Riding in the depths of winter through snow, ice, wind and sub-zero temperatures may seem intimidating if you haven’t tried it or if you’ve tried it with the wrong gear. But if you hang up your bike when the temperature drops, you’re missing out. Believe me there are more than enough gear options out there to help you stay warm and dry.
Not only that, but winter riding can be the most blissfully peaceful riding of the year. Just follow a few simple guidelines and you’ll have a whole new season of cycling opened up to you. (To clarify, we’re talking about in-town riding here: commuting/running errands/riding to get from one place to another.)
I’ve broken up my guidelines into main topics – Bike, Accessories, Clothing, and Technique. Once each of these parts is dialed in, you’ll be hopping on your bike with a chuckle while your neighbor puffs away scraping his windshield.
(Disclaimer! Every person is different when it comes to what they need to regulate their body temperature, and what their comfort level is in varying conditions. This article describes what I’ve found to be the best clothing and gear for my winter riding. You may find that your needs are a bit different than mine, and that is awesome. Use these tips as guidelines, not absolute laws.)
Other than a few basic requirements, you don’t need a specific type of bike to ride in the winter. There are however a few things that make a bike ideal for winter riding:
After you have a bike, you need to get some winter-compatible tires on it to complete the package. There are a few different ways to go here, depending on how much you want to spend and how much you want to get into winter riding. Tires are also a compromise – in the snow, wider tires are better for balance; when it’s dry, wider tires are slower. Colorado winters will give you plenty of snow AND dry, so you have a few decisions to make:
Just a few key items here to keep your ride fun, safe, dry:
Number one most important piece of gear for your torso is the wind and waterproof jacket. You’ll need fewer layers if you can keep your heat in, which this piece will do nicely. Make sure it has velcro wrist cuffs that can tighten enough to keep the wind out. It also needs pit zippers to cool off when you’re working hard.
Under the jacket there a bunch of layering options. Which you choose is up to you and your own body temperature needs. I like merino wool for all my under layers – it’s warm and comfy and not itchy, and allows me to wear fewer layers than I’d need with synthetic materials. I follow the following levels of layering as it gets colder:
Again, everyone’s hands have different requirements to stay warm. Some people have toasty digits, others feel like they’re getting frostbite at 50 degrees. You’ll need to experiment with what works for you. For me, the top priority is that whatever I wear on them needs to be windproof/waterproof. After that, I use a combination of cycling gloves, then mittens, then mittens over gloves, then all this plus chemical hand warmers.
In my winter biking gear bin I have knickers, waterproof pants/knickers, wool ski socks and wool tights. Mix and match these and you’ll find several good combos that keep you warm in all weather. Pants that unzip to become knickers or long shorts are a great option for temperature regulation.
For my feet, I start with wool socks and cycling shoes with toe covers. As it gets colder I’ll put chemical toe warmers on top of my toes (because that’s where they get cold), and in wet weather I use overshoes. If it’s really cold? Full-on insulated snow boots do the trick. My pedals are Shimano clipless on one side and platform on the other so I have my options of what kind of shoes to use.
Just a few more tips to review and remember and you’re good to go:
That about wraps it up. The main take-away point? It IS possible to enjoy a winter ride, and enjoy it a lot! If you find you’re too cold or too this or that, examine your gear and see where you need to make changes. Stop in Full Cycle and we’ll be happy to help you piece together the gear you need to make your winter riding fun. Most importantly, enjoy the peace and beauty, and remember: There no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate gear.