Whether you're commuting to work, training for the upcoming season or can't bear the thought of being off your bike for more than a few days, there are plenty of reasons to ride through the winter. To help, here's our best advice on how to brave the cold, windchill and snow.
The most important factor in winter riding is proper clothing. If you dress too warmly, exertion will quickly lead to overheating and sweating; which can in turn lead to catching a chill and becoming very cold. Contrarily, insufficient clothing is also risky. If you leave the house and your core temperature drops too far, no amount of exertion will raise it. That's why it's crucial to check the thermometer before you leave and consider these four crucial areas when deciding what to wear: your head, torso, hands and feet.
Recumbent bike and trike riders will need to pay particular attention to lower legs and arms as well, especially cuffs and other openings that may pull cold air into clothing.
In mild winter temperatures a helmet or helmet over a cycling cap is sufficient to keep your head warm. When the mercury drops, consider a thin winter hat that fits beneath your helmet. This will warm your head even at 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Protecting your face is more difficult due to the windchill generated by cycling speeds. A balaclava (photo) is an excellent solution. It provides a thin, moisture-wicking layer for your head, protects vulnerable facial tissue and covers your mouth keeping your breath warm. A neck gaiter, cowl, or scarf may also work well to cover face and neck. Be sure to use goggles or glasses with ventilation or anti-fog protection to prevent fogged vision.
If your torso stays warm, your entire blood supply will, too. Start with a moisture-wicking layer to move perspiration away from your body and keep your skin dry. Avoid cotton, which traps moisture next to your skin and makes you wet and cold. The amount and types of layers worn over the initial layer depend on the weather conditions and your ability to remove the layers if necessary. Long-sleeve jerseys with full zippers are excellent. On top, wear a windproof and waterproof layer. Racers training in the winter may prefer a jacket or vest (photo) that's only waterproof in front, allowing heat to escape in back. Commuters, who ride less vigorously and sweat less, may prefer a waterproof jacket.
Keeping hands warm can be tricky. Fingers freeze quickly because the heart internalizes blood flow in the cold. Body heat and movement help, but some riders still suffer. Mittens provide more warmth than most gloves but at the cost of dexterity. Or, try gloves with liners (right). The liners wick moisture keeping your digits dry and warm. Using hand covers (left) that attach to the handle bars is another option that can keep your hands warm and dry.
The most important factor in keeping your feet warm is the right pair of shoes. If yours fit too snugly they'll restrict the blood flow and you won't be able to wear warm socks, which are usually thicker than regular sports models. For socks, wear wool, which stays warm whether you're dry or wet. For added warmth, try thicker models, such as those designed for cross-country skiing. Most cycling shoes are designed with vents for normal conditions, but these let in the cold in winter. To keep the weather out, we recommend shoe covers (left), which add a layer of protection and warmth. Or, if you decide you want the ultimate in warm tootsies, you might consider purchasing specially designed winter shoes (right), which are loaded with features to protect your feet.
Legs may not seem as susceptible to the cold as other parts of your body, however, it's very important to at least keep your knees warm to prevent injury. Wear knickers or knee-warmers in mild to cold weather to prevent ligament damage. And even though you might not realize it, your leg muscles will work better if you keep them warm, too. Wear tights on chilly days. In colder weather, fleece-lined tights provide additional warmth. There are also models, which include windproof and waterproof panels on the front. Consider bib versions of tights (photo) because the built-in supports ensure that the lower back stays covered (other types of tights can slip down as you ride).
Wind, rain, snow and altitude changes affect your temperature drastically. Windchill worsens as the temperature drops. For example, riding 20mph into a 10mph breeze makes you feel 12 degrees colder at 40 degrees and 19 degrees colder at 20 degrees (see chart below). Be sure to wear several moisture-wicking layers so that you can add or remove layers as needed. You'll need fewer layers on climbs and when blessed with tailwinds and more layers for descents and headwinds.
Now that you can dress for the cold, here are some tips for winter cycling. For muddy, slushy off-road conditions, try reducing your tire pressure to about 25psi, which will keep more of your tire in contact with the trail surface. Ice can be particularly challenging on and off pavement. Spot it early and avoid it by riding on sections of road that offer good traction. Keep your bike as upright as possible in turns because leaning reduces the amount of contact area on already slick surfaces. Don't brake in turns, either, because this can cause skidding and a loss of control. If you ride regulary in extremely snowy conditions, you may want to use studded tires, which include little spikes for excellent traction.
For recumbent bike and trike riders, consider a fairing to cut down on wind chill. Contact Basically Bicycles to discuss your options.
We hope the tips in this article help you ride year round. Cycling through the winter allows you to keep your fitness as opposed to trying to regain it in the spring. Plus, it'll help you stave off that dreaded cabin-fever feeling, and time outside on your bike or trike is rejeuvenating and refreshing. We would love to help you enjoy these benefits. Come in and talk to us about winter cycling. We're here to help!