← Back to Blog

Our Top 10 Tips for winter cycling

VeloVixen 08.01.21

Let's face it, there aren't many less pleasant feelings than finishing a bike ride shivering and trying to get the sensation back into numb extremities.

But if you've ever been out on a bike during winter, you've probably been there. Perhaps a little too often.

So what's the secret to staying warm, comfortable and smiling - even in the depths of winter? Here's our list - get on top of the most appropriate ones for you and it just might make all the difference:

 

1. Start out warm

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? But so many of us don't do it.

Here's the thing: set out on a winter ride already feeling slightly overheated from being inside and you'll keep that warmth for a surprisingly long time.

It may even get you through the whole ride, as you won't need to 'warm up' through puffing and panting. So there's more chance of maintaining a consistent temperature.

Stick your shoes, socks, gloves, jacket and headband on a radiator or in front of an open fire so they're warm to put on. Rush around a bit during your pre-ride faff. Do some stretching inside.

And whatever you do, don't delay getting underway once you're outside. It will all pay dividends on your ride.

 

2. Take warm drinks not cold

Another simple trick, but often overlooked. We all know how a warm cup of tea can make you glow from the inside - but how many of us choose an on-bike cup of tea?

Take your tipple of choice: herbal teas are great for honest hydration, whilst even weak tea or coffee will add that caffeine boost as a bonus. Our top tip is warm Ribena - a real treat.

Insulated water bottles make the warmth last even longer.

 

3. Happy extremities = happy cycling

A must - and one that can take some trial and error to get right. Wear too many pairs of socks or gloves and you can end up squashing your hands or feet and actually making the problem worse. Too few on a cold day and the joy will drain away with each passing mile.

 

- FEET

A couple of pairs of quality socks will often work better than one super-thick pair, but always make sure you can still wriggle your toes properly.

We find shoe covers invaluable: properly fitted, they will will keep out both cold winds and paddle splashes even on a non-rainy day.

And if you really suffer from cold feet problems, don't rule out the ultimate: foot warmers. One pair can last up to 8 hours!

 

- HANDS

With gloves, try a thin merino pair inside a thick waterproof pair. Layering is as important for hands as any other part of the body.

Do make sure that you can still move your fingers properly, though. If you can't change gears comfortably or - worse - grip your brake levers securely, then you could be confronting bigger problems than cold hands.

 

Warm gloves for happy hands

 

- EARS

Ears are funny little things, aren't they? Flappy things sticking out of the side of your head - and with no real protection from Jack Frost.

Don't worry - you're spoilt for choice here. Provided they fit safely under your helmet, you can go for a headband, skull cap or buff style neck warmer pulled over your head.

In the rain, sleet or snow, here's a cheap tip that's bound to make your fellow riders smile (enviously): a simple plastic shower cap.

On a really cold outing, you'll want choose headwear that will limit the 30% of body heat that's lost through the top of your head. And why not accessorise to make it match your bike and outfit?!

 

Funky neck warmers to make your ride glow

 

4. Plan your ride

On winter days, simply hopping nonchalantly on your bike to go for a ride isn't really an option.

Fine if you're just throwing on your normal commuting jacket and gloves for a quick ride to the office. But if you're venturing further afield these are the important elements to bear in mind. Think of them as our '4 Ws':

 

- WHO?

If you're unlucky, the cold can land you in real trouble, especially if you're riding out on your own.

Far be it from us to dictate that everyone should go out in pairs like primary school... But if anything unexpected happens - accident, mechanical, worsening of conditions - you'll be happy you had a companion.

If you're struggling to find cycling buddies, make sure you're part of our Facebook chat group - you'll find thousands of kindred cycling spirits, some in your area.

 

- WHERE?

We've all had that sinking feeling when you realise it's a few more miles back to the warmth than you'd expected. So it pays both physically and mentally to know what distance you're taking on, as well as where you'll be riding, before you set out.

Bear in mind that riding in the cold can use up more energy - your body's also working to keep you warm. So if in doubt, err towards shorter routes.

 

- WHEN?

Early morning sorties often make sense in the summer; you can start the day buoyed by endorphins and able to make the most of the rest of the day.

But in winter daylight arrives later, meaning setting that alarm clock for grim o'clock may mean contending with darkness and - perhaps more dangerous - ice. And you really don't want to be hitting ice on a bike. Pick a time when it's light and any surface water is liquid rather than solid.

 

- WIND

Weather forecasts are worth paying more attention to in winter. Make sure you've looked at the wind chill factor to know just what it's likely to feel like and dress accordingly.

Also keep in mind wind direction: if possible, a winter ride is a whole lot more pleasant if you do the hard bit (ie. into a biting headwind) first, and reward yourself with a helpful tailwind in the latter part of your route. 

 

5. Layer up

It's an old chestnut, but pile on plenty of thinner layers and you'll be grateful you did. Fewer, thicker layers just don't trap the warm air so effectively and can end up heavier and more cumbersome.

More specifically, we suggest always avoiding cotton which can become damp and unhelpfully cold if you start to sweat. It's especially hard to dry out.

Aside from a weatherproof top layer, our fabric of choice is usually merino wool - with all its remarkable natural insulation and odour-proofing properties.

Layering is a personal thing, and depends on just how cold it is, but our VeloVixen consensus is that a warm base layer (or two), a long sleeve jersey and a quality waterproof jacket should get you through most rides.

 

Cycling jackets our customers are loving most

 

Keep in mind that a warm torso is the key to staying warm overall, meaning a sleeveless gilet worn over everything else can make a difference.

And you'll never regret having an additional lightweight jacket tucked in your back pocket in case conditions get worse.

Finally, leg warmers and arm warmers can be a really versatile bonus - combine them as you like, with shorts and short sleeve jerseys, or over tights and under long sleeve tops. In the end, it's all about finding the combination that works best for you.

 

Keep your limbs firing

 

6. Go harder

On winter rides, you need to stay warm, right? And the best way for the human body to do that is...? Working harder.

Why not save the long leisurely all morning/day rides for warmer days and get out for a more intense hour or two instead. Get your heart beating hard, work up a head of steam and have your ride complete in quicker time.

It will build your strength and fitness more quickly and it's ideal preparation for more endurance based riding later in the year.

 

7. Or go easier

Having said that... nobody wants every ride to be brutal, right? Sometimes you just want to go for a pedal.

If you're not busting a gut, consider planning for more regular / longer pitstops on a ride, to allow you to refuel (see above!), dry out and defrost (always assuming that there are no global pandemics getting between you and a cosy, welcoming cafe, that is).

CAVEAT: if you are going with more extended stops, make sure you're confident you'll be able to warm up and dry out properly where you stop - there are few worse feelings than starting out from a coffee stop feeling cold and still damp, with  sluggish 'café legs' slowing you down!

More good news: since riding in the cold uses more energy, you have ample excuse to eat heartily before, during and after a ride. So up those calories without a flicker of guilt!

 

8. Adjust

There's no joy in feeling that persistent chilly draft down your neck, or having a ride spoilt by aching numb toes. And there's no shame in stopping for a minute to adjust things.

Have a pause whenever you fancy to cover that pesky gap between gloves and sleeve, to give your fingers or toes a rescusitative rub, or to pull on another layer.

The chances are if you're riding with anyone else they'll quietly also appreciate the chance to take stock!

Just don't stop for too much prolonged faffing - your temperature can drop very quickly when you pause.

 

9. Make friends with your bike

If there's one thing you don't want on a really chilly ride, it's a mechanical. Or even a puncture, for that matter.

So preparation is vital, to reduce the chances - it doesn't have to be obsessive, just make sure your bike is maintained well and that there's nothing obvious that you'd kick yourself if it went wrong mid-ride. The 'M-Check' is a really good way to do this.

Fit tyres that are as puncture resistant as possible, and try to avoid really rough or gravelly road surfaces. Take a decent puncture repair kit and at least a multi-tool to allow you to get back on your bike should something go wrong.

And if you're riding alone, make sure you have at least some ability to fix things - punctures, minor mechanicals and the like. You really don't want to be stuck in a freezing back lane hoping to be rescued by a motorised good Samaritan!

 

10. Don't go at all!

One some days, even the hardiest cyclist is well advised to give the bike a rest. If there's anything more than a dusting of snow or the temperature is well below freezing, we'd strongly suggest you find an alternative means of transport. Or just go and build a snowman.

We're not saying you don't have the cycling skills; it's the unknown/unseen hazards - covered potholes, black ice and the like. One slip and you could end up in a very dangerous spot. If you really do like the challenge of snow and ice, this is a good link to read.

That said, there are plenty of indoor alternatives - Covid has spawned a massive burgeoning of popularity for indoor cycling. There's a huge selection of kit available and fabulous ways to replicate the great outdoors. Our Zwift group, Virtual Vixens, for example, is flying - and if you're a member of the main chat group it's free to you.

Whatever your approach to winter cycling, one thing is for sure: if you're wearing the right gear, it can be some of the most exhilarating pedalling you'll ever do. If not - well, you'll soon know! Happy cycling!

 

Recent favourites to warm your heart - and more

 

Categories

Blogs & Stories

More Blogs