Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you have to give up riding your bike for a few months. Winter cycling is an amazing experience and everyone should give it a try. However, there are certain items and precautions that you should take before you venture out. Here, you will find an overview of the type of clothing and gear that you need as well as some useful advice to follow while riding in the cold.
1. Wear Proper Clothing
Wearing the right clothing to keep you warm is the first step to winter cycling. However, modern clothing designs allow us to avoid anything too puffy or heavy. In fact, there is such a thing as too much clothing. You will inevitably heat up once you get going and too many lakers can cause excess sweating. Consequently, you will feel too cold and uncomfortable when you stop or go down a long descent. The following items are a must-have for winter cycling.
– Winter Shoes & Overshoes
Your extremities (hands and feet) are the most vulnerable during the cold. Just wearing regular cycling shoes may not be enough. Overshoes are a great addition to wear over your regular pair and keep your feet warm. Your cleats and the ventilation holes around it will still be exposed. A simple trick is to cover up the holes with some tape to stop the cold air from getting in. If that is not enough, you should get a pair of winter cycling shoes as well for extra warmth.
– Cycling Gloves
Cycling with cold hands is just as uncomfortable as cycling with cold feet. Therefore, it is important to wear a pair of gloves. Gloves that are specially made for cycling in the winter are easily available. If needed, you can wear an extra pair of slim gloves underneath the winter gloves for truly freezing conditions. Just remember not to restrict your hand mobility too much.
– Base Layer
A good base layer is one of the most effective ways to keep your entire body warm. Double layered or windproof tights for the lower body work great and are widely used. A high quality thermal base layer for the upper body is an excellent way to keep your core warm. By keeping the core warm, your body can direct warm blood to your arms and legs. The material should be moisture wicking so that it doesn’t get soaked in sweat.
– Mid Layer
Just above your base layer, you can wear something like a warm jersey which is comfortable. This is optional in less extreme conditions as the base layer will do most of the work. A mid layer will usually not be required for your legs since they are doing most of the work and generating the most heat.
The outer shell of your attire should ideally be a thin waterproof jacket and pants. Being waterproof means that they will block wind effectively and prevent any snow or spray from being absorbed by your clothes. Even though initially you’ll feel a bit chilly, a thin jacket should usually be enough since you will warm up eventually. The great thing about a zip-up jacket is that it can be removed if you start sweating too much.
– Head & Face Protection
Almost all helmets have ventilation which is great for summer but horrible for winter. Hence, you will have to wear a skullcap, beanie, or ear warmers to keep the head toasty. You could also wear a face mask or neck buff to shield your face from the wind. Another option is to wear a balaclava which covers both the head and the face.
2. Plan Ahead
It would be really unwise to head out with your bike in winter without preparing properly first. Plan out your route in advance and check the weather forecasts. Think about which way is safe and does not have too many obstacles. You should bring a charged phone and some money as well in case of an emergency. Additionally, you should be prepared for punctures and mechanicals. These can happen to anyone at any time, so carry the tools to deal with them. Simply put, you should prepare for the worst possibilities to the best of your ability.
3. Stay Fueled and Hydrated
Our bodies burn a lot of calories to stay warm in frigid weather. If you run out of energy in the summer, you can simply take a break. But that is not an option with cold winds blowing and snow falling on your head. Therefore, it is important to eat up (but not too much) before riding, and to carry snacks with you. Take a bite from time to time to maintain a stable blood sugar level.
A common mistake that a lot of riders make is not drinking enough fluids. Just because you don’t feel thirsty doesn’t mean that your body is not losing water. Staying hydrated actually helps your body with heat generation as well as preventing exhaustion. Get a thermal flask and you can carry your favorite hot drink with you. A sip of that out in the cold is simply amazing.
4. Keep Your Bike Maintained
It goes without saying that your bike should be kept in tip-top condition all the time. However, this is more important in winter, especially for the moving parts. Regularly check your gears, chain, hubs, cables, bottom bracket, and brakes. Wash your bike to keep any grime from accumulating. Wet weather can be particularly harsh on the brake pads and braking surfaces (rims for rim brakes, rotors for disc brakes).
The chain will probably need to be lubricated more frequently, and the cables should be checked for any damage or rusting. This can be caused by the frequent splashes from water and mud. Proper maintenance of the bike is the best way of preventing any mechanicals. You will want to avoid any breakdowns as much as possible, especially if you don’t want to be stranded outside on a freezing cold day.
5. Equip Your Bike Properly
The roads can be extra slippery in the winter. Hence, you will need good grip to avoid any accidents. You might want to consider switching from your smooth road tires to something with more grip. Running tires at lower pressures is also a good way to get more traction. Also, tubeless tires are preferable to minimize the chance of flats.
The winter months are also known for their low visibility. Moreover, the days are shorter. Therefore, you should ensure that your bike has enough lighting to keep you visible to others on the road. The final object to equip your bike with are fenders, also known as mudguards. They keep mud and water from spraying onto you, your bike, and even other riders behind you.
6. Pack Extra Gear
Often you will find yourself sweating a lot. When you make a stop at a cafe and resume riding, the wet base layer can really start freezing you up. Therefore, it is a good idea to carry an extra base layer which you can put on while at the stop. Additionally, you could carry two pairs of gloves to adjust to changes in temperature – one lighter and one heavier. Lighter gloves also offer good finger dexterity, making it easier to change flat tires or do other things. Bring an extra pair of socks and you will thank yourself if you accidentally step on a puddle. If you are not going to wear a jacket, carry one anyway. Who knows when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Is it safe to cycle during winter?
Ans.: It is definitely not as safe as it would be in summer, but with the right precautions you should be just fine. Here are a few tips to follow:-
- If you don’t have clipless pedals, don’t push too hard to avoid slipping
- Slow down when you come across a slippery section
- Stay near the center of the road so that cars do not overtake you carelessly
- Don’t start the ride warm – if you feel warm before beginning, then you are overdressed and will soon feel too hot as you pedal
- Stay visible with bike lights and reflective clothing
However, if the weather is too windy/snowy or the roads have too much ice, it might not be worth the ride. Better to hit the indoor trainer or spin bike than risking injury.
Q2. Can I ride a bike in the snow?
Ans.: Riding a bike on snow is possible but you will need extra traction and stability. One way to do this is to run the lowest tire pressure possible, within reason of course. You can run 20 psi or lower depending on your weight. Experiment with it and eventually you’ll find the right setting. Also, get wider off-road tires for added traction. Narrow road tires are not a good idea for the snow. In fact, use the widest tires possible on your bike for the best performance. Finally, there is the option to go all out and purchase a fat bike. They ride incredibly well on snowy and sandy terrain.
Cycling in the winter is by no means a bad thing. But it is crucial that you follow the advice that we have given in this article. Otherwise, you could have a really bad time out there. Unless you are facing truly arctic conditions, winter cycling can be an incredible experience. Plus, it’s a great way to stay fit and prepare yourself for the next racing season.