The holiday period is approaching, so we probably have a bit more time to ride than usual. Additionally there are challenges such as the Rapha Festive 500 that people may want to target. But riding in the winter has a few big key differences to riding in the summer. As the temperature drops, there are several considerations to be made to make sure your winter rides are as comfortable and safe as possible.
First off, we need very different levels of cycling kit. Although as we cycle we generate heat, we are very good at losing that heat via sweating and our breath. This is why even when wrapped up very warm, the moment we stop we get cold quite quickly and it takes a while to get going again. So here are some key items of clothing to have when the temperature drops to 0-5 degrees:
- Bib tights – thermal lined and possibly with water resistance. Cold shins are not fun; you can also get bib tights that extend higher up your torso and back for added core warmth.
- Base layers – A good thermal base layer makes a huge difference, as they trap heat in but can also let heat escape if you unzip the outer layers. High necked ones are ideal for deep winter and you can even get windproofed ones.
- Jerseys/jackets – A hardshell jacket is great not just for keeping heat in, but for keeping the elements out. The zipped front also means that if you do get too hot, say on a steep climb, you can cool down controllably.
- Gilets – Usually quite packable and offer some added protection for your core while being easily removable. A good essential to keep in a pocket or start your rides in.
- Packable waterproof – A packable waterproof is my go-to piece of kit for most rides outside of the summer. They can be packed away very small and keep the wind and rain out. When conditions get wet, they are the best piece of kit for keeping your core toasty.
- Headwear – a thermal cap, a buff, or a skull cap are all good ways of keeping your head warm, along with your ears and neck. Your breath is another way you lose heat so covering your mouth and nose when very cold can really help trap some heat in.
- Gloves – our hands have a lot of nerve endings in them, so keeping our hands warm can really help keep the perception of cold down. Going a size slightly too big can help as that will give a layer of air around our hands for added insulation.
- Overshoes – socks should really be the same all year round, as thicker socks can change the fit of a shoe. So good overshoes are the way to keep our feet warm. Another trick is taping over any shoe vents.
My advice for working out what kit option is right for you, is to make sure that when you are outside and standing still, you feel comfortable but not overly warm. This way if you do stop or slow down you will hopefully be warm enough, but when you’re riding and generating heat you won’t get excessively warm.
The next thing to consider with winter riding is nutrition. In the cold it can be harder to remember to drink, as we ideally don’t want to be drinking something cold, which our bottles will become after a short while. Insulated bottles can help big time with keeping drinks warm or at least room temperature. Also worth taking into account that if you drink less and usually get your fuel from drinks, you will need to eat more solid foods. Keep your pockets nice and stashed, always better to take too much and not need it, than not enough and need it. Ideally still aim for 500ml of fluid an hour, as you will still be producing a lot of heat when riding and likely sweating a fair bit. Carb intake will depend on how much you use personally at different intensities, and also depends on how long the ride is. Aim for a food item an hour on longer rides, and that plus a gel if more intense.
Firstly, if the temperature drops below zero overnight, it is usually safest to stick to riding indoors and not risking it. It only takes a small patch of ice to result in coming off your bike which isn’t going to do any favours. If the temperatures aren’t as low, it is still worth planning your route to avoid smaller narrower lanes as these often will have small pockets of colder areas where ice may have formed. Best to stick to larger roads that get gritted as these will be free of ice. Just remember to clean your bike afterwards as the salt is corrosive to your frame and components.
Another part of logistics is the timing of the ride. Riding early morning in winter is usually colder with more chance of ice; we also have the issue of low sun and that reducing visibility both for ourselves and other road users. Better to time your rides (if you can) to be around the middle of the day.
Finally, stopping time. When we cycle, for every unit of energy that goes to forward momentum, about 4 units go towards generating heat. This is why we get hot very quickly when exercising. When we heat up, our body wants to remove the excess heat by sweating and generating moisture. This system is very efficient at heat loss, which is good mostly. However once we stop moving, we stop generating heat, but we still have moisture on our skin that is being used to transfer that heat away from us. In winter this happens very quickly as the temperature gradient is larger. Limiting our stops to very quick ones will help reduce the amount of heat we lose when stopped and keep us more comfortable on the ride.
By virtue of the days being shorter, safety is another option to consider. Due to scheduling and time available in the day, it is likely that we will be riding when there is reduced light or low sun. This means it is important that we make ourselves as visible as possible. It is the responsibility of other road users to be aware and see us, but it is better to be safe and cautious than righteous and not safe. Cyclists are smaller road users and can be more difficult to spot in challenging light conditions.
So first off, visible clothing. Yes, black and dark kit have long been viewed as stylish, slick and fast options, but when light is low it isn’t sensible to be riding around in all black. Most pro teams have training kits for their riders that are higher visibility. Orange or yellow are great choices as they stand out against most backgrounds. You can also get kit items that reflect when car lights hit them.
Next off are lights. A flashing rear light is essential as it makes you a lot more visible to other road users, especially with the flashing. The Garmin Varia is a very good option as the inbuilt radar alerts you to approaching traffic. Front lights are also worthwhile even during day light hours. Though we don’t need them to see, they can be very helpful for helping car drivers coming out of side roads to see us. At the end of the day none of this helps stop stupid road users, but it does prevent giving them any sort of excuse. People riding bikes have as much a right to be on the road as any other road user.
Hopefully these tips will help make your winter training rides more beneficial, comfortable, and safer. Let us know any extra winter riding tips that you have!