Daytime warm temperatures are beginning to fade, and cold weather rides are on the horizon as we look passed the end of cyclocross season toward the beginning of base building for road and mountain bike. Indoor rides have a place during winter training, but most of us probably like to ride outside as much as possible: It makes us happy to feel the sun on our faces…and the cold wind, rain, hail, and snow? Yep. Central Oregon weather gods give many inclement gifts, but most of the time, we can bear them! Here are a few tips for surviving even the frostiest of days on your bike.
1. Clothes: Take lots! Temperatures can vacillate quickly in Bend and other cold weather environments, so it’s important to begin comfortably, but take plenty of extra layers and gloves. I like to ride with a handlebar bag on all my rides during the winter, and at a minimum, take an emergency hat, gloves, and extra top layer or vest. I always include a light shell, which can be worn outside my top-most layers in the event of precipitation, and under my top-most layers in the event of wind and cold. If I’m starting late in the day, and I know I’ll be riding at dusk, I include a puffy vest or jacket to put on underneath a wind-blocking layer.
In general, I recommend fleece-lined tights, and wind blocking, precipitation resistant fabrics for winter riding. It’s also important that these be somewhat breathable fabrics, in order to manage moisture generated by sweat. These types of garments can be expensive, but are often on sale during summer months, and just a couple items will keep you toasty all winter. As a bonus, they can be used as cross country or skate skiing attire (and visa versa!). During very cold temperatures, ensure your base layers are wool and/or wind blocking – they can make all the difference.
2. Hands: Keep em’ toasty. If you’re like me, cold hands can be the difference between calling for an emergency pick up, or contentment on a long ride. Hands too hot? Ugh, can’t stand it. Hands too cold? Ugh, can’t handle it! I like to begin rides in a comfortable glove, and tuck thicker, emergency gloves or mittens… always. Hand warmer sachets can be helpful, and I recommend placing them on your wrist, near your radial artery (but over a liner glove), to help warm peripheral circulation. When temperatures dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, I’m all about the ski gloves. I have a particular obsession with Smart Wool’s Ridgeway wool-lined glove for backcountry skiing and cold days on the bike. I don’t have an affiliation with Smartwool; I just love this glove (and have tried MANY!). Other companies make similar gloves, which I’m sure, would also perform well in cold, dry conditions. When it’s raining, consider adding a thin, wool base layer glove, or a nitrile glove, under a waterproof glove or mitt. And finally, don’t underestimate the power of Vaseline or Bag Balm: Slather them on for an additional cold and moisture barrier. When it’s really cold, consider handle bar mitts. Wolf Tooth Components and 45NRTH make very functional versions of this product. If you’re riding a road bike with bar mitts, be sure you have access to your brake levers, or a healthy amount of bravery and clear roads.
3. Feet: As with hands, Vaseline and Bag Balm can be a game changer. Slather them on, especially on toes and the top of your feet, and then cover them up with a wool sock! Make sure your shoes have enough room to allow for adequate circulation, and add a shoe cover. Wool and cotton shoe covers work most days in Central Oregon, but when it’s really cold or wet, utilize neoprene or wind blocking shoe covers. I’ve had particularly good luck with Castelli Estremo shoe covers during very cold rides.
4. Managing moisture: Wet rides below about 50 degrees are simply very difficult. Back in the day, we had no choice, but to ride in bulky, sweaty rain shells, but innovative fabrics make rain riding much more enjoyable, now. Look for a stretchy soft shell, or thin, breathable Gortex layer to deploy during rain rides. I almost always train in the former (a Castelli Perfetto, for example), and tuck the later in my pocket. Always take extra layers, and ensure you have a base layer that stays warm when wet – wool is truly the best for this, in my opinion. When it’s really wet, plan for shorter rides. When it’s raining and I know I have a long ride on tap, I’ll sometimes begin outdoors, then return home to a quick change of clothes, hot mug of something, and a second bike waiting on the rollers with a good movie on cue!
5. Embrocation: If you like it, use it. I don’t find it helpful, notably the after burn it causes in the shower and at dinner, but if you find it keeps you warm, lather it up. It does, at the very least, smell quite nice. Avoid sensitive bits!
6. Nutrition and Hydration: Proper nutrition and hydration are important for maintaining energy levels, but also for staying warm. If you’re executing long rides during winter, it’s perfectly fine to take whole foods with more fat and fiber, than you’d typically utilize on shorter, high intensity rides. As a caveat, I’m not trained in nutrition, but I tend to favor Christmas cookies and fruitcake. Don’t be afraid to take a thermos or insulated mug with hot tea, coffee, or hot drink mix – a warm drink is a delight on a cold day. And hot Gatorade is well, just tasty.
7. Be visible: As always, dress to be seen on the road. Bright colors, especially on body parts in motion, have been well studied and shown to increase safety during road rides. Fluoro is out for fashion, and in for safety. At minimum, I carry a fluorescent vest and wear a bright colored helmet. Bright shoe covers are also highly effective. And, lights – use them, lots of them. Taillights that flash in an irregular sequence are thought to be the most effective.
8. Choose your ride terrain wisely: By that I mean consider choosing your ride terrain in accordance with the weather forecast. For instance, when the four-directional Central Oregon wind is blowing, I tend to favor forested west-side roads over expansive east side terrain. When it’s snowy or frosty, trail rides and gravel are often the ticket, and consider avoiding lengthy descents. I’m always amazed by how quickly I warm up on a very cold day trucking through the woods. Finally, when roads are icy or frosty, consider riding after sun has warmed the pavement, and be extra cautious on shady corners.
9. Make Time for Fun Rides: Winter riding, especially once cross season has ended, is really all about enjoyment. There’s no reason to be hard charging during winter base miles, so explore, find exciting terrain, and ride just enough to spark your fire. If you’re having trouble motivating for rides, talk to your coach (it’s okay!).
10. Find alternatives: Sometimes, it’s too darn cold to ride outside. Heed the warning signs of multiple snowflakes in the forecast. Turn around if you’re shivering! Your coach can design workouts specifically for indoor trainer rides, and when there’s good snow…. ski! Or fat bike. Go to the gym for strength work. Get out, move around, get your heart rate up, enjoy the holidays, and don’t stress over missing a few rides to cold weather. When your body and mind are urging you toward the fire and good book, listen to them. It will all work out in the long run!