With the forecast anticipating snow / rain for Sunday evening into the Monday morning commute, I decided to take another attempt at riding outside before salt coats the roads. The scenery of River Road on a cold winter day is pretty incredible. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to head there on this sub-30 degree day.
Additionally, this past week I created a Strava club (feel free to join!) for Cyclehaven9w. Over time, I’m anticipating a consistent group gathering for weekend rides on 9W! For this particular ride, it was just me. However, I did see a handful of cyclists out (~40 in total), braving the elements. Before I provide a ride recap, I wanted to write my own review on dressing properly for riding in the cold.
Similarly to the bike cleaning post, this one is not going to be as crucial for the seasoned cyclists among us, but for those who are getting into cycling, it should provide some good insight!
Dressing the Part: Cold Weather Riding
There are a number of guides out there indicating what to wear on rides at varying temperatures. I’m cognizant that everyone is different and has different heat / cold tolerances. For example, someone may show up to a group ride in a short sleeve kit with arm and knee warmers, while another individual may be dressed in deep winter tights, booties, lobster gloves, and a balaclava for that same ride. It’s all relative.
As a small disclaimer, I prefer colder weather to the heat. This past summer I had some trouble while riding in high humidity (more on that in a future post).
On this particular ride, my garmin recorded an average temperature of 32 degrees fahrenheit, with a “real feel” temperature well below 30. As you’ll often see in the vast majority of reviews, the key is layering your clothing (with the right material).
Below 40 degrees fahrenheit, wool is your best friend. This material provides a phenomenal base layer that keeps you warm. They make different “weights” as well, for varying optimal temperature ranges. The wool garments that they’re creating these days are nothing like the old, scratchy wool that used to be on the market. Now, they’re extremely comfortable!
I wore a midweight merino wool base layer on this ride. While these garments aren’t cheap by any means, I strongly believe that you receive value for your money.
In tandem with the long sleeve wool base layer, there are two other wool garments that I feel are essential for keeping you comfortable in cold weather: wool socks and a wool gaiter.
For socks, I know that many of us ride with 3-bolt cleats (I have a pair of Specialized Expert Road shoes, with carbon fiber soles). The concern is that thick socks would make an already form fitting shoe feel uncomfortable. I haven’t experienced this – the wool socks are definitely thicker than your typical summer socks, but the boa system on my shoes is excellent for making adjustments on the fly.
I don’t have great circulation in my fingertips and toes in cold weather (probably because all the blood is going to my legs and core while I’m trying to lay down the power on the pedals). The wool socks I wear are the same brand as my midweight layer: Minus33 wool socks.
Personally, I’m not a fan of wearing full cycling booties. The Pearl Izumi ones I have fit kind of awkwardly around my cleats. With the wool socks I described above and my Specialized Element Windstopper Toe Covers, I actually had very minimal toe numbness on my ride yesterday, compared to frozen feet – very encouraging!
A neck gaiter is also great to have. It’s basically a sleek scarf alternative that keeps your neck and throat warm (many of them have extra material that you can pull up to cover your mouth / nose as well). For those riding in sub-20 degree weather, or if cold wind causes considerable discomfort for you, then I would recommend getting a full balaclava. I personally don’t wear one because the neck gaiter + a winter cycling cap combo works well for me. However, it all comes down to preference.
Middle / Outer Layers:
In terms of my winter cycling kit itself, I’m a big fan of Rapha gear. Very well made and comfortable. Though, it is cost prohibitive. On my ride yesterday I wore my RCC long sleeve training jersey and Rapha core shorts (underneath a pair of long JL brand spandex that I’ve owned for some time – since my old rowing days).
On the ride yesterday, I didn’t wear a windproof outer layer, though I did put on my Strava arm warmers over my base layer and under my long sleeve jersey as an added precaution (bought them when the Strava store was closing this past summer and had everything 50% off).
Glasses are also important to wear when it’s cold outside. Yesterday I wore an older clear pair, since the weather was primarily cloudy.
In terms of gloves, this is where I’ve had some trouble reaching a consensus. There seems to be a tradeoff between gloves that are warm and bulky versus those that are sleek and do not limit hand movement. I have four different pairs of gloves. 1) fingerless summer gloves 2) very thin autumn gloves 3) two pairs of winter gloves.
Yesterday I wore the high-viz “thinsulate” ones. Partially because I wanted to wear something brighter with my dark kit, and partially because I wanted to test out the thinsulate capabilities. Overall, I’m very impressed! My fingers did not get numb at all! (Can’t seem to find these on amazon, I received them as a gift last year).
I have also tested out the Pearl Izumi Cyclone gloves on numerous occasions. These gloves, in theory, are very good – they have gel padding, the gloves extend further down your wrists to prevent wind getting in, etc… However, in practice, the gel padding leaves much to be desired, I’ve found my hands sweat a lot in these gloves, and they’re more difficult to get on and off (especially as I stop to take pictures often to document my story).
To summarize my cycling clothing guide for yesterday’s ride / similar weather I’d say:
Base Layers: Wool mid or heavy weight long sleeve, wool socks, wool gaiter and cycling cap (or balaclava), and toe covers (or booties).
Middle / Outer Layers: Long sleeve jersey, arm warmers, windproof outer layer (if needed), bib shorts + non-padded long tights (or chamois long tights), full fingered gloves with thinsulate technology, and glasses.
The biggest thing to remember, aside from layering properly, is that you should be slightly cold when you first head out. You will warm up! However, if you start riding and you’re already toasty, it will get uncomfortably hot.
River Road Ride Recap:
In terms of the ride itself yesterday, it was chilly and yet, very tranquil. It actually started to snow while I was returning on 9W (well, flurry). Riding in that weather made me feel very accomplished. The night before, I swapped out my gatorskins for my knobby cyclocross tires. I am most likely not going to ride frequently outdoors in the winter, but the cyclocross tires do give better grip – especially over those random semi-icy patches along 9W and in the city.
The highlight of the ride was stopping by Strictly Bicycles on the way back into the city (River Road out, 9W back). I wrote a post on Strictly back in October, but they really play an instrumental role in the community. Returning to Strictly after a 9W adventure is akin to returning home. I bought some electrolyte gummies since I was running low on ride energy. Ultimately, I ended up spending well over 35 minutes in the shop. I got a chance to speak with Nelson (the owner) as well as some other cyclists who were heading back into the city, including one girl who was only 3 weeks out from a concussion!