Don’t let the snow and cold air prevent you from riding! We want you to embrace winter and keep those wheels turning, no matter the weather. Over the years this is getting much easier with the products and knowledge available. If you think it's weird to ride in winter, I understand, but there really is no reason not to, if you are properly equipped and psyched to do so.
Winter cyclists are fortunate to have a company like 45NRTH whose mission is to provide riders with gear that has ‘unparalleled cold weather performance’. This is huge and bold, but they understand the challenges and gear needs, and they see the demand in this fast-growing trend in cycling. They are producing things that help make it possible to ride comfortably in some of the harshest winter conditions, and I think they're doing a damn good job of it. I personally give them props for helping grow the sport in general. We are also fortunate to have many other companies that make excellent winter clothing and gear aimed towards performance winter recreation. There really is no excuse when it comes to gear. Some people are pushing the limits by riding in -40*, making new discoveries, helping with product development and sharing
the ‘tricks of the trade’. These people are not cold or weird, just passionate about winter riding. I fall into that ‘passionate’ category, and I also want to help grow the sport.
Here are some of my best practices, things I wear and do to keep happy riding all winter long.
FEET - For a lot of people keeping the feet warm seems to be one of the biggest challenges while winter riding. The solution is easy enough; depending on your winter riding needs, you can start off with the Wolvhammers or Fasterkatts. To help keep your feet warm - keep your lower legs warm and protect them from the elements by wearing the insulated Bergraven Gaiters. Put on your favorite single sock or sock combination, maybe even a vapor barrier, and you can maintain or even increase your warmth that way. Try different sock combinations; even a liner sock under your typical wool sock will do wonders. Good shoes alone will keep most people warm, but here are a few other ‘tricks’ to try if your feet are still getting chilled. While pedaling, over articulate your ankle through your pedal strokes and/or scrunch and wiggle your toes. Both these things will help increase circulation as well as allow you to make sure you have ‘feeling’ in your toes, in case they are heading into the danger zone. As a last resort, get off your bike and walk or run while over exaggerating your leg flexion in stride, both kicking your butt and swinging them way forward. This will really help boost circulation as well as heat up your overall body.
HANDS - Like the feet the hands seem to be another crux to staying warm and happy. The gear is easy with many glove choices, although I am stoked on the new Sturmfist gloves and the Merino Glove Liner. Put a pair of Cobrafist Pogies on your bike and now you are really ready for some winter riding. I rarely, I mean rarely, use anything beyond a liner glove when using the Cobrafist. Once you get your gear selected, there are similar tricks suggested with keeping your feet warm that also apply to your hands. Constantly moving your fingers and the famous ‘windmill’ rotation of your arms will help maintain or regain circulation, which in turn prevents cold digits.
FACE/HEAD - Keep it covered! Again, there are a lot of options out there, but things as simple as using an ear band and wearing it on your nose can go a long way. Dermatone wind and sun protection is an incredible product that works. I like to carry several Buffs as well to rotate around, wear on top of my hat, face and around my neck. Cut mouth and nose holes out where you want to breath, so you don't get an ice crust from your breath freezing. There are no rules here. Wear one hat with another on top. Balaclavas like the Lung Cookie and Toaster Fork are great all in one pieces. Goggles work, but they have their own idiosyncrasies. Don’t try and take them up and down, you will only get moisture in them; once on, keep 'em on. Sometimes you may even need to breath off to the side of your mouth so the moist air from your mouth doesn't rise and fog you out. And of course sunglasses will also protect your eyes.
The feet, hands and face seem to be the Big 3, the critical parts to keep warm and protected. Here are some general tips that will help with your overall experience of winter riding as well as keep you warm.
- Carry a thermos of hot drink. It’s amazing what a little hot liquid in the body will do for you. Not only help warm you up in temperature but spirit too!
- Chemical warmers. They work, but they work best if you fondle them, like in your pogie, and keep them room temperature before activating. So store them on your body. You can put them on your wrist, in a glove, on top of your toes, on the small of your back. Remember that they do need some air to work best, so don’t just cram them somewhere expecting them to work. I personally limit my use of these and save them for extreme situations or while in competition where I want to lessen my maintenance time.
- Use wool products against your skin when you can. Wool is the best material to keep you warm and help manage your sweat. Feels nice too, especially that Merino stuff!
- Ventilation. Moisture management is the key to staying dry and warm. Being wet and then stopping you will get cold quickly. It can be as simple as unzipping to dump the moisture or taking a piece of headgear off, even your gloves. If my favorite outer layer jacket does not have pit-zips I have them installed.
- Learn to not overdress so you can avoid sweating. You can always add layers when needed. - Dress lighter on the core and heavier on the extremities, i.e. head, hands and feet. If your body temperature outside is comfortable at the start, you are probably overdressed, and you will be hot and sweaty before you know it.
- Wind protection while riding can have better results than insulation. Instead of putting on a heavy jacket, try your standard wind jacket or vest. You're trying to balance heat loss with heat output from exertion.
- Carry an insulation layer, a puffy jacket, and put it on when you take a break or stop for any extended amount of time. Like your mama used to say, “Put on your jacket, Johnny; it's cold out!”
These are just some general thoughts to help improve your winter riding. I think the toughest part about all this is the discipline it takes to apply the knowledge. A lot of us use and carry the gear as well as have the knowledge, but applying certain things when you are cold and it is below zero outside can be tough. Your mind doesn't work so well when you are tired and cold! I have often seen people cold and shivering with a puffy jacket in their pack; seriously? Or the people that head out to go riding when it is -20* with exposed skin; really?. How about the people who have gotten frostbite due to wet feet when they have dry socks packed away? Winter riding takes discipline and know how. Extreme winter riding requires an even higher level of this.
When you combine current cold weather clothing, gear and knowledge, you too can ride fat and happy in the harshest of conditions.
Discipline to do what you know and do it before it's too late. Use what you bring and bring what you will need!!!
- Jay Petervary