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How to Prepare for Cycling in Cold Weather

17 Dec 2020

by Brady Lawrence

Riding bikes through the winter can be tough. From freezing temperatures and limited daylight to rain, snow and ice, cycling in cold weather is a lot more difficult than a summertime t-shirt ride. However, with a little bit of gear and the right preparation, cycling in the cold can be an excellent way to stay in shape through the winter months and get some quality time in the great outdoors.


From bicycle commuting in the cold to snow-specific fat biking, the key to riding in lower temperatures is finding the right apparel layers for you. Unlike activities like running where you heat up quickly and stay warm until you’re finished, riding bikes can make your temperature rise and fall rapidly depending on whether you’re pedaling uphill or downhill. You might feel overly hot riding to the top of the hill only to feel like you’re freezing on the way back down.

A good set of layers can help you regulate your temperature to make riding in the cold much more enjoyable. A typical set includes a sweat-wicking base layer, a warm insulated layer and a water and wind-resistant outer layer. The base layer, which could be as simple as a synthetic t-shirt, is quick-drying and serves to wick sweat away from your body so that you don’t get too wet. The insulated mid layer keeps you warm and can often be completely unzipped to release heat for when you’re pedaling uphill. Finally, the water and wind-resistant layer, often called a shell, is critical when you’re rolling downhill or riding in rain or snow. This layer keeps you dry and keeps cold wind from cooling you off too much. It’s great to be able to stow your outer layer in a bag and then unzip your insulated layer to cool down if need be. Once you have these layers covered, the rest is a bit simpler and we’ve broken it down by activity to help you out.


Cold Commuting

When it’s warm outside, there’s nothing better than leaving the car parked in the driveway and taking the bike out to run errands and visit friends. But when it’s cold and wet out, pedaling around town seems a lot less appealing than the dry interior of a car. With just a few small tweaks, commuting to work or to pick up the groceries can be a year-round activity.

A simple solution that makes a big difference is a pair of fenders. Whether it’s actively raining, or the road is still wet from earlier showers, fenders are the best way to keep you and your bike clean and dry. Without fenders, your tires pick up water off the ground and their rotation sprays your bike, and your whole backside, down with water. With fenders, that water stays contained and drips down to the pavement. Fenders can be affordable and come in all sorts of types from super-study attachable fenders to simple strap-on fenders.

Another good option for commuting in the cold, is a pair of rain pants. Made from water-resistant materials and typically baggy enough to wear over your normal attire, rain pants will keep you dry and warm no matter what the weather looks like – especially when paired with a solid rain jacket or shell. Simply throw them on over your jeans and head to your destination before quickly stowing them in a bike bag or a backpack.

The last key to comfortable winter commuting is a good pair of gloves. It doesn’t matter how warm your torso is, if your hands are cold, you’re not going to have much fun. From thicker leather gloves to winter-specific cycling gloves, there is a wide range of options for riders looking to pedal in cold weather. For a budget option, try treating a pair of old leather work gloves with Sno-Seal.


Winter Road Riding

While an indoor trainer is a solid choice for staying in shape when it’s cold out, it can be a real joy to spend some time outside pedaling during the winter. Road cyclists are known to ride outdoors no matter the conditions, so there is a lot of winter bike riding apparel out there to make riding roads in the cold more fun.

While the aforementioned fenders, rain pants and gloves can also work for road rides, there’s even more to choose from for beginner and experienced road cyclists alike. It might seem obvious, but a good pair of winter riding tights can make all the difference for cycling in the cold. While lots of brands make winter-specific bibs, you can also just throw on your thickest pair of tights over your cycling shorts and roll out. 

There’s a reason that getting cold feet is the primary metaphor for backing out, no one likes cold feet. Same as your hands, if your feet are cold it doesn’t matter how warm the rest of your body is, you won’t want to go ride for very long. Fortunately there are tons of cycling shoe covers available. From durable waterproof options to simple toe covers, there’s a huge variety of added foot layers to help keep your metatarsals toasty. Another affordable option for when it’s wet is to wear a pair of neoprene socks with your cycling shoes. 

Finally, a neck gaiter is a great choice for keeping your neck and face warm. Depending on how cold it is there are even fleece-lined options. Plus, during the pandemic, a neck gaiter doubles as a face-covering to help keep you and those around you safe.

Bar Mitts

Fat Biking in the Snow

Fat biking is the ultimate winter riding activity. With their wide 4 to 5-inch tires, fat bikes were originally designed to ride through the snow in places like Minnesota and Alaska. While that was their start, you can now find fat bikes all over the place! They can serve as solid mountain bikes year-round and if you live somewhere with a lot of snowfall, they offer a great way to get out and explore trails even when they’re hidden by the white fluffy stuff.

However, fat biking can subject a rider to some seriously cold conditions. One crucial piece of fat biking gear is a pair of handlebar-attached hand covers. These over-glove mitts provide the ultimate amount of warmth and can be used on any type of flat handlebar bike. There are also winter-specific cycling shoes to make fat biking in deep winter a more fun experience. Brands like 45Nrth make exceptional shoes for the absolute coldest conditions.

So, whether you’re riding to grab groceries in 45-degree weather or heading out on a fat bike in freezing snow, there are small pieces of gear that can turn a foreboding cold weather ride into an enjoyable time outside! Have fun and stay safe!

by Bruce Bussell on March 17, 2023

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by priobre on June 04, 2021