Riding Comfortably Through the Winter

11 Jan

The Subzero Glove. For temps below freezing.

This time of year it is easy to hang up the bike and forget about it until the warm winds of summer return. However, for those of us that don’t have a cadre of other sports to keep us busy in the winter time; we have to find a way to ride through the cold. Cycling through all weather conditions affords the rider a certain ethereal connection to the elements that is invigorating.  While it can seem daunting, the savvy cyclist can learn to love the cold weather.

With a little preparation and a small change in attitude all the complaints that accompany riding in the cold weather can be overcome. Some of the complaints we hear over and over again are: my hands and feet go numb, my clothing is too restrictive and it takes too long to get ready, my bike doesn’t feel right. I will touch on some solutions to these problems in this brief article. Of course everyone who rides in the cold has their own tricks that work for them,  but these simple guidelines  have helped me.

My Hands and Feet go Numb:

The obvious answer here is that you are not using the appropriate equipment. There are numerous ways to keep your extremities warm, and the biggest thickest gloves and socks in your closet are not always the best thing you can do. Your hands and feet need to be covered in a windproof, water resistant, fabric that is breathable.

For your hands, this means that you need to invest in some proper cycling specific gloves; they make them for a reason. You may find that you even need several pairs for different conditions. I have two pairs of cold weather gloves. The pair that I use on truly nasty days that is waterproof and uses a separate glove liner.If the temp is in the twenties and I plan on being out for a while I will throw a hand warmer in between the liner and the outer. The other pair that I have is for most other days. It has a wind proof front and light insulation on the inside the cuff also extends up higher on the wrist to keep the breeze from getting under your jacket.  Also, your big ski gloves are neither practical nor appropriate for cycling use; they are too bulky to effectively shift and brake.

There are many types of jackets available.

Now, for the feet, there are tons of old wives tales out there about wrapping your feet in plastic Wal-Mart bags and duct taping the vents on your shoes while wearing the thickest socks you can cram into your shoes. These efforts generally result in even colder feet. The extra compression on the nerves of your feet by all the extra stuff causes numbness because of the pressure too. A simple solution can be found in using dedicated cycling booties with a thin wool sock. There are several types of shoe covers that you can get and like gloves it is best to have two, but err on the side of warmth. A more extreme solution that some riders employ is a winter specific shoe that is insulated. On very cold days a thin “toasty toes” can be inserted into the shoe for extra warmth.

My Clothing is Too Restrictive and It Takes too Long To Get Ready :

Ok these two complaints are directly related to one another and also somewhat tie into the last complaint, “my bike doesn’t feel right”. Generally speaking your clothing takes too long to put on and feels too restrictive because of the same reason. YOU ARE WEARING TOO MUCH OF IT. One only needs a few key pieces specifically designed for cold weather riding to free up your range of motion, and extra time to ride, because you are not pulling on layer after layer.  Here are the essentials for winter riding (gloves and shoe accessories excluded). Insulated Bib tights, a long sleeve base layer, and a windproof breathable top will suffice for most days. It normally takes me only a few seconds longer to get ready to ride in the cold because of gloves hat and shoe covers. I always chuckle to myself when I see people on group rides wearing their summer bib shorts, leg warmers, and then a flimsy set of lights over all that. For their top you may see base layer, jersey, arm warmers then a long sleeve jersey covered up by a windbreaker. All these layers cause too much restriction in range of motion and too many friction points that can cause chaffing. Not to mention that breathability goes out the window with all those layers.

My Bike Doesn’t Feel Right:

Tom knows that Less is More.

Ok, so you have your position dialed in at the end of the season, but everything feels out of whack when you ride in the cold. This problem can be both an equipment problem and a biomechanical reaction to the colder temps. As we mentioned earlier, all those layers build up to limit range of motion. This equates to an effectual decrease in flexibility. Therefore, you can’t achieve the same comfort with your current position. Try using the appropriate clothing and this feeling should go away. We have seen in some athletes a general “tightening up” in the off season. In other words a rider becomes slightly less flexible in the winter months due to cold, activity level, diet, etc. If the proper clothing doesn’t help then you may want to make a consultation appt. with a bike fitter to see if your position needs to be adjusted.

Everyone who rides in the extreme cold eventually develops their own habits that work for them. These recommendations are what have worked for me and the many cyclists I help on a regular basis. I would love to hear what you think and what works for you. Feel free to contact me via phone 479-442-9311, email highrollercyclery@gmail.com, or facebook Highroller Cyclery

Thanks for Reading


P.S. Insulated water bottles are a great way to keep your water from freezing on really cold days. Just fill them with a warm mix of your favorite winter drink, and they offer comforting refreshment during the ride.


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