If you know Susan H., you know she doesn’t like being cold. That doesn’t stop her from riding during winter though! Here’s some tips from Susan. If you want a winter clothing checklist, here’s Rachel and Vera’s previous post to summarize it all for you!
This is one of those difficult questions to answer because what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. I’m the one who shows up for a morning winter ride wearing wool socks, toe warmers, shoe covers, tights, 2 base layer tops, a therminal top, winter jacket, hat under my helmet and something almost equivalent to my snowboarding mittens on my hands. Imagine, if you will, the younger brother on the Christmas Story movie. That’s how I dress for a 20/30 degree morning. The guy I’m usually riding next to on that morning ride has on knee warmers and arm warmers. That’s it! One can only assume he has covered his body in Mad Alchemy Embrocation to keep warm in those type of temps. If this guy dressed the way I needed to, he would probably be a solid block of sweat-ice midway though the ride because he would be over dressed for his needs.
Having a few essential layering pieces can help anyone have a more comfortable cold ride. Also, depending on your cold tolerance and trial and error will depend on how you decide to layer them. A good rule of thumb when preparing for a cold weather ride is to start off just a little cold, because after about 10 minutes of pedaling, you’ll warm up quite nicely. For most folks, if your overdressed, overheating can be uncomfortable, so you may have to experiment a little before you get it right. For me, even though I’ve only ever lived in Colorado, I’m more afraid of being too cold.
Leg and knee warmers. These are awesome because they keep your legs warm when it is in the up 30’s to the 50’s. A cycling rule of thumb is to keep the knees covered when it is 50 or below. For some, such as myself that temp tends to be closer to 60. Another nice thing about leg/knee warmers is that if your starting your ride in colder temps and you are riding long enough that it warms up enough you can take these off and they easily fit in one of your back pockets. If it is really cold tights may be the way to go. Tights can provide that extra wind protection in the front of the body.
Toe and shoe covers. There are a few parts of the body that are more susceptible to the cold air making it important to properly cover them… the hands and feet. For the feet there are a few items that you can consider. Toe warmers slip over the outer shoe and cover the toe box keeping the cold air from getting in. Typically this is all that is needed when it is 40-50 degrees out but when it is colder, say 20, a whole shoe cover is nice. Again…. to be like me you can just wear BOTH!
The core. Even in the cold when you are working, saying climbing up a hill or pedaling along to keep up with the group your riding with, you are sweating. Because of this, a base layer that wicks away the moisture is essential to keep your skin and clothing dry and to avoid heat loss. The next layer I’ll wear is a thermal top. This assists in trapping air between the layers, providing a insulation to help hold heat in. Now…if it is super cold outside, I need to keep the cold air from even reaching me so I’ll layer with yet another layer, a winter coat or something with a wind resistant front layer. This outer layer keeps that cold air off of you and holds the warm air in. This outer layer is often forgotten when someone goes out on a climbing ride. When you climb you are going slower and working harder which makes you think it is warm enough to not need a outer wind resistant layer, but when it comes time to turn around and descend…. It doesn’t take long before regret sets in.
Your head. About 30 percent of the body’s heat is lost through the head. So if you keep your head warm, your body will stay warm/warmer. And no, your helmet is not enough nor does it count as a scull cap. Remember all of the holes in your helmet allow air circulation on hot days. On cold days the cold air circulates. Depending on how cold it is, there are differing levels of gear that can be used. Head bands are a good beginning. A scull cap is also good lightweight remedy but on those crazy cold days you might consider a heavier winter cycling cap or even a balaclava which also protects your face. In 20 and low 30 degree weather you probably want your chin, lips, nose and cheeks covered.
Hands. Visit your local bike shop because they will have a myriad of different gloves. Keeping your hands warm and keeping the cold air off of your hands is very important. If they get too cold and ‘numb’ from being cold…. It makes it very hard to shift and more importantly it makes it very hard to brake. Believe it or not, this is another area you can effectively layer. There are lighter layering gloves that can easily go under a outer wind resistant pair.
In a nut shell….. layering is your friend.