Cold weather biking can be enjoyable and help keep your endurance during the off-season. Besides, riding outside keeps you off the rollers or trainer, which can feel like a medieval torture device.
Although there’s always the possibility of danger in any situation, cycling in winter does require a little preparation, maintenance, and precautionary tips, along with good cold weather cycling gear.
How to dress for cold weather: Layer, layer, layer
Cycling generates sweat and heat. The heat you want to keep close to your body, but the sweat you don’t.
One way to do this by dressing in layers, including a base layer, mid-layer, and outer layer.
This provides options to keep your body warm. If you are cold, you can add an additional layer. If you are too hot, you can unzip an outer layer — or even shed it if it’s too uncomfortable.
The base layer is closest to your body and is designed to wick the perspiration away from your body.
If the sweat pools on your shirt and doesn’t dissipate, your body’s core temperature is likely to cool down, which is a symptom of hypothermia.
The best fabrics for wicking include polyester, polypropylene, silk or wool. Don’t wear cotton!
Also, you don’t need to buy winter cycling gear for a base layer — some of the best cold weather cycling gear is not in a bike shop!
I use a synthetic wicking long sleeve like this, which can be bought at Target, Amazon, or your favorite retail store.
Multiple layers of sweat-wicking clothing will keep you warm.
The middle layer acts as an insulation barrier and helps wick moisture away.
I always wear a cycling jersey. Depending on temperature and wind, I’ll wear a long sleeve cycling jersey or a short sleeve jersey, which allows me to put keys and phone in a jersey pocket.
Many cold weather cyclists won’t buy a long sleeve jersey because they are expensive. They will choose to use a wool turtleneck or a polyester fleece. Both are good options and work well when cycling in winter
The outer layer should be able to keep wind and snow or rain out. It will keep you dry and keep the warmth in while cold weather cycling.
An outer shell will have zippered vents to help get rid moisture from perspiration. This helps your other two layers dry out.
I’ve always used a nylon outer shell without insulation down to freezing.
Below freezing, I’ll wear a heavier outer garment.
Last year, I found a really good deal on a mid-weight Free Country jacket similar to this.
I used it all winter, washing it after every ride, and it worked perfect — much better than garmets costing 5-10 times what I paid for mine.
Cold weather cycling gloves, hats, and socks
Up until this point, we’ve only discussed what to wear in cold weather to keep the core warm. The extremities are what typically gets cold first.
Your hands should be covered with full-fingered gloves. I always find a pair that extends about three inches beyond my wrist so my pulse point is covered.
I’ll also wear a balaclava to keep my neck and head warm when cycling in winter and fall. Actually, I’ve even been known to wear a balaclava in 50-degree weather when it’s windy and think this is one piece of bicycling apparel that no 4-season rider should be without.
A pair of wool socks will keep your feet warm, but if you add a pair of booties, your feet will be toasty down to freezing weather.
Manufacturers such as Lake make cycling boots for winter, but those can be pretty pricey.
Cold weather bike riding tips
The key to cold weather biking is to start your ride slightly cold. As your body generates heat, you’ll warm up.
If you start out bundled up like you live in the Arctic, you’ll get too hot on your ride after your body warms up. You’ll want to shed layers, which can be problematic when your 20 minutes from home and don’t have any place to put the layers.
If you do overdress, it’s important to have an outer layer that has zippers. The zippers will provide an opening for airflow to cool you down.
But you should not be afraid to dress up or down depending on the temperature, too. Starting out under dressed can be solved easily if you bring a balaclava, heavier gloves, or outer shell in your jersey pockets.
Although temperature is what we mainly think of when we discuss cycling in winter, the effect of the wind can have a large impact on temperature.
A 30-degree day with 20 mile an hour wind will require extra layers because this is equivalent to a 17 degree day with the wind chill factor, according to a research by the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology.
The research also notes that any exposed flesh has the potential to be frostbitten within 30 minutes on that day. Think about mechanicals or problems on the road …
If you need to take your gloves off for 30 minutes to fix your bike, there’s a probability you may get frostbite. This makes it important that your bike is in good mechanical
I hope this information about cold weather cycling gear has been helpful.