What an amazing fall it has been for bike riding! I hope you’ve been able to take advantage of the warmer weather and enjoy some epic bike rides! Temperatures will eventually begin to fall, but here are some helpful tips to keep you riding the bike path all year. The wind may sting a little, but cycling during the coldest time of the year is not so bad if you’re dressed properly.
I find myself primarily riding on the road in the winter because mountain bike trails are not typically rideable during winter months. The dirt actually goes through freeze/thaw cycles—freezing at night then thawing out in the morning when the sun hits. This causes the trail tread to be a huge, muddy mess, with a consistency similar to peanut butter. It will stick to your tires, and you can cause an extensive amount of destruction to the trail. If you get out early enough, you can ride when the trails are still frozen as long as the dirt hardened up the night before.
When dressing for success, layering up is the best method. Having the ability to shed a layer is very convenient, just make sure you’re able to pack it for the ride back home. I have different outfits for different temperature ranges. The way your body manages heat is different for everyone, so you will have to experiment a little with how you dress. When temps are in the thirties to forties, I start with a base layer. A polyester or wool base layer shirt is extremely important for keeping your core warm during chilly rides. A short or long sleeved bike jersey over top is a great way to add a layer and have the ability to carry things, thanks to their back pockets. For the lower half, I recommend a pair of fleece lined cycling tights that I wear over my cycling shorts/bibs. They do a great job of breaking the wind and keeping your legs from turning into icicles.
One of the most important pieces of clothing is your outer shell/jacket. Various companies offer different types of soft shell jackets that are insulated to provide warmth yet still be breathable. These work well for some riders, but they can get pretty wet on the inside if it’s sunny and a little warmer. I find the hardest part of winter riding is dealing with the wind. If you can stop the wind from coming in, you can really be comfortable. Most of my rides I use my base layer, jersey, and a simple wind breaker over top. A wind breaker is my secret weapon for staying warm and still having a top that breathes well.
There are a few other items you’ll want to consider when it comes to riding in the cold. Headwear is extremely important for keeping the heat in. Skull caps are great when the temps are a little warmer. Once it drops below 35, I bust out the balaclava as it protects your neck from the wind. I have three different pairs of gloves that I use for different temps. Make sure to buy a pair of gloves that allows for a confident grip on the bar. Keeping your feet warm is a must. Shoe covers go over your normal riding shoes and keep the wind out and the heat in. Several companies offer winter specific shoes that are heavily insulated and wrapped in waterproof material. Chemical activated toe warmers operate on a chemical reaction with air. Put these in your shoes for ultimate warmth. Leg and arm warmers are a great addition to your kit. You can simply peel them off as it gets warmer through your ride.
Keep logging the miles over the winter and those hills will be even easier when spring comes. Grab some friends for your ride. A little camaraderie helps keep you motivated when it’s freezing. Staying on the bike is a great way to squash those winter time blues, so get out there and have some fun!