This morning, January 4th, 2018, the temperature on my commute to work was around 20 degrees fahrenheit. Not as cold as most places, but for Columbia, South Carolina, that’s pretty chilly. There was snow and ice further south of Columbia in Orangeburg, and some of the coastal areas were hit with their first snow storm in 20 years thanks to winter storm Grayson. But luckily, Columbia stayed dry and cold.
To prepare for winter cycling, I have accumulated a few items that help me stay warm. Here is a list of my gear for those windy, cold commutes.
Always wear your helmet! When the temperature drops below 50 degrees fahrenheit, my beanie comes out and adorns my bald head along with my clear safety glasses to keep my eyes from watering too much. If you have hair you may can wait for the temperature to get colder, but I’d rather the top of my head not freeze off. If it is colder than 40 degrees, then I pull out the balaclava headgear. A balaclava will cover your head, neck, mouth and nose, keeping the cold wind from going up your nose and giving you a brain freeze. The only problem with wearing a balaclava is you have to pull the face part down in order to drink from your water bottle.
If you are riding during cold weather, try and dress in layers to protect your chest. As you ride and work your muscles, you will get warmer and could overheat. I prefer to wear a dry wick long sleeved shirt with a light windbreaker jacket. The windbreaker keeps the wind from chilling you and the dry wick will remove any moisture. If it is too cold, or I’m riding for a long period of time, I have added a thermal shirt over my dry wick for extra warmth.
One of the most important items you can invest in for winter riding is a great pair of gloves. Once your hands and feet are cold, it is hard to get warm again. I recently bought a pair of gloves I thought would work great. They had a solid outside with a nice, soft cloth inside. Unfortunately, once my hands started to sweat, that nice cloth inside was damp. When I went to put the gloves back on for my commute home, the insides were still wet! There was no way I could remove the inside cloth to dry out, so I was stuck with wet, gloved hands. The gloves I like do not have a solid covering on the outside or soft insides; it’s just the fabric of the gloves, but they do keep most of the wind off my fingers when riding. You will also want gloves that allow you to use your electronic devices without having to remove your gloves. Another type of gloves used in cycling are called “lobster gloves.” Instead of openings for each of your fingers, these gloves have two large areas for your fingers and an area for your thumb, making your hands look like lobster claws. I am assuming they allow your fingers to use your body heat to generate warmth inside. The only drawback I can see is using your electronic device with your clawed hand.
Mostly I will wear cycling shorts, the mountain bike kind, I don’t think the world is ready for me in lycra shorts, but if the temperature drops too much, I break out the long workout pants. Your legs may be cold at the start of the ride, but as you push on, you will heat up. If your pants are too bulky it may affect your pedaling. If it’s really cold out, 20 or below, then I will add a pair of thermals. I have also found that wearing my cycling shorts under the long pants will help my bottom not be as sore.
My wardrobe does not include cycling socks with fun colors or cheeky graphics. Just plain gym socks. In the winter, I will wear some wool socks, but with the holes in my cycling shoes (see below) my toes get just as cold as with my gym socks. I am sure that proper cycling socks are good for moisture wicking to help your shoes with odor control, and to keep your feet cool.
Cycling shoes are great! They come with little holes in them to allow your feet to breath. Unfortunately, when it is cold, all those little holes do is send stabbing, icy knives into your toes and feet. You can purchase covers for your shoes, but if you are cheap like I am, sticking a plastic grocery bag into the front of your shoes will keep the cool air out.
Whatever your wear during your winter rides, keep in mind that the temperature you feel at the beginning will not be the same as when you finish. Dress in comfortable layers and have a place to put your clothing if you start to remove it. Watch out for drawstrings or anything that hangs down and could possibly get caught in your chain. Remember also that you will sweat so you want to remove that moisture from your body to keep from getting cold.
Winter time brings cold frigid weather and it also brings with it a change of time and sunrises and sunsets. If your ride or commute includes any time when it is dark, invest in a good headlamp and taillight. Try to find clothing that has reflective material, or buy a reflective vest to wear; you want to be as visible as possible when you are cycling.
Cold weather riding also can affect your muscles. You may want to jog in place or do a couple jumping jacks to get the blood flowing before you begin your ride. Pay attention to your muscles as you ride also. If they are feeling tight or cramping, slow down and take it easy for a bit. Don’t push too hard when it is cold, or you could end up pulling or tearing something and not be able to ride at all.
And finally, when you are riding on those cold January and February days, be glad that you are being mobile. Breathe in the frigid air and let it invigorate you. Work the body that God gave you and marvel at His creation around you. Enjoy the ride!