An in-depth examination of how the right layers can prepare you to enjoy even the coldest rides, presented by Joel Fletcher, a person who rides somewhere with a lot more snow in the forecast than SoCal.
By: Joel Fletcher
Figuring out what gear to wear during the colder months of the year can be quite a struggle. We all deal with heating up on climbs only to freeze our butts off on the descents. Repeat this cycle over and over on longer base-mile rides and it can make for one cold and unhappy cyclist. But there is a simple answer to this dilemma. Drum roll please....layers!
Here’s a look at my ingredients for the recipe to a comfortable winter ride:
Starting out with a great base layer is key. This will wick sweat off your skin and keep your body dry and cool on climbs and warm and toasty on descents. The short-sleeved jersey and arm warmers come next. This provides another layer of warmth for winter riding as well as some extra pockets for snacks.
[Editor’s note: Before Joel goes any further and starts referring to things like a T1 jersey, we thought it might be helpful to explain what he means. Eliel created a thermal rating system for gear of T1, T2, and T3 to designate the level of insulation and warmth offered based on the fabric. T1 is the lightest weight thermal, while T3 offers our warmest option. For most riders on Earth, T3 gear will keep you warm on the coldest, frostiest of days. For us denizens of Southern California, we call it a winter storm when the mercury dips below 50F so let’s go back to letting Joel tell this story.]
If you do not have a T2 jersey, arm warmers under a T1 jersey will perform similarly. Over your short-sleeved jersey, a long-sleeved jersey will be key. Depending on your riding conditions, you can pick either a thermal or non-thermal jersey (think T1 or T2). This will be the core of your warmth. Below 50 degrees, I would recommend a thermal long-sleeved jersey. If it is warmer than 50 degrees, I would recommend a non-thermal long-sleeved jersey. Again, this jersey will provide more pockets for snacks, storing a vest, and quick access to your phone or camera to shoot that perfect photo in low winter light.
The last piece of the puzzle is a lightweight vest which can be unzipped or taken off fully and stored easily in one of your many pockets. This final piece will be key in blocking wind on descents and can be fully unzipped easily on longer climbs when you heat up. Don't forget a bandana or neck gaiter to protect your neck, keep the chilly wind from slicing into your jersey, and cover up your mouth when passing other riders on the trail or road.
These layers can be played around with or changed based on personal riding style or temperatures. A training journal is great for making notes after your ride; it allows you to record how you felt during different rides with different layers in certain riding conditions.
After all your favorite winter gear is picked out, here are a few tips while out riding in the winter months.
Make sure you don't overheat on climbs. You can do this by unzipping layers while at the bottom of long climbs. This will make sure you aren't overly sweaty at the top of climbs and therefore cold on your descent.
Bring 2 pairs of gloves, preferably of different weights. Most likely the weather will change on your ride and become warmer as the day progresses. If you start in the morning, your thick winter gloves will perform well, but once the temperature warms up they might leave your hands sweaty and wet. Throw a handlebar bag on your bike and bring a second pair of lighter-weight gloves to swap out when the weather changes.
Eat and drink more than on rides in the summer. While it may be easier to remember to drink when it's 85 degrees and humid in July, it's even more important to do the same when it's 40 degrees in January. You might not think you need the fluid since you’re not sweating as much, but inhaling cold, dry air requires that your body heat it up and humidify it while you breathe. This increases water loss through your respiratory system, so drink up! In terms of snacks, your body will burn more calories per hour keeping you warm and you need to replenish those calories. My rule is to drink every 15 minutes and eat every 30 minutes. Most bike computers can be set to alert you at set time intervals in case you are forgetful.
Riding in the winter is perfect for long adventures, building a solid fitness base, exploring new terrain, or working on your skills in the dirt. Make sure to layer up, bring a lot of food, and always have fun and stay safe!