There’s nothing like a crisp, clear winter day for a great bike ride. We know you’re eager to roll, but don’t let your enthusiasm overtake your common sense. Run through this list of tips for biking in cold weather.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but certain kinds of bikes just aren’t right for cold weather riding. You could encounter wet or freezing conditions, road salt, sand or gravel, or slick winter roads. Stow the smooth-tire road bike and get a fat-tire friend or a gravel bike with knobbies. Check out our gravel bikes for sale—these bikes will keep you better grounded and give you a good feel for the bumps and slick patches winter can throw at you. Plus they’re super versatile.
Check predicted wind speed and direction and plan your route accordingly. Don’t go out if there’s a winter storm watch or wind chill advisory. Sometimes, you have to leave the ride for a bit warmer, dryer, calmer day.
If you think conditions will be okay for a ride, remember that they can change quickly. Know how you’d bail if you have to, and make sure you tell your partner or friends where you plan to ride, when you plan to return, and what you’ll do if the weather turns foul quickly (of course, if you live in more southern climes, a Nor’easter is probably not something you’re worried about).
Layering is the most obvious tip for biking in cold weather, but don’t overdo it. Your body will heat up fast with the exertion and exhilaration of a winter ride. Nevertheless, you’ll still need layers to stay warm and dry. Cover your core with a synthetic, wicking shirt that will draw the sweat away from your body. Then, cover that with a jacket that’ll keep you warm and dry, but will also vent enough to let sweat vaporize. Pack a sweater or fleece vest in case you feel chilled on the ride home. You should be a bit chilly when you start your ride so you’ll hit the sweet spot once you’re going.
Get a good cap or beanie that fits snugly on your head, under your helmet. If you get too steamy, you can take a break, pack it, or put it on again if you get chilly. But covering your head is one of the best ways to retain body heat besides protecting your core.
Winter conditions require eye protection. Salt, slush, ice, and gravel can all kick up toward your eyes, so invest in a quality pair of eyewear that’s up for the job.
Speaking of light, have one on your helmet or your bike, along with something reflective. While observing nature’s beauty on your bike, you want vehicles and other bikers you share the road with to be able to see you. Gloves are a must for grip and control in wet conditions and to keep your fingers functional, not frozen. If you don’t have a pair with a good enough wind block, try using some disposable gloves on the outside as a windbreak to help retain heat. Additionally, your bike shoes may not allow for thick winter socks, so try bike booties that go over your shoes and keep your feet dry and the wind out.
Bits of your face, wrists, or ankles sticking out from under your winter wear can make for uncomfortable, distracting cold spots on your body. Make sure you protect them or try using an embrocation cream for those in between temperatures.
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