Most people consider cycling a seasonal sport; fun to do during the warmer months, but once the temperatures start to drop they put away their bikes for the year. But you don’t have to stop riding just because winter arrives. In fact, with your bike properly winterized, and the right clothing in your closet, you can continue riding all year long. Here’s what you’ll need to stay warm in the saddle during the colder months.
Start with the Base Layers
As with any outdoor winter activity the key to staying warm starts with good base layers. These are the articles of clothing that sit closest to the skin, and should quickly wick moisture away from the body. This will help to keep you dry, which in turn means you’ll be warmer too. Look for form-fitting base layers made of merino wool, and avoid wearing any cotton clothes. When cotton gets wet and cold, it can lead to trouble.
Add a Fleece Layer
Your next layer of clothing should be a fleece pullover that can provide an extra level of insulation from the cold. It will work in conjunction with your base layers, allowing moisture to escape, but trapping pockets of warm air close to the body. It also has the added benefit of giving you the option to pull it off if you begin to get too hot. Once you start riding your body will no doubt warm up considerably, and you’ll want to have some flexibility out on the road.
Protection From Wind and Snow
Finally, wrap your body in outer layers that offer protection from the wind and snow. A waterproof and wind resistant shell jacket will do the trick, allowing you to stay well protected from the elements, and warm and dry, as you ride.
Keep Your Extremities Warm Too!
In addition to keeping the rest of your body well protected from the cold, you’ll need to keep your hands, feet, and head warm too. That means wearing gloves that are specifically made for the winter (water and windproof) that still allow you to operate your bike’s gears and brakes safely. You’ll also want to wear a wool stocking cap or cycling beanie under your helmet so your head doesn’t get cold. And on days when temperatures are especially low, a balaclava may be in order to help protect your face too.
Footwear can be a bit trickier, as clipless cycling shoes are not often designed for foul weather. Invest in a pair that is a half-size larger than you normally would use so you can wear thicker, warmer socks. You may also need a pair of waterproof cycling overshoes to help keep your feet warm and dry as well, particularly if you ride in wet conditions. And if you don’t happen to use clipless pedals on your bike, any winter shoe paired with warm socks, that sill allows you to pedal properly, will do.
Winterize Your Bike
While cold weather in and of itself isn’t especially bad for your bike, the moisture, snow, grit, and mud that come along with winter can be hard on its drive train. You’ll need to clean the gears and chain frequently if you expect to keep your ride in top condition. Alternatively, you may want to consider switching to a fixed-gear bike for your winter commutes. Those bikes have a single gear, and fewer moving parts, which makes them easier to maintain. Some bikes also have internal gear hubs as well, which keeps those sensitive parts safe from winter grime.
Light Up Your Life
Winter days are short, and darkness comes early. If you want to ride safely during that season, you’ll need lights on both the front and back of your bike. This will keep you more visible and allow you to see obstacles in the road too. Modern cycling lights are small, lightweight, and very bright, which makes them the perfect companion for evening rides at any time of the year.
Don’t Forget Your Tires
Mountain bike tires are well suited for riding in winter conditions, but with their slick, narrow tires, road bikes can be at a disadvantage. You may want to swap out your traditional tires with ones that provide a bit more grip, and no matter which type of bike you ride, reduce the air pressure to provide a better grip on the road. During the winter months, the pavement will often be wet and slick, if not downright icy. That can be a recipe for disaster, so take the necessary steps to avoid a crash.
When properly prepared for winter, you’ll find you can ride outdoors all season long. Just be extra cautious when cycling in extreme weather, avoid icy roads whenever possible, and stay safe by making yourself more visible. Winter cycling can be just as fun and rewarding as any other time of the year, with a few added challenges to keep things interesting.