Cold Weather Riding Tips

Cold Weather

What’s the matter? Bicycles are warm-weather conveyances. Feeling the wind in your face is a pleasurable experience — unless that wind is colder than a polar bear’s backside. Still, if you don’t venture out in frigid temperatures, in many parts of the world you’ll be off the bike for months.

Even in the worst of winter, cold doesn’t have to stop you from riding. If you know how to handle freezing conditions you can ride through the next few months with enjoyment and fitness intact.

Here’s Help

Here are 4 elementary ways to beat the Big Chill.

  • Start rides into the wind. Wind can lower the effective temperature enormously — the dreaded windchill effect. For example, at a relatively balmy 40F degrees (5C) with headwind gusts of 25 mph (40 kph), the cold you feel is equivalent to only 16F (-9C). That’s if you’re standing still. Add the forward speed of the bike and it feels even colder.


Even so, the best tactic is to plan winter routes to take you into the wind on the outward leg. You’ll get the coldest part of the ride done early before your clothes become sweaty. Later, when you’re damp and tired, the frigid blast will be at your back, blowing you home.

  • Dress in layers. You’ve heard about layering your clothes in cold weather but for cycling there are a few special tricks.

On your upper body start with a thin base layer of wool or a synthetic wicking material. A turtleneck works great. Add a short-sleeve jersey for moderate temperatures, a long- sleeve jersey or light fleece when it’s below freezing. Cover everything with a windproof shell that has a full front zipper for ventilation.

Most riders are comfortable in leg warmers down to about 40F degrees (5C). Lightweight tights work to around freezing, and heavy winter-specific tights, available with windproof front panels, are the ticket when the temperature really dips.

Don’t make the mistake of wearing too little on your legs even if they feel warm. You risk injury if your knees aren’t appropriately covered. Also, your body will shunt blood from your feet to your under-protected legs, leading to seriously frigid tootsies.

Hands, feet and head are the hardest body parts to keep warm. Wear a thin balaclava under your helmet, tucked into the turtleneck to prevent air leaks. It’ll cover your head, ears and neck, and you can pull it over your chin and even over your mouth.

Insulated gloves work fine into the mid 30s. For colder temperatures, go for so-called “lobster” mitts with 3 compartments — one for the first 2 fingers, one for the last 2 and the other for the thumb. This design pools heat for more warmth.

Feet will be helped by fleece-lined shoe covers. Add more warmth by removing insoles so you can wear thick wool socks.

  • Slow down. The faster you go, the greater the windchill but the sweatier you’ll get. That’s a bad deal all the way around. It makes sense to reduce your ground speed in freezing temperatures and focus on enjoying the ride, not training seriously. A dedicated winter bike — set up like a rain bike — can easily weigh 30 lbs. (13.6 kg). Add heavy wheels and tires for durability and you won’t be going anywhere fast.
  • Protect your privates.  Men, beware of penile frostbite. A cold wind can penetrate your tights and cycling shorts, freezing tissue that’s near and dear. Tights with windproof front panels help. You can also tuck extra protection down the front of your shorts. An old wool or polypro glove or sock works great.

(Adapted from Coach Fred’s Solutions to 150 Road Cycling Challenges, a helpful eBook especially forcycling newcomers.)

Republished by permission of

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