DURING THE LAST WEEK of 2010, I and thousands of other riders embarked on the Rapha Festive 500 Challenge, where the goal was to complete 500km over eight days. Most of these riders were in the Northern Hemisphere, and thus had to suffer through snow, ice, cold wind, and rain, quite often in sub-zero temperatures.
However, there are ways to make the suffering ease, or even completely reverse the feeling so that it becomes enjoyable to ride in winter weather. On average I was riding in 2-6 Celsius weather (30-40 Fahrenheit) with a colder wind chill.
1. Get a Merino wool jersey.
This was my favorite item of clothing during my winter cycling. I wore it every day, for 10 days straight, and never washed it. The wool didn’t get an odor and dried very quickly. The jersey kept me warm during climbs and long, chilly descents.
Check out the Soigneur range of Merino jerseys from New Zealand. The Soignuer Retro jersey I have doubles as a warm, casual item of clothing too. Other great options include Ground Effect, Rapha, and Icebreaker.
2. Use a neck warmer or scarf and a good pair of eyewear.
During my first few days of riding during the Rapha Festive 500 I did not use a scarf, but as the weather got colder I started looking for ways to keep my neck and face areas warmer and remembered about the Buff multifunctional headwear I had in my wardrobe. Now I bring the Buff with me on every winter ride I go on. If you don’t have a Buff, a small plain scarf will suffice.
A good pair of eyewear is also important. I wear my sponsor Smith’s Pivlock V90s, which I think are among the best mid-priced eyewear around. If you are looking for eyewear that is more budget-friendly but still good quality, check out Tifosi or 720 Armours.
3. Use neoprene shoe covers if it is wet.
I used Pearl Izumi Barrier shoe covers, which kept my feet warm for much longer than normal, but somehow the rain still found its way inside after an hour of riding. My solution to this is to wear a thin but waterproof shoe cover inside the neoprene shoe covers. Another option is to line the bottom of your soles with plastic to prevent the water from coming in through the cleat area.
4. Wear a good set of thermal fleece tights.
Keeping your knees warm is important when you’re cycling, and a good set of thermal tights will do that. I wore the Pearl Izumi Slice ThermaFleece cycling tights for most of the week and found them to be sufficient most of the time, but I still wanted an additional layer for my knees in the coldest of conditions. You’ll want a fleece-lined winter skullcap and a pair of gloves too.
5. Make sure you have a very warm jacket.
A good jacket is vital for long, cold rides, and you’ll need to have one that is windproof and waterproof. I had two different of jackets that I used, both made by my sponsor Champion System. One was completely windproof and waterproof but did not have much room to cover the bottom, while the other had a windproof core and arms made out of regular jersey material.
Each worked well in different situations. On the one rainy day I had, I used a clear waterproof vest under the wind- and waterproof jacket and my core was warm as toast, as long as I kept pedaling.
6. Keep up the fluid intake during your rides.
Ideally, you want to drink one bottle of water every hour to replenish your body and prevent dehydration. Coffee stops are very popular among riders in the winter, and are a great way to get warm again if you’ve been out for several hours.
7. Consider drinking a hot shake.
Post-ride, a hot shake will warm you up and promote recovery. I prepared myself the Nutrimeal Shakes made by my sponsor USANA, which I believe to be one of the best recovery shakes out there due to its low glycemic value and high nutritional content.
8. Eat at regular intervals.
This was a lesson learned last year when I went out training on New Years Day after a break from riding and ended up bonking hard: It’s no fun trying to ride home after you have ‘hit the wall’.
My advice is to eat regularly – anything that you like to eat, as long as it has high energy value. During the Rapha Festive 500 my foods of choice were bananas, chocolate, cookies, and USANA Oatmeal Raisin Bars. Depending on the length of the ride, I would sometimes stop for a bowl of beef noodles or shredded pork with rice.
9. Plan to ride with your friends.
Riding with your mates will help pass the time quicker and provide you with motivation to get out there. Just don’t spend too much time socializing in coffee shops.
10. Warm up on the rollers or turbo trainer.
Before heading out into the cold, try warming up on the rollers or turbo trainer in your full winter gear for 5-10 minutes. This will get your body started and trap heat inside your clothing. If, like I am sometimes, you are particularly lazy, you can sit in front of your heater before stepping outside.
11. Choose good tires.
Choosing a good set of training tires for your road bike is quite important. DURO sponsored me with several tires to test out and I believe that they are as good as any of the leading brands out there. Either the Stingers or Hypersonics would make excellent choices.
I ran the Hypersonic 23-700 tire on the front with the Stinger 23-700 on the rear. I found the Hypersonics, with their side treads, to be more stable in all conditions.
For any tire that you choose, it is important to have a good grip on the road surface. However, if it gets too icy no tire is really sufficient unless you have studs or chains. If you are riding in deep snow, I recommend riding a mountain bike or a cyclocross bike equipped with Duro Ellie Mae CX or similar tires.
12. Form a goal for your riding.
If you are considering riding or are riding in the winter, it does help if you have a specific plan or goal for what you want to achieve. If you don’t have a clear focus, it is all too easy to postpone the riding and get out of shape.
If you would like to try out some free winter training programs, check out Training4cyclists.com. Velonews also has an informative article on the topic online.
If it’s just too cold to ride outside…
There are several ways to ride indoors, including using rollers or a stationary turbo trainer like the Wattbike. The problem with riding indoors is that it can get tedious rather quickly.
One good solution is to try out the Sufferfest training videos, which have been getting rave reviews on the internet. I definitely give Sufferfest the thumbs up after downloading three of their videos myself.
Get ready for your own epic rides with Goods’ guide to bike touring gear.