As a bike accident lawyer who loves riding year round despite the fact that I live in Upstate NY where the winters can be BRUTAL, I have learned many tricks over the years to make winter riding not just tolerable, but actually enjoyable. I was just thinking about putting together a blog post with some of my tips when I received an email (pasted below) from the great folks at CycleOps.com (makers of PowerTap powermeters, trainers, etc.) with a super article on Conquering Cold Weather Riding. And then as fate would have it, one of our local riders posted his own set of tips for winter route selection that I also thought was great:
1. Choose long, steady climbs. That way your generating heat for a long time.
2. Choose steep, fast descents. That gets the chilling over quickly.
3. Choose south facing descents. That minimizes the chance of running into patches of ice and snow when going fast downhill.
4. Expect invisible ice, in the form of condensing frost, on any road surface near a north facing, snow covered slope.
5. Anything that looks wet has a high likelihood of being ice.
I hope you all benefit from these tips and I wish everyone a safe and warm Thanksgiving holiday
Conquering Cold Weather Riding from www.cycleops.com
Whether you’re maintaining form for upcoming cyclocross races, rolling out some valuable base miles, or simply trying to burn off the calories from holiday goodies, riding outside when the temperature drops can be tricky. But, getting outside to ride once or twice a week can be a great way to clear your mind and get a great workout. If you prepare correctly, you will stay warm, safe, and most importantly, have fun. We compiled a list of tips from our in-house experts for riding outside in the winter.
1. Dress in Layers
- Wear clothing you can peel away if needed. Three or four layers is ideal – under-shirt, thermal jersey, a vest (lightweight or thermal, depending on weather), and maybe a jacket.
- Leg and arm warmers are easy to remove and put in your jersey pocket if it warms up.
- Use a water wicking layer on the base (active wear or wool) and then go into more wind/wet protection on the outer layers.
2. Protect Your Extremities
Feet and hands can be difficult to keep warm; experiment to figure out what works best for you.
- Wear good gloves on your hands and booties on your feet.
- If your hands get easily cold, try lobster gloves. They keep your fingers just as warm as mittens but provide dexterity to brake and shift.
- Waterproof, windproof layers are critical.
- Bring an extra pair of gloves along to switch the wet ones out with dry part way through the ride.
- If it’s really cold or your feet get easily cold, wear winter riding shoes, shoe covers, wool socks and stick-on foot warmers. The foot warmers are air-flow activated, so these usually work better if you replace the shoe covers with them.
- Here’s a tip for cold feet that one of our experts thought would never help, until he tried it himself. Take the sole out of your shoe and trace it out on a cereal box; put the cut-out in your shoe with the sole on top of that. It keeps your feet a lot warmer paired with a good pair of booties and some wool socks.
3. Minimize Exposed Skin
Do the best you can to cover all your exposed skin.
- A balaclava or handkerchief can cover the lower half of your face. However, be cautious with items that cover your mouth. Breathing into things makes them wet, and wet items freeze to ice quickly on a bicycle. Covering the chin instead of the mouth will often keep you warmer than covering your mouth and making your face wet. It will also make breathing easier and more enjoyable.
- If it’s really cold, you can use Vaseline to cover the skin on your face to avoid frostbite, although this is for extreme temps only.
4. Regulate Heat
- Some outerwear comes with zippers. Zippers easily open or close to regulate heat as needed. Do not get sweaty; if you are warm, crack open the zipper to keep just a little cool; this will also motivate you to ride a bit harder.
- If your outerwear doesn’t have zippers, here’s a tip: Tucking a shirt into your riding pants/tights holds heat in. Untucking a shirt from pants/tights allows air to move through and cool you down. This is a good way to adjust for varying temperatures during a ride.
5. Invest in Some Key Gear
Invest in a few pieces of key clothing. This is key. Better clothes are more comfortable. Not just better fitting, but they also regulate your body’s temperature better. By using materials that not only block cold air, they wick moisture from your skin. They’ll keep you drier, which in turn keeps you warmer.
- Look for Windblock and wool; it’s great at adjusting to changing temperatures.
- Most of the clothing you already own for Spring and Fall cycling can be used as layering pieces for winter riding. However, two good pieces to splurge on for cold weather riding are thermal tights (preferably bibs with a chamois), and a thermal jacket or jersey.
6. Don’t Over Dress
- It’s better to be a little cool when you start riding than soaking wet from sweating halfway through your ride. Your body will warm up as you continue riding, so after a few miles, you should be warmer and more comfortable.
- Over dressing can be as bad / dangerous as under dressing. If over dressed and you sweat too much, you will soak all your clothes through and then none of them become effective to keep you warm. A rule of thumb is to dress so you are cool when getting on the bike and then ride to warm up.
7. Consider Your Helmet
- Make sure your helmet still fits properly with a hat underneath. If it doesn’t, purchasing a larger helmet or thinner hat is recommended. Skullcaps are thin and generally fit under helmets, but make sure they cover your ears.
- If more insulation is required, BMX helmets are inexpensive, and their lack of ventilation can be beneficial in the cold.
- Ski helmets also make great winter cycling helmets; they already have the ear covers on them and are extremely warm.
8. Plan Carefully
Be prepared, weather can change quickly this time of year.
- Check the weather pre ride.
- Plan your ride with short-cuts to get home; if the weather changes, if you are over or under dressed, or if you have a mechanical, you want to make sure you can get home quickly.
- Plan shorter distance rides if it is snowing – snow makes riding much more difficult and slow going. One of our experts points out: “A 20 mile loop that I ride year-round will take me under 1 hour in the summer but can stretch out to 2 hours in the winter pretty easily.”
- Ride a little harder than normal to begin with to warm up quickly.
- Try not to stop riding once you’ve started; if you’ve started sweating at all, you’ll get cold FAST once you stop.
9. Stay Hydrated
- In colder temps, it’s very easy to forget to drink, and you can get dehydrated quickly. Even though it is cold out, your body still needs fluids.
- If it is below freezing, add salt to water to keep it liquid. Use a drink mix like Gatorade or Nuun to keep your water from freezing.
- Put a second water bottle of HOT water in your back jersey pocket as you leave to keep you initially warm. Also the body heat will keep that one liquid throughout the ride.
10. Stay Visible
Dress with bright colors and flashing lights. Usually on gloomy days a blinking light will show up in the middle of the day. Motorists are less likely to look for cyclists in the winter, so making a bold statement you are on the road will keep you from getting hit.
11. Prepare Your Bike
- Keep bike maintenance up to date. You don’t want to get stuck on the road trying to fix a mechanical.
- Keep flats to a minimum with training tires that have extra flat protection.
- Use fenders. Salted roads are consistently wet down to 0 degrees.
12. Master Ice and Snow
If the climate where you live is snowy, keep these additional tips in mind.
- Ride platform pedals instead of clip-ins during the snowy and extra cold months. If need be you can put your foot down faster if you lose balance, and you can wear thicker, warmer boots.
- Be prepared to crash – it is going to happen, so don’t take your nice bike out unless you are looking for an excuse to upgrade come Spring. Lots of layers sometimes help cushion the fall.
- Be able to get off your bike fast – crashing on ice is much faster than crashing on pavement or dirt, there is no skidding and then falling. You are just riding along one second, and literally the next second you hit the ground and are sliding on the ice. Some people use Pam or other cooking oils on their cleats/pedals for faster release.
Manned with these tips, you should be able to ride when it’s in the 40’s, 30’s, 20’s (degrees Fahrenheit), and even colder, and you can extend your outdoor riding season into the winter.