7 Tips to Cycling in the Cold

I grew up in Southern California. Aside from some cyclocross races here and there where I would grit and bear it for a weekend or two to race, I had no idea what ‘cold’ really was until I packed up and moved to Missouri and experienced four cold Missouri winters during my time in college. Then after college, I moved to Utah and I’ve experienced a whole new type of cold. The humid, bone chilling cold of Missouri riding is different than the dry, cold air of Utah.

I spend most of my winters riding outside in freezing temperatures. I’ve spent plenty of cold days out in the sleet, mumbling under my breath. I wouldn’t say that I have any sort of ‘cold’ immunity. Overtime though, through trial and error, I’ve found my perfect system to conquer the elements. Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. Layer Up

You have to layer up. One big jacket may sound convenient, but it’s impractical. You have to be able to shed and add layers throughout your ride as the elements change and as your body temperature changes. Plus, with multiple layers you can use different types of clothing to accomplish different things such as wicking moisture away from the body, isolating you from wind, protecting you from water, etc.

On a really cold day (20 degree F) here is what I might wear outside:

  1. Base Layer (wick moisture)
  2. Voler Light Weight Peloton Long Sleeve Jersey (light layer for warmth)
  3. Voler Peloton Thermal Jersey (primary warmth layer)
  4. Voler Wind Jacket (protect from wind chill)
  5. Voler Caliber Vellum Rain Jacket (insulate the heat or protect from precipitation)

The other reason it’s essential to layer up is to help adjust to the terrain. For example, in Utah, when I climb up the canyon I may feel overheated and I need to be able to remove layers of clothing so that I don’t sweat. However, once I’ve ascend a couple thousand feet, the temperature drops, and I have to descend going 40 mph, I may need some extra layers to protect me from the cold.

  • Don’t Sweat

This one is harder and more important than it sounds. I have a pretty high sweat rate, so this is always at the forefront of my mind in the winter. When you first leave the house, you might feel chilly and tempted to really layer up until you are toasty warm. The issue with this method is that as you warm up, you may begin to sweat. You might feel good at first, but after your initial descent or just over time you may cool down and then your sweat will just feel cold and wet. It’s very important to monitor your sweat throughout the ride and shed and add layers accordingly.

  • Head, Hands, and Feet

We all know it’s important to keep our core warm, but you can’t neglect your head, hands, and feet.

Head: You lose a lot of heat through your head. In the same way, if you are burning up, exposing your head and ears can help to cool you down quickly. A thin beanie or hat, or even just an ear covering can make a world of difference in the cold.

Hands: My hands are usually the limiting factor in the cold. I love a neoprene hand covering because it helps insult whatever heat I do have. I use neoprene gloves or even bar mits in the coldest conditions.

Feet: Finally, it’s important to protect your toes. Find a good pair of shoe covers. You can also insult your feet with baggies over your toes or plastic bags inside of your shoes.

  • Timing is Everything

When you are kitting up to ride, I always wait until the last minute to put my final layers on. Don’t layer all the way up and then pump your tires indoors. You might feel warm and toasty, but you are likely heating up too much and moisture is accumulating on your skin. You won’t even feel the sweat yet, but you’ll feel it when the cold hits you part way through the ride.

I wait until I’m outside or walking out the door to put on my gloves, head covering, and my final layer.

  • Check the Windchill

Last, but not least, always check the wind chill. The actual temperature may not be very cold, but when factoring in wind or moisture the temperature may be quite frigid. Additionally, when riding, you’ll create some wind chill of your own purely because of the speed at which you are travelling. Make sure you factor in these elements because they will get you over time. You might feel just fine when you leave the house, but when you are many miles away, the last thing you want is to start shivering.

  • Play it Safe

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the cold before and crawled home, curled up in the blanket, and shivered. I’ve been picked up and I’ve escaped under shelters. I’ve learned my limits over time and when I want to push those limits I do it in a controlled environment. On really cold days I’m a fan of loops close to the house. I will complete my workout on a loop that is 20-30 minutes long so that I know I can bail and finish on the trainer if need be. I find that sometimes just knowing that I am safe and I have an out allows me to push it further and harder because I’m not afraid of going too far and getting stuck or stranded.

  • Eat and Drink

Don’t forget to eat and drink. When it’s cold it’s often tempting to forego liquids and food because your hunger and thirst response are muted a little bit or maybe all of your layers make it difficult to reach for your nutrition. Don’t be tempted to forego the food. When you are cold, you burn more calories due to shivering and nonshivering thermogenesis (to keep you warm). That means that if anything you need more food when it’s cold outside and if you choose not to meet your body’s demands then not only will your training suffer but your body won’t be able to keep you as warm for as long.

Embrace the Cold

Remember that the grass is always greener. Soon we’ll be back to those 100 degree days where you are just dreaming of a snow patch. Try to enjoy the change is weather. Afterall, variety makes life interesting.


One thought on “7 Tips to Cycling in the Cold

  1. Excellent review of cold weather behavior.. It applies to all of us, in any outside sport and activity, and including those of us who grew up in the cold winter climate.  JL____________

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