Tips & Tricks: How to dress for cycling in winter
11. 02. 2020
How to dress for cycling in winter
The ideal weather for a bike ride is the sun. None or just a light breeze, temperature not too hot neither too cold, simply when we can get by with shorts and a short jersey. Yes, there are such days in the summer, even in our region, when we have a chance to enjoy cycling this way. But cycling is not just a purely summer sport and can be practiced all year round. There are also industries operated specifically in the winter such as snow / fat bike, and partly cyclocross. In order to be able to enjoy cycling in the winter, I will try to summarize a few tips and rules on what to think about and how to dress properly. As an ambassador of the Kilpi brand, I am lucky to be able to test and try many different products, so hopefully, my advice will help you find your way.
So how to do it?
There is no guide on what to wear in this or that weather. Each person is an individual, everyone has the preferences that suit them. We should watch how what works or suits us and follow accordingly. After all, how one dresses is up to each of us. It must be taken into account:
- External climatic conditions (temperature, wind, humidity)
- Personal physical condition, condition, and thermal tolerance
- Intensity of activity
- Exposure time
These aspects interact with each other, so it is necessary to take them comprehensively. The resulting clothing for a given activity/ride should therefore be a combination of them. To feel comfortable during the activity is to be warm (adequately) and dry. We are the only source of heat - heat produced by our own body. The source of humidity is either internal (evaporation during sweating) or external (rain, snow, fog, humidity). So the goal we try to achieve is to keep the heat as close as possible and the moisture as far away from the body as possible. Let's look at these aspects separately:
External climatic conditions
Temperature is probably a basic indicator of how outdoors it is. So it is clear that the following is true: The colder it is outside, the more I will dress. If there is wind (which is common in winter), the sensation temperature will be lower. In this case, even a very thin, impermeable outer layer will do the job. But be careful of breathability (the ability to remove body moisture) so that we do not close tightly and be soaked from under our own sweat. Recommended product Airrunner, Joshua. We can also partially reduce the influence of the wind by choosing a track. It blows less in the forest and in the valley than in the open fields and on the hill. When driving in the wind, it will be warmer for you than if you drive directly against it.
Humidity is a big problem. Water is an excellent heat conductor and places where all layers of clothing get wet are a direct link between the external winter and your body. Therefore, protection against external moisture must be provided by the outer layer (jacket/trousers). Here, too, it is necessary to think about breathability, ie the removal of body moisture away from the body. In the case of snow, the heavier the frost, the drier the snow, doesn't stick, doesn't melt on clothes and there is almost no need to worry about getting wet. Softshell materials work well in such conditions. Conversely, if the snow is wet, or the slurry in the case of icing, it tends to adhere to the clothing in layers and perhaps look even worse than continuous rain. In these conditions (even in the rain) it is necessary to use quality membranes. Recommended product Hurricane jacket, Alpin trousers dry conditions, I recommend leaving the outer protective layer against moisture in the backpack only as a reserve in case of a sudden change in weather.
Personal physical condition and thermal tolerance
The personal physical condition affects how I will feel during the activity, how I will react to external climatic conditions, and the expected intensity. If I'm tired or not fee, it will be colder for me. If my condition is weaker, I can be expected to sweat more at the same intensity (produce more internal body moisture in the clothing system) and at the same time be more sensitive to external cold. Thermal tolerance is the individual's ability to withstand cold or heat. For some, a mild feeling of cold is more pleasant and cannot withstand too much heat, and for others, it is exactly the opposite. But even this tolerance can vary depending on the current physical condition and condition.
Seems seemingly simple here :-). The higher the intensity of the activity, the more I produce body heat, and the more I will sweat. It is true that the higher the intensity, the less clothing I will protect myself from the external cold, but the greater the emphasis on the removal of moisture into the body. Conversely, the lower the planned activity, the less heat I will produce, and the more I will dress and protect against the cold. However, it is necessary to carefully consider the factors that affect the intensity of the activity. Track profile (hills/planes), planned pace. And a special chapter is the group I will go with and my conditions and roles within the group. If I am a weaker member of the group, the intensity will be higher for me at the same pace as the group than for a colleague with a higher condition. If I am stronger, I may have to wait somewhere on the hill for the lower ones from the group and the intensity will be lower. Or I can help colleagues who are a little weaker by warming up by going forward more often and at a pace that is enough for me and they can possibly rest more, and thus the subjective intensity equalizes between us.
I mean the length of activity and the time for which we will be exposed to cold (or moisture). As the exposure time increases, the thermal tolerance decreases, and usually the intensity of the activity also decreases. If we are planning a longer activity in the high winter and cold, we should not start too intensely, but we should, if possible, distribute our performance evenly throughout the duration of the activity.
As for thermal tolerance, there is a problem that it's decreasing can be unexpected and sudden. I'm managing the winter for a while, then I overcome it, and then (often in combination with growing fatigue and hunger) it exceeds the tolerable limit and suddenly it's just cold and it needs to be addressed immediately. Therefore, before you go for a 7.5h ride at -15 ° C, you should know and react to how you managing the long-term exposure to the cold according to the experience from previous shorter rides!
If you still find yourself in such a situation, you must be prepared to deal with it (ideally to prevent it). That is why I recommend that you always take spare layers of clothing with you for really long rides and plan a preventive break in the heat, where you will regain your strength and lose your limbs.
Dressing rules for winter cycling, as with any outdoor activity, the well-known three-layer rules apply. The first layer near the body primarily serves to transport body moisture (sweat) away from the body to other layers. Because it is in contact with the skin, it should be made of a pleasant material, it should fit you well and do not push anywhere. The advantage is flat seams. The material should dry quickly and (ideally) not absorb odors. Recommended products Netty, Flin, Patton.
The second layer should insulate, i.e. retain the required amount of body heat, and support the first layer in removing moisture from the body to the higher layers. The choice of this layer should correspond to the expected intensity of activity. The moment it insulates too much, you will overheat, sweat more and this can lead to too much soaking, consequent loss of insulation, and cooling down. Recommended products Ninja, Jager, Rapita.
The third is the outer layer, which protects you from external weather conditions. It should therefore correspond to the weather conditions, almost always protect from the wind (cycling alone causes airflow). Furthermore, it must be breathable in proportion to the intensity of the activity and, in the case of humid conditions, also waterproof. Recommended products Zester, Hurricane, Joshua fact that I am mentioning three layers, but does not mean that you should wear exactly three pieces of clothing (for example, on the body). Depending on the situation and conditions, it is necessary to react and add (or, conversely, remove) the clothes of the individual layers on top of each other. For example, there are two lower functional T-shirts, a sweatshirt, an insulated jersey, a light jacket, and a softshell vest on the body. When always two perform the function of one of the listed layers. When dressing, keep in mind that you are leaving in a calm state and the activity will increase heat production. So, when you leave the house, you can feel a slight cold (never directly cold) and then you will warm up by driving. If you are warm, you´re probably dressed too much. The exception is the periphery of the limbs, ie the hands and feet, which are good to keep warm from the beginning and are not very active. You should not have the cut too tight, but rather a looser so that the desired insulating air layer is not lost with the removed clothing. But on the contrary, avoid too loose or even flaming cut of clothes. In order to prevent unwanted airflow between the individual layers and its cooling.
I am not an expert on materials, nor is it the ambition of this article to introduce you to their secrets. However, here are just a few things and rules I follow:
- Cotton NEVER !!! Never, but really Never use cotton in winter! Cotton binds water very well and makes it almost impossible to remove moisture away from the body. This property is absolutely critical in the case of socks. Always watch the composition of the socks you plan to enjoy in the winter. If there is even only 10% cotton, then do not use such socks in winter. You run the risk of colds or frostbite.
- Natural or synthetic material? Its a lot about personal preferences here. Someone is a sworn fan of natural materials and, for example, merino products cannot be allowed. I am of the opinion that the lower the intensity, the longer the exposure time, and the drier the conditions, the more suitable natural materials are. On the contrary, synthetic materials are more suitable for activities with higher intensity and shorter duration. Well, especially in wet and rain, a membrane made of synthetic material can probably not be avoided.
- Material structure (substances) it is also good to think about the structure of the substance. Even in winter, a cross-linked material may be suitable as the first layer, which will speed up the removal of sweat and the small chambers inside the material grid will act as an air insulating layer. When dressing, I order the individual layers in order from the thinnest material directly at the body to the densest as the outer layer (not to be confused with the weight), of course, while maintaining the rules of breathability.
How to stack layers?
Any overlap of the layers should be done with a fold to avoid possible revealing of any part of the body. The layers should be folded so that, when viewed from the top-down, water could theoretically run down them and it would not flow anywhere. So a cap over the scarf around his neck, a scarf over his jacket, a jacket over his pants. Shoes are specific, but more on that.
Various tips and tricks
Neck and head.
The head is one of the parts of the body that dissipates heat the most, so we should pay close attention to its protection. It's a good idea to minimize the flow of air around your head, for example by sealing the ventilation holes of your helmet. I use a protective shell with an inner reflective foil, which retains most of the radiated heat in the space under the helmet. I leave the scarf/tunnel around my neck pulled over my ears to the top of my head and put a light cap under my helmet to secure the scarf against slipping. I always put the legs of the glasses on the outside, never under the cap, this would create a tunnel with a stream of icy air right on my ears.
Most layers of clothing are generally worn on the torso, the first layer is really the first from the point of view of the whole body and extends under the shorts. The hull needs to be kept dry and warm. Think of it as a center of body heat, where the blood is heated and then distributed throughout the vascular system throughout the body. When the hull cools down, heat can no longer be obtained anywhere else. I like to use a hooded jacket in the cold, which I put on my head under my helmet. Otherwise, the fluttering hood is rather a disadvantage when riding a bike.
Hands hold the handlebars all the time, which is a de facto icy object. At the same time, the sensitivity of the fingers during braking and shifting is essential for safe driving. I prefer warmer gloves. Sometimes I wear thin fleece inner gloves and warm gloves over them. For long rides below -5 ° C, ski gloves have worked for me (it takes a little practice when shifting on the road). I try to choose the route so that at the beginning of the first 20 minutes of the ride, there is one at least a 5-minute climb, which is most effective for warming up the hands. If its cold on your hands, its hard to catch up. Sometimes it helps to add a layer in the arm area to increase the temperature of the blood that reaches the hands. I always carry spare gloves in my backpack. In case of heavy rain, I wear thin surgical gloves, but I was already saved by gloves from a gas station stand.
The legs are motor when cycling. Large muscle groups work on the legs, so they can warm up with work. The knees deserve special attention. So I choose pants with reinforced knee protection, or I add overshoes under them. As for shorts and cycling insoles, I use classic summer shorts with a cycling insole designed directly for the body. Cycling pads in cycling pants are not designed to be worn directly on the body, but you are expected to already have a layer under them. As an extra layer, I sometimes add loose cycling shorts that reduce airflow to the thighs, crotches, and buttocks.
As far as footwear is concerned, winter shoes are ideal, but this does not mean that those who don't have them will not ride in the winter. I recommend looser shoes or shoes and do not tighten them too much so that the blood flow is not restricted. If you don't have winter shoes, it is suitable for winter MTBs to replace the foot pedals with platforms and then you can choose winter boots. If I don't have warm socks, I´ll put two thin ones. NEVER cotton !!! The proven material for winter socks is wool and polypropylene (both warm and wet). I put warmer insoles in my shoes. Or I add a thermofoil under the liner, which reflects the heat back to the foot. I highly recommend neoprene overshoes over the shoes and for long rides (5+ hours) in severe frosts (below -7 ° C) I can easily put two overshoes between which thermofoil can be added.
When I start to feel that my legs are freezing, I get off the bike and walk a few hundred meters. Walking will help blood circulation and delay freezing. I try to plan the route so that every 3-4 hours there is a chance to go hide somewhere in the heat (restaurant/cottage). I sit somewhere next to the heat source (heating/fireplace), take off my overshoes and shoes, and take out the insoles as well. Before leaving, I will put dry spare socks on my feet.
As I wrote in the introduction, there is no universal guide or table on how to dress for winter cycling. I tried to write general rules about what to think about and what to take into account according to my personal experience. I hope that the ideas I have tried to capture in this article will help you to better orientate yourself in the issue of winter clothes. I wish you enjoy cycling in any weather.