Back a while ago I wrote a piece targeted towards recreational cyclists entitled Comfort And Joy, which covered suggestions concerning items that would make summer time cycling more enjoyable. It would appear that the big blue and green marble has rotated far enough around that we now are entering the winter portion of the year. What better time to whip up Comfort And Joy Part Two?
You’ll see a fair number of people out riding their bicycles during the colder, snowy months of the year. They are not clinically insane. They are not genetically modified. They ARE of the human race. What might seem really odd is that these people are actually ENJOYING being out there. Whether (weather) for fun or out of necessity, how in God’s name do they do it?
The answer involves no magic whatsoever. Appropriate clothing plays a very large part as does the addition of a few accessories to your bike setup.
The key to doing this successfully is to dress in layers so that you can add or subtract items as the temperature changes while on your ride. The idea with all of this is to leave the house feeling slightly cool but comfortable. You will warm up as you ride. There are long sleeved cycling jerseys available that are microfleeced on the inside to provide warmth but also wick sweat from your skin. You can also use a normal lycra cycling jersey as a base layer. The important wicking properties are still there. If using a dedicated winter cycling jersey, just add a wind and waterproof shell jacket over top. If using a regular lycra jersey, you can consider adding a polar fleece garment between it and the shell. An outer shell designed for cycling will have the added bonus of a longer tail, which helps greatly in keeping your seat dry and will be cut in such a way that it won’t bunch up in front either. The arms should be slightly long so that they cover the cuffs of your gloves while reaching the handlebars.
There is nothing nicer than a pair of microfleeced tights for cold weather cycling. Not only do they wick plenty of moisture from your skin, they also keep your knees warm as you move through the cold air. These are available with or without a chamois padding in them. The ones without padding are great for other cold weather activities too. A winter walk, snow shovelling or even tobogganing can be that much more comfortable! Bib tights are considered by many to be even better since they eliminate any gap between waistband and jersey. A pair of waterproof pants can be added over top of any setup for wet days.
Choosing gloves can be fairly straight forward. There are many long fingered gloves available for cold weather cycling. Once again, they are designed to wick moisture. The outer layers are very weatherproof. One unusual but very effective type of glove is commonly referred to as a lobster claw. These may a better choice for a few reasons. Your fingers are separated so that two fingers go into each half of the claw. This allows more warm air to circulate around each finger. In essence, one finger keeps the other one warm. If riding a road bike, these are ideal for braking while riding on the brake hoods. Many gloves have secondary, removable inner liners.
While not a glove, Bar Mitts are really handy for eliminating everything from cold, moving air to rain, sleet and snow. These neoprene “mitts” attach to your handlebar in a few minutes and allow you to wear less bulky gloves, even in sub zero temperatures. They are available for both road bikes and bikes that use handlebar grips. Being more of a gauntlet in length ensures that much of your forearm is protected from the elements.
There are a few different options for keeping your feet warm. Start with a pair of socks that also wick moisture away from your skin. If you don’t use a clipless pedal system, then a pair of good hiking boots or winter boots will work well. For clipless pedal use, there are wind and waterproof shoe covers and toe covers that are worn over your regular cycling shoes. There are different thicknesses and materials available for any given weather situation. For the ultimate protection, look into a pair of dedicated winter cycling shoes such as Specialized’s clipless specific Defroster boot.
It’s no secret that keeping your head warm in winter to prevent heat loss is of utmost importance. There are several ways to combat this when wearing a helmet. The most popular item among cyclists seems to be the microfleeced beanie. This is a tight fitting lycra cap that is worn under the helmet. The best beanies will offer some ear coverage. Many cyclists also prefer a balaclava for more complete face protection. One item that is gaining in popularity as word spreads is the helmet cover. This stretchy lycra cover is rubberized on the inside and is worn over the helmet. The idea with a cover is that it prevents wind, moisture and cold from entering the helmet in the first place. They work well, especially when used in combination with the beanie. Can’t be bothered to keep track of separate gear? Some helmet companies are offering winterized cycling helmets such as the Specialized Centro Winter LED. This all season helmet features a removable winter liner complete with ear covers. It IS cozy! For added safety a removable LED taillight is included…..
…..which conveniently leads us into the topic of lighting. “If I had a nickel…..” for every time that I saw a person riding a bicycle in low light conditions while using zero in the way of lighting, I’d be wealthy enough to be sitting on some warm beach, doing nothing more than writing a dozen blog entries a day. How do we sum this up? It’s dangerous. If the person on the bike could sit in a car and see their doppelganger ride by, unseen until the nth second, the majority of them might be shocked enough to invest in lighting. Lighting doesn’t have to cost a lot. The most basic silicon rubber blinkies will do the job and make you visible. More money buys more power and therefor more visibility. The bike industry has given us some very compact, lightweight, long lasting technology. Many lights are intended for use in the daytime as well as in the dark. Incidentally, studies have shown that using a single headlight on the front of the bike and a single taillight on the rear is far more effective than loading your bike to resemble a rolling Christmas tree (guilty as charged). The idea is that if you are TOO visible, a driver will become overly focused and might edge over towards you. Who knew? Anyhow, we love all cyclists and would be incredibly happy to see everyone staying safe by using lights.
How indispensable is a good pair of fenders? Very! Just ask anyone who uses them. It doesn’t matter whether you use the clip on kind or the full coverage set, once you try them, you’ll love them. The advantage of the clip on type is that they are easily removable on dry days and if you ride a road racing bike, there are partial fenders that are designed for bikes that have no traditional mounting eyelets. A full coverage fender set has the advantage of offering more complete protection. No matter which style you choose, the days of enduring a cold, soaked rear end or wiping splatter from your face will happily be over. Be sure to get the right width for the size of your tires and start smiling.
With a little preparation, winter cycling becomes more of a case of mind over matter than anything else. Whether you intend to commute, or just escape the confines of the house on a Sunday afternoon, the change over from warm weather riding can be refreshing. Exercise is never bad and who knows? This could be your next big thing. You just have to get out and try it!