t lose all those cycling gains you made over the course of the summer. Pick up a trainer (a device to put your current bike so you can ride inside) or a stationary bike and ride inside. There are various different trainers available depending on what you want to spend and what your goals are. There are also videos and programs that can help you get the most out of your indoor workouts. Personally, I’ve become a fan of Zwift for riding inside. It’s an online cycling “game” where you can actually ride with people from all over the world on a course they have created. For the most realistic sense, I use a “smart trainer” – an electronic trainer that Zwift can control in order to make the terrain feel life-like. In other words, when you are going up a hill, it feels like it. The resistance gets harder and I have to switch to an easier gear just like in real life. Same on the downhills. There is a number of structured workouts in the program, as well.
Don’t let winter stop you from riding. Whether you ride outside or inside, ride! If you need assistance selecting the proper gear, we are here for you. If you want to try out Zwift or trainers in general, stop in!
We have all the elements for your next great adventure!