Growing up in Minnesota as a junior, and experiencing collegiate cycling in Colorado gave me quite a bit of experience in the “cold” weather department. Some of my favorite stories to tell are those of cross country skiing in high school, with temperatures well below -30 degrees F, having school cancelled because of cold – not because of snow, and coating our faces with vaseline just to walk to the mailbox.
Riding in the cold, when you are unprepared, is terrible. As soon as my toes, fingers, or ears get cold, that’s it, I’m done. But there are a few tricks you can use to stay dry, stay warm, and enjoy the ride.
1. Invest in a GOOD pair of gloves. Lobster gloves, as we used to call them, promote the transfer of body heat, instead of separating your fingers. Double layer – fleece and wind protection also helps to beat the cold, wind, and weather.
2. Shoes/Booties/Socks – Another key place to invest in. Keeping your feet warm will keep you comfortable, and able to ride longer. Whether it’s winter specific riding shoes, a fantastic water and wind proof pair of booties, or the warmest, driest pair of socks you own, investing in you feet is very important. Remember, you want to stay dry – once you are wet, its game over.
3. Ears/Throat/Head – Getting a hat under your helmet can be a big challenge. I started keeping an old helmet around, pulling out the “padding”, making the helmet slightly bigger, allowing for a small thermal riding hat to sit comfortably underneath. It’s key in the cold to keep your airways warm. While skiing in -30 degree weather in Minnesota, we often put a coating of vaseline on our cheeks, face, and throat, to help ward off wind. Wear a scarf, keep your chest and throat warm.
4. Insulated Water Bottles – If you’re really hardcore, you might need insulated water bottles to keep your bottles from freezing. While doing hard CX training days, I’d also keep one bottle in the back pocket of my jersey/jacket, where my body heat and the movement of my body would keep the water 1) moving, and 2) from freezing.
5. EAT. We burn so much more energy riding in the cold. It is key to bring more food than you anticipate needing while riding. And we’re talking about real food, not a cold gel that’ll make you colder. Think almond butter sandwiches on gluten free bread, honey, and dried fruits and nuts. Those are foods that generate heat within the body. If you head out for even one hour, you should be packing foods. Don’t get caught in the cold while being hungry.
6. Clothes – Jackets, Wind Vests, Rain Vests, Leg Warmers – Make sure they are thermal, wind proof, and keep you dry. That’s what I keep repeating – stay dry. Wear more than you think you need – you can always take it off. Wear a GOOD base layer – once your inner core gets cold – again, game over. A good pair of leg warmers will have a wind block on the front, and venting in the back. Investing in these will make those rides more pleasant, and your muscles will be much happier.
7. Make sure your equipment is in good working order. Heading out for that ride, only to discover an hour in that your bike isn’t shifting, you’ve got a flat and you’ve forgotten a spare, or your garmin has died ruins not only your attitude, but your training. Make the most when you head out for those rides, and make sure everything is in good working order before you head out.
8. Always keep your “big picture” in mind. Heading out with your goal in front of you is a good way to stay motivated. Know why your heading out, what the purpose is, and smash it!
There’s always more to add to this list, but these are a few key ones I keep in mind when heading out. Stay warm, stay dry, and keep your core and airways happy. Focusing on proper hydration and nutrition will keep you illness free, while also focusing on getting quality hours of sleep.