Whether you enjoy cycling as a recreational pastime or you are a competitive cyclist, the winter will introduce a series of challenges in to your cycling routine. When the weather turns, hazards such as frost, wind-chill, cold and rain can affect both bike and rider. To combat this, prepare yourself for the winter by acquiring the correct equipment and clothing.
With this in mind, before you even consider braving the fresh winter air, it is advisable you first obtain a number of effective clothing layers. These will help to keep you warm, dry and comfortable during varying levels of exercise in potentially adverse weather conditions. Furthermore, by effectively utilising the layering system, cyclists are able to stay warm and dry whilst equally remaining versatile enough to change outfit should the environment change drastically.
Firstly, base layers, both synthetic and woollen, can help to wick moisture away from the skin and maintain body heat during the coldest of days. These garments are found in both short and long sleeved variations. Due to this, their usage can be tailored on a daily basis depending on the conditions outside. Specifically designed cycling clothing like base layers are equipped with longer backs and shorter fronts. This is designed to mimic the rider’s position when cycling preventing any bare skin being exposed to the natural environment.
When considering a mid layer, warmth without weight should be the priority. These layers should be lightweight insulating garments that allow for easy temperature control and maximum breathability when cycling. They are used to increase the pre existing abilities of the wearer’s base layer and they help trap heat, often increasing the capacity of moisture that can be wicked away from the body.
The most effective mid layers combine high collars, tight fitting cuffs and elasticated waists in an effort to prevent the wind passing through the clothing. With this, a number of mid layers possess both wind proof and water repellent features increasing their effectiveness when the weather takes a turn for the worst.
When exposed to adverse conditions an effective outer layer, or shell, will protect you against all the wind, rain and snow the winter can throw at you. However, when cycling in winter, it is important that these layers stay lightweight whilst remaining durable enough to withstand the dirt, salts and oils sprayed up from the road.
During the winter, heavy duty, multi layer waterproofs may have a detrimental effect on a cycler’s performance, as they will often lead to lower levels of breathability. This in turn traps too much warm air next to the body and raises the core temperature beyond a comfortable working level. As the exercise of riding a bike generates a large degree of heat naturally, it is advisable to keep layers at a minimal thickness and maintain the ability to regulate temperature in small quantities.
By carrying a light weight, ultra durable waterproof a rider has the capability to adapt to the winter climate when cycling. Should the weather warm it can easily be rolled and placed in a jersey or bag. Conversely, should the weather change for the worse, it can be pulled out and put over other layers with ease.
Less competitive riders may find it more effective to carry a larger, heavy weight outer layer. This may be due to the simple fact that non-competitive riders tend not to generate as much heat as those partaking in high speed races or high adrenaline mountain sports.
Bib or fleece lined tights
A cyclist’s legs are the power that drives the bike they are riding. This means that they generate and maintain heat more efficiently and to a higher degree than the upper body. To keep them warm during the coldest of winter days fleece lined riding tights are suggested. Thermal tights are lined with a fine micro fleece layer that holds the heat generated by the leg muscles and prevents the cold wind passing through them during cycling.
In extremely cold temperatures, consider going against the crowd and instead of using fleece lined tights use thinner single skin tights with a comfortable pair of shorts underneath, this will add extra warmth and increase the all important comfort factor which is paramount when in adverse condition.
Thermal tights can be found with several features including saddle padding, foot loops, ankle zips, wind resistant padding and water resistance. These features however can sometimes restrict movement and, due to this, personal preference plays a large part in choosing the clothing used for your lower body. For further protection against the cold, knee and leg warmers can be worn. These will prevent the wind cooling the vital parts of the legs and this in turn will put a stop to any potential sprains and strains associated with the cold.
In an effort to become light weight and breathable many helmets have large holes in them, this is a great feature until the wind picks up and it rains. To aid in this situation windproof skull caps or head bands can help to prevent any heat being lost through your head while riding. With this, buffs, neck warmers and balaclavas can do the same job for the neck and nose, preventing any uncomfortable redness and soreness from any potential wind chill.
When looking at ways to keep the hands warm during the winter it is advisable to first look at the varying categories gloves fall in to.
Firstly, lightweight gloves are usually reserved for dry, warm days and at a push, can be used during the mild winter days toward the end of the season. Following this, windproof gloves can be used all year round, especially on those cold dry days at the start of the winter season. These gloves usually hold a minimal water resistance and this will depend on the material they are made from. Lastly, waterproof gloves provide the greatest of finger protection. Waterproof, windproof and often fleece lined, these gloves are needed during the harsh winter days
The hands and fingers follow the rest of the body in its need to stay warm and dry. With this, the same principles can be applied. To protect the hands during the winter two layers of gloves are advised. Using a very thin silk glove as a base layer for the hands is not uncommon and once combined with a thicker waterproof thermal glove the layering system is once again effectively utilised.
Carry at least two pairs of gloves, that way if one is damaged, lost, broken or soaked, after a brief pause you can still carry on comfortably.
Be vigilant with the length of the grips used on gloves, full finger length and whole palm grip ensures full control over the brakes during the rain. However, be aware that thicker gloves can compromise handlebar control and connection to the bike.
Once your feet are wet they become less efficient and much harder to warm up. It can be said that much like hands no rider likes having cold and wet feet. To combat this neoprene over shoes can be worn to protect against wind and rain. These will also be able to keep spray out of your socks which will, in turn, prevent your feet getting wet from indirect spray.
For extra protection fleece lined boots can be worn. These are winter versions of the neoprene boots and are fitted with internal micro fleece that allows for greater warmth when worn. However, this feature comes with a higher cost.
For a low tech, easy solution small plastic bags can be wrapped around your feet. This will provide a fully waterproof layer within your shoes and is great for a quick fix or a short term solution.
With all the modern technology used to keep your feet dry and warm there is one variable that will not change. You will need a warm pair of socks for a solid, warm and breathable base layer for your feet. If you are concerned, there are water proof socks on the market that allow for high level breathability as well as a fair degree of water repellence.
Even if you are fully prepared to brave the winter weather, before considering to ride it is paramount you prepare for the journey. Riding in the winter can be extremely dangerous and prior preparation is the key to a successful and safe ride.
Winter tyres or studded tyres can be equipped to increase grip, prevent punctures and increase stability. They are also thicker making them easier to take off with cold fingers should a puncture happen. Legally, bikes must be fitted with lights and this is more important during the winter months due to the visibility being lower. It is also advised to take back up lights to cover all eventualities.
Letting a little air out of your tyres can also greatly increase the grip of your tyres, just make sure you don’t let it all out. Furthermore, during winter carrying a small can of de-icer can help to prevent any of the larger metallic features freezing and seizing after stops.