Cold Weather Riding Tips

Ed. note: We’ve covered riding in the rain and after hearing from our readers, are gathering Cold Weather Riding tips into a post. Well-timed with this essay Patti Dobrowolski, CAT 4 women’s Development Team Captain (and visualizer), WOW wrote for us. Whether your riding urban, commuting to work, racing, or training, these tips should help.

Baby It’s cold Outside

In the PNW it is finally getting cold out and I always have to remind myself about what’s different when riding in the cold. I came from Colorado where it gets “frickin” cold but it often has a lovely sun in the sky and it is dry, so as long as you have a face mask on, you’re set. Seattle, just slightly cold but really, really wet.

urban_chill.jpg

Wet + Cold = Very Cold

Simple reminders for the chilly weather:

Clothing

What to wear?

snow_beard.jpg
Better to err on the side of too much on than too little. Everyone is different - duh- but in terms of what people wear you can see a big difference when you are out there on a team ride. It always cracks me up to see these guys cycling in shorts when it is like 40 or below. Okay studbo! Those lobster legs look guuuuud! Sexy!

Something on your head? Let’s not do those silly do-rags - you are not on a Harley. But, is it under 45 degrees? Better wear something on your head under your helmet but please not a hat cover thingy? Not a good look. Under not over your helmet is the rule.

Gloves - Someone else famous in the cycling world was quoted as saying your gloves are the most important clothing item that keeps you warm when riding. Sometimes I actually bring two sets of gloves just in case my hands get too hot or too wet. (but then I also carry two tires, two pumps, two lights, two…I am of the team captains, say no more)

Coat or vest? Yup. In Colorado, we always carried a raincoat, where the weather could go from 75 and beautiful to below 30 in about 15 minutes. Be prepared.

Underthingys - yes that smartwool shirt that Bikehugger has looks groovelicious - am waiting for a Women’s SMALL to come my way. C’mon Byron! Shoe covers? I learned the hard way that you can’t buy those really thick ones in Seattle like we needed in Colorado because well…they get filled with water and suddenly you are have two full buckets and you are turning them over and over and over… Everyone has a different trick about keeping your feet warm. Dry is rarely an option in the PNW even if you wear something rubbery, because hey, rubber makes you sweat.

Eating

Eating during the cold weather is way more important than you think. What happens when you are cold is your body burns more carbs to keep you warm and toasty and so there you are thinking you can get a cup of Joe and pain o’ chocolat like you do in the summer and then about 20 minutes into the team ride you are riding all by yourself having watched your team ride away while you pedaled frantically but could not keep up.

60 miles is often the length of a training ride for a CAT 4 racer during the “building the base” phase of winter training. Eating well in the morning - both carbs and protein before you go out on that kind of a ride is important. But eating and drinking during the dang endless ride is even more important.

Case in point - last weekend we had about 35 people turn out for the training ride to May Valley yesterday. To make things manageable, we broke it up into groups of 8 or so and headed out into the frosty morning. Two hours later, I noticed two little mistakes made by almost everyone. Nobody had really brought enough water. Some of the riders only had one bottle to begin with, others had two, but no one had refilled their empties at our first stop which is probably what you need to do to have enough for that kind of distance and hills.

Secondly, some of the female riders were still struggling with their fitness despite being somewhat seasoned racers. When you are new to racing, it is often a gearing issue - ie. shifting too late and having to spin weirdly to catch back on, or you are gearing too light and spinning too fast which pushes the heart rate up. But when you have been riding awhile the lack of that final uumph to get you up that hill is often a nutrition issue. Women generally have to supplement their iron intake and, since we live in Seattle, also supplement your vitamin D. Most importantly, eating enough good carbohydrates keeps your body tanked with enough glycogen for you to draw from. Here’s a link to read up on it.

Last thing about the cold - do not fear it. It is so much less boring to ride around the Lake one more time than to ride on that trainer. If it is icy, well that is a different story, get out those Lance winning the TDF for the 6500th time and do L’Alpe du Huez together until the rain washes the snow away and the road beckons for you to take the lake loop one more time. Then, base layer up and get out there.

snow_woman.jpg

###Updates###

Ask about studded tires and heard:
Racerveza — I haven’t pulled the trigger on studded tires yet, but I’m getting close. Sounds like you have to be willing to spend some $.
hilltop_yodeler — I’ve got an old Bridgestone MB-3 – my winter commuter; it’s sportin’ a set of studs and only comes out when the snow’s flyin’
lonelydimple Just put mine on this morning. And glad I did. There was a lot of ice out there today

Reader tips

  • autumnrizing — what to wear - what tires to use in snow/ice etc..
  • jasonkayzar Check this post from Dirt Rag Magazine re: boots, shoes and warm feet.
  • UltraRob Don’t wear tight shoes. Neoprene booties or even plastic bread bags over the feet help keep feet warm. Windblocker over crotch.
  • graemeshaw Don’t over dress. If you feel a bit cold when you start out, you’ll warm up, otherwise you’ll get too hot.
  • velotips Put all your clothing on radiators before you get out. Start off warm - stay warm.
  • Racerveza I’ve blogged a bit about it recently.
  • bikeride Tip: Get those instant heat toe warmers to put in your shoes. Welcome to the cold of New England.
  • KarlOnSea After today’s experience … my top cold weather tip is to avoid black ice! Rule #1: Keep rubber side down.
  • statonjr Stress importance of drinking fluids, even in cold weather.
  • jasper9 saw a decent post that described what the dude wears at each temperature, very helpful.

Photo credits:

Eleni op de fietsSophie Teunissen; Beard-off week 6.5nanobiker; Trailing stars behind herJeremyhughes



16 Comments

i’m not sure “erring on the side of too much” is really a good idea.  for example, i sweat like a pig no matter what, and erring on the side of too much would really be pretty miserable.

i think “erring on the side of too many layers” is a good idea.  i carry around a couple wool pendletons and a heavy wool army sweater.  ready for anything!  above 25, that is.

@doug,

Good points and that depends much on the riding you’re doing. A problem with training rides or riding hard in the cold is generating lots of heat and sweat and maintaining a comfortable micro-climate. Wool is great for wet riding keeping you warm, but it doesn’t wick like synthetics and you have to watch that you don’t stop for too long, get chilled, and really cold quick.

I’ll bonk at least once a year and it’s usually on a cold-weather ride where I’m burning calories keeping warm and not eating enough. Last year, we had this amazing tailwind all the way out to the Church (a classic Seattle ride), balmy, sun out. Well, that was the eye of the storm we were in and I turned around right into the storm and eventually had to call for a ride—ice was forming on my arms.

I know what I’m doing, had the layers, windtek, rain coat, but I’d sweated so much during the “warm” part of that ride, then I got too cold, didn’t eat enough and boom I’m calling Pam from a Quiznos asking for a ride.

 

OK, so this may not work for you hard core racers, but for commuters, carrying a good backpack is nice.  That way you’ve got a place to store your layers after you take them off once you warm up. 

I also recommend taking it slow for your first winter rides.  Learning to ride over unexpected patches of ice is a skill you develop over time, and plenty of people have broken bones because they weren’t ready for this yet.

Lekker koud fietsen, y’all!

Always watch out for wet yellow center lines on a rainy day!  I took a nasty spill on one back in March and haven’t forgotten that lesson since.

This morning was a pretty cold ride in. Tomorrow and early next week look colder in Seattle.

The worst part for me during the cold weather (the fun part on warmer days) is that I live on a hill so the beginning of my ride doesn’t warm me up, yet I get fully blasted by the cold air. It takes me some time after coming off the hill for the warmth I generate to radiate outwards. Since my ride isn’t very long I’m just going with a couple of layers and sucking it up. On the way home it’s different: Mostly flat, and then the climb home. By the time I hit my garage I’m drenched and happy I didn’t pack on the layers.

i guess i should mention i never do training rides.  and none of my bikes are light-weight at all.  and i always carry tons of stuff on my rides—grew up a backpacker, you know.  always be prepared for anything.

you mention “the church” being a classic ride in seattle.  i recently moved here from rural northern california, where epic rides (seriously, unbelievable rides) were five minutes from my door.  in urban seattle, i have no idea where to go that’s close (ish) by.  i like riding the streets hard, but i miss winding country roads, dozens of miles of gravel logging roads, and eye-popping scenery.  so the church, a “classic ride”, sounds so very interesting.

what is the church?!  where is it!  i want to go.

In Green Bay, WI we just had 11” of snow and this morning the roads are cleared off and a brisk 9 degrees.  A nice wool jersey works with a wind breaker.  I bike 11 miles into work.  I guess I would add a decent face mask on colder days.

I like the ideas so far. If you err on the side of being too warm, just make sure your clothing lets you vent so you don’t get drenched in sweat.

But I would add, winter shoes to the list. Nothing has made my riding less painful in the winter than wearing winter bike shoes. I am currently using the Shimano MW-02. They are goretex so they keep the rain out nicely. But when the temps dips below 15F I’ll throw a pair of Sidetrak neoprene booties on top of the shoes. The neoprene booties work well in rain too, Pittsburgh is no stranger to rain.

Also a neck gator is really nice to have when the temps get really cold.

-Joe

@Tm K

That’s absolutely correct.  Black ice is an issue everywhere. Here in Seattle, it’s microclimates—coastal with lakes, valleys and hills, some areas will have ice and others not with 10 degrees or more in temp differences. Out riding, all is good, and then boom you’re on ice. A couple reasons I don’t ride in the dark anymore was I nearly rode off a bike trail into the Puget Sound (I let the bike go flying out from under me, into the drink) and I was defying the weather and riding in the snow on my MTB. Riding along, having fund, and found myself sliding down a steep hill, into, and under a car. I sheepishly realized how stupid that was and didn’t do it again.

@Retodd,

That’s a great tip and note this post was written for the range of cyclists. Patti is a bike racer so offered her perspective. On Bettie, I’m all bundled up—not generating much heat—and have the Xtracycle packed with clothes.

@xxcskimt (Robert),

Will you run studded tires? Face makes (balaclava) do help, but I can never wear them long cause my face gets too hot.

@doug,

There are plenty of rides in the Pacific Northwest and Seattle—we should map those, I know—if you’re not into the racing/training scene, check [Cascade’s rides](http://www.cascade.org/) and the [Seattle International Randonneurs](http://www.seattlerandonneur.org/), also [Cyclists of Greater Seattle](http://cyclistsofgreaterseattle.org/index.html). Sounds to me like you need to ride up the passes, around Mt Rainer and to Spokane and back . . . The Church ride is to the north end of the Burke Gilman, Bothell, up this big hill, with a church on top, then down into Snohomish. I’ve ridden that so much, I know it, but none of the actual streets?

Anyone mapped that ride?

@Darren,

I live on a hill as well and I don’t go out in weather under 30. It doesn’t get that cold here very often, so ok, but that doesn’t work in the colder climates.

Best winter equipment?  Boot-dryer at both the office and the house!  Starting a ride with wet feet SUCKS!

I got a set of studs (Nokian Hakkapelittas through Peter White) a year or two ago, when the Seattle snow kept me stuck in the house for too long.  They arrived too late to deal with that storm, but I did get some snow-riding in later on.

Compared to the street slicks I normally run, studs are hard freakin’ work.  Huge rolling resistance on dry pavement, and if you’re actually rolling through snow, getting there is the entire battle; forget getting there with any kind of speed.

I think in the future, I’ll only swap the front tire to studs, so I’ll only get half the rolling resistance hit, but will get the greater traction where I need it: steering and stopping.  My real goal in having studs is to deal with the ice I can’t see, or can’t avoid.

I love smartwool and icebreakers.
Pretty much all you need for the not-so cold bay area weather. Love my wool

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