Riding (Comfortably) in a Winter Wonderland
For our friends who don’t love winter, it’s been a bad week. First, a snowstorm walloped the Northeast and sent heaps of snow to blanket roads and trails. Then Punxsutawney Phil marked Groundhog Day 2021 by seeing his shadow and predicting another six weeks of winter. What’s a rider to do in the face of all this chill? Bundle up and keep riding, of course! We’ve talked about layering up for winter rides before but today we have a fresh take from riders who battle the worst of winter in Colorado and have nailed the art of dressing for success.
By: Whitney Allison
Hi from Fort Collins! Whitney (and Zack) Allison from Bike Sports here. We’re based in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is on the Front Range of Colorado. Winters here are pretty inconsistent and daily temperatures can swing from highs in the 20s to 50s within a day as weather rolls in and out. Although it’s often sunny, it can feel dramatically colder when it’s cloudy or windy.
Snow doesn’t stick around here consistently during the winter, which means you can still do quite a lot of riding outside on a road or gravel bike. We also have super low humidity and with the elevation, the sun can feel very intense despite low temperatures. Personally, I have a lot of issues with my hands and toes from my ignorant younger years on the bike, so I do layer up my hands and feet when others might be able to go without layers! So what should you wear to stay warm and comfortable on wild winter riders? Read on for our suggestions!
30-40°: ALL the Layers
Riding outside between 30-40° is COLD. In these temperatures, it’s all about multiple layers for ultimate comfort. As with all layering, you want to focus especially on those hands, feet, ears, and core. Definitely give consideration to using a warm embrocation. I’m not particularly sensitive to embrocation, so if it’s really cold, I’ll use some on my feet, legs (avoiding the back of the knees), stomach, and top of the ears.
Bib tights are incredibly helpful in these temperatures, like the T2 or T3. The latter is a bit more water resistant which can also be nice if you will be running into snow melt or muddy gravel sections. A long-sleeved base layer under a T3 Jacket is a must. If it’s really, really cold, I might add a vest over the top as well.
Now to the extremities. First off, your head: neck gaiter + headband or cap. I have a ton of hair, so a headband has always worked better for me. Secondly, your hands: glove liners + thick gloves. I honestly just use whatever thin non-cycling specific liners I have lying around and it makes such a huge difference versus a single thick glove. Making sure the gloves fit your hand (versus too big) helps a lot as well.
Finally: your feet! I probably should own winter cycling shoes, but I do not. I go for that embrocation, then wool socks, T3 booties, and foot warmers on top of my shoes. You can also add a plastic bag over your socks and in your shoes and foil over your shoes, but inside of booties.
Riding-wise, when it’s this cold, you need to be mindful of efforts during your ride, which can cause you to get sweaty and make you super cold the rest of the day. You can either unzip and reduce some layers, starting a little cold, and then layer back up afterwards. Or consider saving the intervals for a warmer day or do them inside before or after an outdoor riding session. Sometimes winter is just about mixing it up!
40-45°: Lightening Big Layers
Assuming it’s sunny and not windy, I swap the bib tights for regular bibs and leg warmers on my legs. Instead of a long-sleeve base layer and jacket, I’ll lighten to a short-sleeved base layer, T2 jersey, and vest. Since we wear vests for a huge portion of the year here, I find the Palomar Vest to be the most functional because of the pockets.
On the extremities, I’ll keep the same on my head, swap to medium-to-thick gloves, and skip the foot warmers, plastic bag, and foil options.
45-50°: Is it spring yet?
This is quite similar to 40-45°, but I’ll tend to go for a lighter long sleeve like the T1. I will probably skip the booties and headband and opt for a more medium glove.
50-55°: Can we just drop everything and ride all day?
These days are such a treat that I will drop every work obligation possible to take advantage of these rare winter days. Swap out the long sleeves for a jersey + arm warmers. If it’s extra nice, I might skip the leg warmers and opt for embrocation instead. I’ll likely wear a thin long-fingered glove, or even the medium glove still.
Strike a balance in winter and keep things fun.
These specific layering compilations are dependent on how intense the sun is, but should serve as a great launching point to figure out what works best for your body!
When I set my schedule with my coach, we look at the week’s weather and try to take advantage of warm days whenever possible and not force lots of super long, cold rides which can be very physically and emotionally wearing. The racing season is long, so it’s more important to me to strike the balance between volume and intensity in winter so I can stay happy (and fast!) all season long.