TuTorial: Riding through winter for beginners – clothing

You WILL need more kit to keep you on the bike, as cold & wet can quickly lead to miserable. You’ll probably have most of this stuff already, if not, now is the time to start looking:

From top to toe…

HEAD AND NECK

Skull cap/Hair band – if you have thick hair, a skull cap is only really needed for those really, really cold rides. Otherwise, I’ve just found I overheat. Plus it alters the fit of your helmet and glasses (they may dig in at the sides, or get caught and break). Some people prefer a thermal ‘hair band’ type instead, which will cover the ears. I’ve found it’s a good halfway measure, and easily fits into a pocket if you need to take it off.

Snood, preferably merino wool – Best. Item. Ever. Pull it up to cover everything (Niqab-style with a cap) or just have it around your neck to stop those drafts. It’s incredible what a difference it makes. Get told by minicab drivers you’re a ‘good Muslim’ (yep, this has happened to me). It really is essential.

Glasses – I’m clumsy, so I stick to clear Bolle safety glasses instead of more expensive numbers. If you think a bit of pollen in the eye hurts, try cycling through hail or snow. A snowflake is like a little dagger. Ouch. If it’s raining so hard that the glasses are more of a hindrance, stick them down the front of your jersey or in your helmet vents. You may need a spray to stop them steaming up – I use furniture polish.

BODY

Layering – even for the coldest of rides, I seldom wear more than four layers, and that includes a jacket. Last year, most really cold rides I had either:

  • a long sleeve base layer
  • short sleeve base
  • long sleeve jersey (relatively warm or windproof)

or

  • two long sleeve base layers (one windproof)
  • a short sleeve jersey

Plus a wind/rain jacket if needed – this should be your emergency item for any time when the weather turns, or if you’re standing around getting cold with a mechanical. You should NOT have to wear it for the whole ride. As mentioned before, I carry mine in my second bidon.

I’m a big fan of merino wool products (including Icebreaker), which don’t seem to get as stinky as some man-made or technical fabrics.

Jacket – I’ve never seen the need for a thick winter jacket, unless it’s really, really cold out. As in freezing. On long rides, anything that can’t be rolled up and stuck in a bidon or back pocket when I get warm becomes more of a hindrance than a help.

Bib shorts – For winter, tights are essential, as bib shorts plus leg warmers will not keep your larger muscles warm enough. I sometimes stick a pair of running tights or merino leggings over or under the bib shorts if my cycling tights are in the wash. Most wear the shorts underneath as the pad is supposed to be next to the skin. I’m weird like that.

Going to the loo – is a real nightmare in normal bib tights, especially in winter when you have to strip off whatever upper layer you’re wearing too. I wear my bases under the straps, so I don’t have to remove them. However, there are some tights available which can be pulled down or zipped off without taking anything off, e.g. Pearl Izumi Drop Tail.

(Quick side note – I’m always arguing with a friend about wearing anything between the pad of your shorts and your skin. She says not to, I say I’ve never had a problem, even after 100+ mile rides. Year round, I wear a small cotton string.)

HANDS

Gloves – Proper full-finger, thick winter gloves are a must, as well as a lighter pair for autumn/spring. Just be aware when changing hand position that you may accidentally ‘catch’ the bars. Your hands can also get sweaty. Test the gloves in the shop in a riding position, I prefer something smaller-sized than too big and baggy. A friend swears by neoprene diving gloves.

Glove liners – You would not believe the difference these make! Even on autumn and spring rides, the extra layer can make your gloves more comfortable. Unfortunately, most liners come in only one size, far too big for most female hands. If you have small hands, I would recommend these from EDZ as they instantly make your hands warmer and less sweaty-feeling.

FEET

Remember, your normal cycling shoes are made to ventilate. Air gets in and out very easily, and there is no insulation, which means your feet can become very cold. Very, very cold.

Overshoes or oversocks will block the top vents, but the bottom needs to stay open due to cleats. You’ll actually be able to feel the wind whistling through the bottom of your shoe, blowing all that warmth away. A way of blocking the bottom is inserting a thin piece of plastic or similar in your shoes, or using thermal insoles. Or, as I did one year, using one-use toe warmers. These last for around six hours, work out £1-2 per ride and as well as warming your feet, help block the holes. Some people also swear by plastic bags. Others by insulation tape.

When buying overshoes, look for ones with zips as they can be very difficult to get on and off without one. Do not spend too much money on them, as they never last very long.

Socks – Proper thick wool socks like Woolie Boolies are essential. I wear them with a thin cotton or merino pair underneath. Be cautious; if your shoes are tight on your feet, the inhibited circulation will actually make your feet colder. And it’ll stretch your shoes.

Alternative shoes? – If you want to preserve your good summer shoes, try eBay or cycling forums for a cheap pair one size bigger than what you currently wear. Winter miles are more important than style, and they’ll be covered by oversocks or shoes most of the time.

Winter boots? – If you’re really serious about cycling through winter and can afford them, winter boots are the way to go, full stop. I’ve tried every combination of socks, toe warmers, oversocks and overshoes, and proper winter boots trump them all. Plus they take a lot less time to pull on than any of the above combinations. I currently wear Specialized Defrosters, but I wouldn’t particularly recommend these, there are better out there. A friend highly recommends Northwave winter boots.

Whatever you use – whenever you get home, take your shoes off straightaway and, if they don’t need cleaning, stick them in a consistently warm place such as on top of the boiler. If you don’t, they will soon begin to smell. And warm, dry shoes are much nicer to put on for your next ride.

 

Be aware – if your extremities are still getting cold despite wearing warm gloves and socks, you’ll need to look at increasing your layering on your torso, arms and legs.

 

All of the above will help keep you riding through winter, and will come in delightfully under-budget, so you can splurge in the spring.

Please add your suggestions/comments below!

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