Don’t fret as Phil unfortunately saw his shadow, which means he thinks there is at least 6 more weeks of winter... Just because its winter doesn’t mean you can't and shouldn’t be out riding your bike… You may be counting down the days till that Spring Equinox finally gets here as your official beginning of riding season to get back on the bike but you are really doing yourself a disservice by not spinning those wheels. Sure, going on a long ride in a perfect sunny summer day is great fun but winter rides are where biking memories are made. You will always remember that frigid 15 degree ride navigating a snowy and icy road fighting with Mother Nature to stave off that hypothermia. OK, that may not sound all that appealing but just because it is cold outside doesn’t mean you have to bunker down and hop on that repetitive trainer one more time. Feeling that cold air just about freeze your nose off your face makes you feel alive, right? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Bueller… OK, not only that but it sure does give you a better appreciation of those warm weather rides and keeps you from taking them for granted. Plus you have been out riding your bike in the real world getting some miles in which will keep you from getting dropped at that next group ride. Even if the thought of riding in the cold seems a bit discouraging, here are some tips to help you at least enjoy the winter rides that you do go on.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE LAYERING
The first thing that you have to do is dress in layers! You may start your day in some Arctic conditions, but once you get the blood going, the sun finally pokes its head out and you will be looking to lose a layer. Once you do get that heart going and the circulation is picking up, you’re going to start getting hot…which most likely means that you will start to sweat… Sweat in the summer isn’t a problem, though in the winter it could be a little too effective at it's purpose and make you really cold. It isn’t just important to have multiple layers to shed if you need to but the types of layers that you have. You will want to be wearing layers that are very good at wicking away moisture. So you want to stay away from the cotton as well as the wool, which is great at insulating once it is wet but remains wet. Though Merino wool does an excellent job of breathing and insulating well. This super material is used in socks, base layers, and other layers. In addition to the merino wool, there are tons of great cold-weather fabrics made by good companies out there that do a fantastic job of wicking away that perspiration away from your body while insulating it at the same time.
PROTECT THE CORE
Your first instinct may be to protect those little toes and fingers by keeping them warm but in reality you want to concentrate on keeping your core warm first. The reason for this is if your core drops not even a full degree, your veins will contract to your outer extremities to protect itself and your fingers and toes won't get as much blood to begin with. Your body is pretty darn good at defending itself and knows what it needs to do to survive. That is why you’ll want to have a good base layer that will wick away sweat from the body and build off of that. On top of the base layer, you may want to have a winter-weight long sleeve jersey along with a wind jacket or vest on top of that. You’ll want to do the same for your lower body as well, especially keeping those knees warm. You may want to wear some thermal bib shorts and some winter tights on top of that.
ALWAYS BE PREPARED
Just like a good Boy Scout you will want to always be prepared… Being at just the right temperature is a bit of a balancing act that will require some adjustment throughout the ride. You will want to be prepared for a wide variety of temperatures, since Mother Nature likes to keep you on your (cold) toes. The temperature may change considerably from the beginning to the end of your ride or vice versa. It helps to have clothing that has zippers, which allows you to get some air into your clothes and act like an air vent to help regulate your body temperature. It doesn’t hurt to bring extra gear even if you may not use it. For example, a neck warmer can help to they can keep heat from leaving your jacket or jersey and keep that core warm. Also a extra pair of gloves can also help in case your first pair gets sweaty so you can simply swap them out to keep your fingers warm.
PROTECT THOSE PIGGIES
Besides protecting and keeping the core warm, being able to actually feel those fingers and toes makes your cold ride just a bit more enjoyable… Feeling like you are pushing your pedals with some frozen clubs isn’t exactly a great feeling and can easily be avoided with proper preparation. Layering is appropriate once again for the feet… You may want to put on a thicker winter weight sock, your cycling shoes, a cotton shoe cover, and then a neoprene bootie to keep the road spray at bay. PRO TIP: You may want to put one of those thermal hand-warmer packets onto the top of your shoe and keep it in place with the cotton cover. There's nothing wrong with a little better living through Chemistry...
AVOID THE AAA
Lastly, you will want to give your bike a good maintenance check before you head out. The last thing you will want to do is to have to stop and fix your bike on the side of a freezing road if you don’t have to. Pausing to fix a tire may not be a big deal in the summer, but spending an extra 5 minutes standing still in the winter could cause you to get a chill that you won’t be able to kick for the rest of the ride…
EMBRACE THE COLD
Sure, it is going to take some extra effort(and layers) to prepare for a cold weather ride…and may be tough to convince your riding partner to join you...but the enjoyment of simply riding your bike will always be there regardless of what the weather is like outside. Riding in the winter can be a tremendously rewarding time of year to hit the road. When most may be on the couch bingeing on their latest Netflix show you will be out getting some fresh(brisk) air, exercise, and the sense of pride knowing that you braved the elements to get in extra miles while most hung up their cycling shoes for the season…