Dress for winter success
Winter is here and many places in the Northern hemisphere are already feeling the chill of what many are saying will be a record setting cold winter. It may seem like the perfect time to curl up next to the fireplace and sip coco, but actually this is the ideal time to get out on your bike and go for a ride. So how do winter cycliist handle the cold when riding? Being prepared can be the best way to enjoy the winter weather when biking and stave off potential injuries or illness. So, when preparing for your next ride carefully consider what you’re wearing before you step outside.
A little discussed fact about aerobic exercise is that the body only uses about 20 – 30% of its total energy output for mechanical work, with the remaining energy expenditure being liberated as heat.
In most cases, performance, when cyciling in the cold, can be maintained without effect, down to -22 F or -30 C, by regulating temperature with apparel.
When setting out for a ride, you are using four separate methods of heat transfer, or cooling, to regulate your body temperature;
- Conduction or the transfer of heat from surface to surface by contact. For example Muscle to skin, skin to air contact.
- Convection, which is the cooling of the body by the movement of air over the skin.
- Radiation, the transmission of heat from one body to another with out contact.( Think how the sun can heat your skin)
- Evaporation or the vaporizing of moisture through the skin or breathing.
To best regulate your temperature and keep you performance from being compromisedwhen cycling in winter conditions, follow these easy steps:
Start with layers: Layer your clothing so that you can adjust accordingly to the level of exertion and cold that you are feeling. The goal should always be to keep the core of your body warm and dry (from your chin to your crotch.) by layering your clothing you allow yourself to add, remove or vent layers as your exertion or the temperature change.
Avoid cotton fabrics: While cotton may feel good when it’s dry, it also naturally absorbs moisture and prevent air circulation.
Use Polyester, Polypropylene, Silk or Wool for base layers. These natural and man made fabrics wick moisture, allow air circulation and dry quickly.
- Don’t forget to cover your hands, feet, head and neck. These are major areas of heat loss. Your head alone can account for 30-40% of your bodies total heat loss. And, while you may be thinking that it’s a good thing to let your head breath, your hair is a natural source for wicking moisture. While the heat builds up in your head and sweat is produced, your hair collects the moisture and cools without dry, therefore, encouraging the body to produce more heat, consuming more energy to regulate your temperature. In freezing temperatures and conditions with sub freezing wind chills, many riders have reported having their hair freeze. This condition can be extremely dangerous and robs the body of energy that could be used for muscle out. By regulating the heat expenditure here it will allow your body to more easily regulate your core.
- Dress so you’re are a little cold before your work out: While layering your clothes you don’t want to overdo it. Make sure before you start your ride that you are cool, but not cold. You definitely don’t want to be warm. Once your ride begins your body temperature will rise naturally making you more comfortable.
- Dress in apparel that can be unzipped or easily removed. While many of us don’t like full zippered or bidirectional zippered jerseys and jackets, they do allow the greatest level of adjustment. Don’t be afraid to unzip different layers to different points to moderate air circulation and evaporation. A little air circulation can greatly help with the evaporative cooling effect.
- Don’t underestimate wind chill. While the ambient air temperature may tell you to dress one way, don’t forget that the air temperature will seem to decrease once you are moving. A good wind blocking exterior layer can greatly reduce this effect and keep you from having to dress too bulky. An inexpensive alternative that can give your more seasonal flexibility in your cycling closet can be a lightweight, packable shell or wind vest. These 4 to 6 ounce garments can make a substantial difference.
- Be prepared to dress up or dress down. An easy way to adjust your temperature without having to carry bulky clothing is with alternate layers. If you start out cold with a Quick Wik skullcap and find that it’s not enough, stash a Super Roubaix or Wind Stopper Cap in your pocket. This simple change can decrease heat transmission by up to 40%. The same rules apply for your feet and hands. While you may want to start out without booties, toe warmers or full finger gloves, carrying these small items folded in a jersey pocket can make a big difference in your total body temperature.
Here are Some of our suggestions for how to dress when setting out for you next winter cycling adventure:
Cool: 64 to 54 degrees
Cold: 53 to 43 degrees Freezing: 42 to 0 degrees
Apparel combinations to consider for your Fall and Winter riding
- Cool: Wik Cap
- Cold: Roubaix Cap or Wind Stopper Head and Ear Band
- Freezing: Wind Stopper Cap
- Cool: Riding shorts and leg or knee warmersor lightweight knickers
- Cold: Super Roubaix Tights / Bib Tights or Bib Knickers
- Freezing: Stopper Tights or Bib tights with a poly base layer or padded short.
- Cool: CoolMax Socks or other Moisture wicking socks
- Cold: Lycra Booties or Toe covers with wool or Polyester wicking socks
- Freezing: Wind Stopper Booties, with wool socks
- Cool: Fingerless gloves
- Cold: Thin full finger gloves or fingerless gloves with a liners beneath
- Freezing: Wind Stopper gloves
- Cool: Sleeves base layer, short sleeve jersey and arm warmers
- Cold: Full sleeve base layer and full sleeve jersey and a lightweight wind Jacketor wind Vest
- Freezing: Full sleeve base layer, jersey and a Wind Stopper Jacket or
Winter cycling clothing to consider
Articles on Winter Outdoor Fitness
- Thermoregulation: An Overview of Heat Loss Mechanisms and Practical Guidelines for Staying Warm with
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Casey on February 20, 2012:
Theses have been great. I picked February to buy my first road bike, so this has become my bible. Hasn't let me down yet.
cyclingcoaches from UK on September 20, 2011:
Great selection of tips, you can buy cycling specific socks for the winter but I have found that a normal pair of everyday socks are just the same... always use overshoes as these stop a lot of the wet coming through and in turn helps prevent the cold toe syndrome!
For specific winter training check out some of our coaches on the cycling coaches website, www.cyclingcoaches.co.uk
Andrew Fuqua on September 07, 2011:
Chemical toe warmers are very helpful when it's really cold. I've created a table of what I wear at various temps. You can find it here: http://www.andrewfuqua.com/2010/01/cold-weather-cy...
Liam Hallam from Nottingham UK on May 05, 2011:
Nice informative hub. I find I really struggle with my fingers in the cold and wet. Thin Silk or Roubaix liner gloves are fantastic to give an extra couple of degrees warmth and comfort- especially under a waterproof glove too!.
MG on October 29, 2010:
Great advice on clothing. I like how it's grouped by temperature. Perfect for guidance.
KB CycleWerks (author) on December 25, 2008:
Thanks for the heads up. THere are a ton of great companies out there making cycling even more affordable. If anyone else knows of them feel free to post them up.
cycling gear on December 25, 2008:
Nice tips for bikers whi want to enjoy biking even in winter season. You can acquire affordable and trendy yet high quality cycling gear and accessories only at Bella Sports.
KB CycleWerks (author) on December 20, 2008:
Thanks for the Feedback. Keeping your feet warm when riding is not an uncommon problem and usually stems from core body warmth. Stay tuned for a future post on just this subject.
Speed Freak on December 19, 2008:
Sounds like some solid advice. I am an avid winter rider and seem only to have a problem keeping my feet and ears warm any advice there?