Some people see cycling in the winter as impossible. They think only crazy people and those with special snow bikes are out there in the cold.
Fact is, with a few key pieces of clothing riding in the cold and wet can actually be comfortable.
We need to approach it by addressing the three problem areas (in order of difficulty):
Most athletes have enough clothes to keep legs and torso warm on even the coldest days — wind/water proof jackets are common and can be used on multiple sports (hiking, running, skiing) and a thicker pair tights is really all you need. But feet, hands and head can be a challenge.
Feet are the toughest.
- Vapor barrier – This is the most cost effective way to go. A vapor barrier is nothing more than a thin water-proof layer that you can slip on between two pairs of socks. You can even use plastic bags (I’ve used empty bread bags in the past). They keep heat in and they keep your sweat from soaking your insulating layer (the outer sock) and I was always amazed how warm they kept my feet.
- Neoprene boots – These are relatively inexpensive and as long as your shoes fit well (and they’re not too tight) they can go a long way toward making your feet happier on a ride. I’ve found that having a set of cycling shoes that are a half size bigger than normal to allow a thicker sock can really make a set of booties that much more effective.
- Winter shoes — These are an extravagance (they’re not cheap — they can cost from $200-$500) but when you use them, you’ll never want to go back. They can take pretty much whatever the weather can dish out and keep your feet nice and toasty. I love mine and use them all the time.
- Lobster — I prefer the split fingered lobster gloves for the combination of extra warmth and dexterity. Having the fingers buddied up makes a big difference. Mittens are warmer but are much harder to shift and brake in, and gloves are more dexterous but generally harder to keep fingers and hands warm.
- Pogies — this is my favorite winter solution for cold hands. Pogies are like large nylon and neoprene mittens that fit over your handlebar. The warmest versions are for mountain bike-style bars and they provide so much warmth that only very light gloves are necessary to wear under them and many times you can get away with none at all. The large insulated cover allows the warmth from your hands to warm up the air inside the pogies, providing a nice toasty environment.
- Neoprene cap — I prefer the neoprene skull cap with ear flaps. In the coldest weather they really keep the wind and water out. You have to be careful not to overheat so on some days, perhaps over 40 degrees a lighter poly cap will suffice.
If you’re going to ride on the road, then ride a mountain bike.
But they’re heavier and have knobby tires and they’re slow, you say?
When it’s cold the last thing you want it more wind chill. I don’t know about you, but when it’s 30° outside and I’m working at 220 watts for 3 hours, I’d rather be on my mountain bike going 13 mph than on my road bike going 24 mph. That extra 10-11 mph makes a big difference — it drops the temperature another 10°.
Don’t be afraid to get out there, and you also don’t need to spend a lot of money to make yourself comfortable. Just remember — feet, hands, and head. Keep those toasty and you’ll be racking up the winter miles.
He lives with his wife and two kids and runs multiple businesses in Grand Junction, Colorado.