Tips? That seems awfully ‘Men’s Health’ of us, but honestly we were thinking of the days when we were coming up and there was no Google to search or Carmichael Training Systems to subscribe to. The whole cycling club system was still in place and there was always one or two guys in every club that had done it for years. Had maybe raced in Europe or been a Six Day rider before the war. Who knows, but there was always someone around to help you out. That’s not so true any longer.
People in places like Chicago or, even worse, Burlington, Vermont might find it funny that a shop from Northern California is supplying cold weather riding tips, but it gets cold here. In fact, it snows a few times every winter on the Bay Area’s highest peaks. So, we do have a little experience to lean on. Not only that, but around the shop we’ve got refugees from Ohio, Maryland, Northern Washington, Chicago and on. So, we know a thing or two about frozen waterbottles and stuffing a glove down the front of your tights to keep things warm.
Layer Everywhere: Without question the biggest challenge when it comes to staying warm is keeping your hands and feet from going numb. Thanks to the incredible variety of gloves and shoe covers on the market, its not that tough to keep the feeling in your digits down to low 40’s, but below that and it gets interesting. We like to stick with the layering concept right through to our hands and feet. An ultra thin pair of gloves like the Assos innerGlove or other covered by a slightly larger, heavier pair will allow you to modulate your temperature on climbs and if the temperatures rise and will stay dryer, longer should it begin to rain or snow.
Similarly, you’ll want to stay warm, but not hot. On the climbs be sure you unzip your top layer and even remove your gloves to keep them dry and warm for the descent.
Drink tea: Before, after and, if it’s going to be a long day in extremely cold weather, even during. Tea will keep you hydrated (something many people forget about when riding in cold weather) and has a pretty magical effect in terms of keeping you warm from the inside-out.
Always Wear Optics: Many times when it’s cold, it tends to be dark and dreary, but wearing some kind of eyewear helps to keep your face a little bit warmer and will prevent the massive tearing up that happens on cold descents. Why does that happen anyway?
Embrocation Is For Your Legs: At some point on a particularly cold Ohio day back when I was a junior, I had this idea that, if embrocation worked on my legs, it’d probably work on the rest of my body. So, I slathered some Ruud Baaker (yeah, that’s old school) on my chest, arms and feet before suiting up to ride. The result, I assure you, was neither pleasant nor warm.
If you use embrocation (on your legs) on really cold or rainy days, give it a topcoat. Apply super hot embro and use a layer of Vaseline or, if you’re super hardcore, duck fat (literally….a product that used to be sold by Ruud Bakker). Your legs will stay hot long after you actually need them to!
Try Fenders: Yes, fenders do not go a long way toward making your multi-thousand dollar bike look pretty, but they will keep road spray off your legs and backside.
MacGyver It: Stuck without the exact right combination for a cold day? Improvise. Little newspaper or a map down your shirt and the thin plastic bags from newspapers that have been delivered to people’s homes, can go a long way in a tough situation
Avoid Breakdowns: When its cold and crappy, the worst thing to have to do is dismount and fix a flat or tweak some other mechanical. Make sure your equipment is dialed and tires are beefy and without nicks in the tread.
Move: Sounds crazy, but it’s not cold everywhere! After a decade of riding in cold, Ohio winters I tired of the struggle and moved to LA. Sure, the place was miserable, but the riding was great and, in six years of living there, I never once used or needed anything more than knee warmers.