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.jpgWet + Cold = Very Cold

Simple reminders for the chilly weather:


What to wear?


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 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.



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

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