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Cold Weather Cycling

December 1, 2020

The best way to enjoy the winter is to find ways to stay active and do the things you love — for us, that includes riding. Want to stay comfortable on those cold days? Make sure you have the proper combination of clothing that is made out of appropriate materials. Picking the right layers helps protect you from moisture, traps heat and protects against the elements. 

Next to Skin Layers

Warmth starts at skin level. As we ride, we start to sweat and wearing snug fitting, moisture wicking layers next to your skin will keep you dry. This is very important because if too much moisture accumulates on your skin it is a lot easier to get cold. Two suggested materials are synthetics and wool. 

Synthetic materials – Polyester is great at wicking moisture, can be less expensive and is quite durable. However, keep in mind that these materials have the tendency to hold onto smells.

Wool Wool provides more warmth for the same thickness of fabric. Wool is naturally odor resistant and will stay warmer when it becomes damp with sweat. High-quality wool can be more costly, but it will provide a great deal of comfort on those long, chilly days. 

Insulation Concepts

As you move further away from the skin, you should start adding insulation. This is the middle layer and will be what traps the heat you create as you ride. When planning what to wear for insulation it is important to consider how much exertion the ride will require. For rides where you are pushing yourself hard and creating a lot of heat, this layer may be skipped because your outermost layer will also trap heat. For a relaxed social ride where you may be starting and stopping, a thicker layer may be better to trap the heat during the times you aren’t moving. On your first few cold rides bring a backpack so that you have a place to pack an extra layer as well as a space to shed those layers as you warm up. This layer is all about experimenting with different combinations of clothing and seeing what works best for you!

Protection from the Elements

Your shell layer is the outermost layer and is meant to protect you from the elements. Focus on waterproof and windproof layers. 

Waterproof layers Rain jackets and pants are good for days when it is cold and rainy or there is very wet snow. As your body heats up, waterproof layers can trap moisture inside the jacket. Zippers in the armpits are great for managing moisture inside the jacket. If too much moisture accumulates in the jacket, you can get wet and then cold. 

Windproof layers – These are ideal for high levels of exertion in cold weather. Windproof layers will allow for more moisture to pass through, leaving you dryer and more comfortable. Some examples of this type of clothing will have breathable panels on the back and under the armpits. This will allow for moisture to escape the wettest areas and block wind in the most exposed spots, including on the front and tops of your arms. 

Vests – When we are mountain biking in the winter we may be more protected from the wind. A vest can be a great option in these conditions because it allows for a lot of breathability on the arms and keeps warmth close to your body, which can lead to a very comfortable ride. 

Head, Feet, and Hands

Keeping your face and extremities warm is essential for an enjoyable ride. Here are a few recommended accessories that can be beneficial during a cold, wet or windy ride.  

Head If you are using your existing helmet, a thin wool or synthetic beanie that fits under your helmet can be a great option. On colder days, a beanie with wind protection will keep your ears happy. On really cold days, switching to a ski helmet or outfitting your helmet with ear covers can also be a good way to stay warm.

Neck and Face Buffs and balaclavas (ski mask) help to cover up your neck, ears and face. Pulling the neck gaitor over your ears and putting the beanie on after can help to seal up your ears. 

Eyes – Taking care of your eyes during cold weather is very important. Depending on the temperature, glasses or well ventilated goggles can make for a more comfortable ride. Eye protection can fog up if they are not well ventilated. 

Hands Windproof gloves are preferred for their breathability but a waterproof option will be great on those wet, cold days. Lobster or trigger finger style gloves offer additional dexterity and warmth compared to mittens or regular gloves. Thin liner gloves can help add warmth and manage moisture. Pogies are another way to increase warmth for your hands. These slide over the ends of your handlebars and create an insulated wind barrier that you put your hands inside. Some of these have extra insulation for those really freezing days. 

Feet – Proper circulation is key. Make sure that your shoes or boots aren’t too tight. This will restrict blood flow to your toes and will prevent them from warming up. Winter cycling boots are excellent if you want to stay clipped in through the winter. Hiking boots are a good option but will limit the feel of your pedal. Make sure your footwear is waterproof. If they aren’t currently, try plastic bags on your feet. This will stop wind and cold water from getting to your toes. Old bread bags work the best! Also, wool socks will keep your feet warm even after they get wet with sweat and liner socks can increase the warmth and dryness inside your footwear. 

Dialing in your cold weather layers is about experimentation. Try out some of these suggestions! Use different layers and pay attention to the forecast before you go riding. Over time, you will have a good idea of what to wear for all conditions!