Dressing for Cold Weather Cycling
A lot of cyclists tend to hang up the bike when the weather dips below 50 or 60 degrees. We think they may be missing out on some of the best riding days of the year!
We're lucky in southwest Virginia that we typically see relativelymoderate winters. Southwest Virginia's average high between December 1st and March 1st is 43 degrees. While that's pretty cold in a cotton t shirt and shorts, it's not very cold at all if you're well prepared to ride.
Remember: There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear!
-Below about 60 degrees, keep your knees covered.
-Breathable materials are a must. Cotton is not your friend. Fabrics such as Profila, Coolmax, Ultrasensor, ...they’re basically just different brands of breathable polyester materials. More similar than they are different. Wool is a good natural fiber that's effective in the cold. It can maintain it's ability to keep you warm even when it has absorbed up to 30% of it's weight in moisture. Bontrager makes great use of a wool blend in their baselayers.
-For fall and spring, when the temperature is often going to warm up quickly, arm and knee warmers and a wind vest are your best friends. Easily removed and stashed in a jersey pocket
-Never dress to feel comfortable the second you step out the door—you’ll overheat quickly. Remember too that you'll be facing ups and downs in our area and therefore you'll need to be able to vent the heat you build on the climbs.
-For the typical cold weather rider in Southwest Virginia (riding on hilly terrain above 30 degrees), think breath-ability and moisture management before all else. In our area, true waterproof materials are often overkill for many riders. Even the best breathables are not perfect. Unless you ride in downpours, quite often using a water-resistant fabric rather than waterproof can be a good move because of the superior breath-ability. Hilly terrain requires fabrics to be able to handle constant overheating/chilling cycles.
-Hands and feet are the often the toughest part for most people. A good windproof full-finger glove that is roomy enough to fit a glove liner underneath is a key item. For really cold weather or for folks who struggle a lot with keeping their hands warm, Bar Mitts are a great option. They are basically a neoprene "mitten" that slips over your handlebars.
Likewise wool cycling socks (which are thin to fit in cycling shoes) and shoe covers. If you’re only going to ride into temps into the mid 40s or so, toe covers instead of shoe covers may be a better choice to avoid overheating the feet. Both Bontrager and Shimano make great winter cycling shoes for those with super sensitive feet or those who ride in really cold weather.
-Mountain biking adds about 10 perceived degrees to the actual outside temperature. The trails are a great place to ride when it's too cold to be on the roads. Roadies take note! :)
Guidelines that work for many people:
60 degrees down to upper 40s: Short sleeve jersey, shorts, arm warmers, knee warmers, wind vest. Some people in the upper 40s may want to add a sleeveless base layer under the jersey and wool cycling socks. A headband that covers the ears will take care of the upper 40s to mid 50s. Lightweight full finger gloves.
Upper 40s down to mid 30s: For mountain biking, add tights instead of knee warmers and a long sleeve jersey and jacket instead of short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, and vest. For road cycling also add a heavier-weight long sleeve jersey for the mid 30s to upper 30s and a head cover that covers the full top of the head. And for road riding in these temps a full fingered windproof glove and shoe or toe covers.
Mid 30s down to mid 20s: For mountain biking, refer to road riding for upper 40s to mid 30s. Add shoe covers. For road riding at these temps, add windproof heavyweight tights (typically fleeced on the inside), long-sleeve baselayer, liner gloves, full head cover (referred to as a balaclava). Shoe covers and wool socks are a must.
Below mid 20s: You are hardcore. Pat yourself on the back. Add a windproof head cover to the above (helmet cover or otherwise). Heavyweight winter jacket, both windproof and insulating. For road riding most people may want a base layer under the tights, too. Winter shoes are available that give the ultimate in foot comfort.