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Winter Riding

Winter’s coming. Are you ready to quit riding? You don’t have to quit riding if you dress correctly and put a little effort into planning and preparation. I rode through the winter last year and will again this year. 

Planning involves carefully watching the weather well in advance. This allows you to have the necessary clothes ready plus being mentally prepared, yet flexible, in case conditions change. This is especially important if you are only able to ride on the weekends. Modern weather forecasting can’t always nail the timing of cold fronts or the arrival of precipitation. So being ready to adapt the timing of your ride, or your route, or your clothing based on last-minute weather changes will maximize your enjoyment and minimize your discomfort. 

Planning also involves keeping good notes about which clothes worked in what conditions on previous rides. From over one hundred degrees down to the seventies, and even the sixties, your clothes won’t change much. Drop down below 60 degrees, though, and things start to change quickly. Just a five degree drop in temperature, if combined with some wind and clouds, can make riding conditions feel dramatically different. Being ready for those changes from one day to the next, or within the ride, is critical. So I keep notes about which combinations of clothes and weather worked, and which ones didn’t. Being comfortable is desirable in and of itself, but it becomes important in terms of riding time. If you are comfortable, you will ride more. There is also a safety element to dressing correctly and not being chilled. Even mild hypothermia can lead to impaired judgment, and riding safely means riding fully aware.  

If you are on a budget, clothing can be a challenge. There are a ton of bicycle clothes available that will keep you comfortable in virtually all conditions, if you have the money to spend, and we stock a lot of them. If you need to keep your costs down, however, please come see us. On many occasions I have had customers bring in the base layers, mid-layers, socks, gloves and winter accessories they already own so that we can figure out how to use what they already have in order to cover the riding conditions they expect to encounter. Gloves are a good example of making do. I have some great bike-specific lobster glove/mitts for really cold conditions, but I often pull out my ski gloves to ride in because they work well also. Another example of frugal winter riding tricks is using clear packing tape over your helmet vents instead of buying a helmet cover. The helmet cover comes on and off easily and has built-in reflectivity. But the tape works to block the wind, and is cheap.  

I have a few bike-specific pieces that I would not want to do without. One is my combo jacket/vest windbreaker. The sleeves zip off and stow in the back pocket of the vest, plus the whole thing is light enough to stow in a jersey pocket, for those days where conditions change significantly. Another essential for below thirty riding of any duration are bike booties. And a bike jersey with plenty of pocket storage is pretty much a must.

Why go to the trouble and expense of riding in the winter?  Well, at least for me, an hour on the bike outside in the fresh air and nature, even if I am not totally comfortable, is ten times better than being in the gym or on a trainer at home. On the bike I am usually mad when it is time to quit. The minutes just roll by. Not so indoors. Plus, if you have warm weather riding partners, being in riding shape at the end of the winter when they are rusty is a great feeling.  And, finally, the hard rides are the best rides. I will always remember the ride where both of my water bottles froze solid.  Or the ride where we were so cold we had to stop and get some hot chocolate, which tasted SO good! And the ride where the wind was so strong we could barely push into it, and then when we thought we would turn around and get a tailwind, but the wind switched and we had to work just as hard to get home. And then there are the looks of incredulity when you walk into the coffee shop in your riding clothes on a stupid cold day: priceless!

Dave Colburn

The Pathfinder Blog

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