Dressing for Cold Weather Training
When it comes to cold weather training in New England, there are certainly some basics that if followed make for a better ride. I’ll be the first to admit that what I’m going to share is not complicated yet far too many cyclists don’t know it or just don’t do it. I’ll outline some basic things to consider before getting dressed for riding outdoors, things to look for in clothing and tips for stretching your clothing dollar and lastly things to be aware of while on your ride.
Things to consider when getting dressed -
What type of training are you doing? Are you riding slow and not generating a lot of heat? Are you doing something structured that will have you working hard for 5-10 minutes and following it up with longer periods of slower riding that will allow you to get cold quickly after starting to sweat? How long are you going to be out? Are you riding flat where speeds will be more consistent or are you climbing and descending, in other words getting warm and sweaty going up followed by higher speeds where you get chilled down. This is important and should be thought about. If you are not going to be working hard be sure to dress warmer than needed. What time of day are you starting your ride? Is the temperature going to be climbing or falling? What to wear, more on this later.
Things to look for in clothing & getting more for your dollar -
When it comes to clothing everyone has their personal favorites. Most of what I like is based on two simple things 1) they work & 2) it allows you to get more for your money by buying items that can be used during a wider range of temperatures. There are a few things that are critical in clothing but this does not mean every item has to deliver in all of these areas. Generally your clothing will need to keep you dry and warm while shutting out the wind and wet weather but like I mentioned every item does not need to do this. Here’s why –
Keeping dry is really important but more so close to your skin. So buy base layers that keep you dry. Spend the time to look for base layers that work well across a broad range of temperatures. Don’t worry about buying the expensive super cold weather stuff. You can use your layers for warmth.
Keeping warm is a must too, we know what happens to us when we allow our core temperature to fall…it isn’t pretty. Dress in several lighter layers, items like long sleeve jerseys that are perfect for cool weather rides with full zips make for perfect mid-layers. Yup and you guessed, this is where using your head can help you stretch a buck, buy a couple of nice jerseys that you can use during 3 of the four seasons. When you get closer to your outer layers you want to start to consider something a little heavier. Usually one good layer of something like a heavy wool jersey (if you can find one) or something that is specifically marketed as a winter cycling jacket is perfect before putting that last outer layer on.
That last out layer should be as specific as you get when it comes to spending your money. You will most likely wear this item during the winter season only may be during cool rides but without much under it. Be sure this jacket has a wind proof front if not the whole thing. It should allow moisture to escape while keeping moisture out. Pay attention to how it fits when trying it on, you want to make sure you can fit your layers under it.
Keep in mind I was talking about your upper body so far but most of this applies to legs as well as feet and hands. Again with some thinking you can get the most out of your cycling wardrobe. I prefer using leg warmers and knee warmers with shorts, this means every pair of shorts I have can double as either knickers or tights. When this is not enough for the cold, add a layer. A pair of wool tights or a pair of tights that use a ‘roubaix” weight material is almost always enough to keep your legs warm.
When it comes to hands and feet remember this. The warmer you stay everywhere else the easier it is to keep your hands and feet warm. It’s simple, this allows you to keep your blood warm all the way to your extremities. So proper dress everywhere else helps.
Gloves, I almost never wear a big winter glove or lobster type gloves. Too often your hands will get wet from sweating during earlier parts of the ride and then all that insulation is wet, leading to cold fingers later. If you have not figured it out yet, I prefer layers. All you need is a good windproof glove of moderate weight that is big enough for you to wear with a glove liner. Again find a good liner that helps you stay dry and warm. I have resisted naming brands so far but I have to mention Smart Wool here. They make a liner that is excellent & wool will help with moisture but more importantly wool retains its insulating property even when wet. If the workout I have will get me working hard I will bring another liner option, either to change or in case the temperature is going to move a bit. They aren’t bulky and fit right in your jersey pockets.
For your feet, I don’t believe in big bulky winter shoes here either. If you’ve dressed properly and follow the same principles above you don’t need them. Buy quality socks that keep your feet dry, quality socks that keep you feet dry and comfortable during the summer should also keep your feet dry in the winter. Use layers here too. If you have a good pair of cool weather booties put them on prior to a pair of winter booties or neoprene booties. Again this is the type of approach that helps new riders spend money on items that they will use in a wider variety of conditions.
Hats, do I need to get into this one? We’ve all heard the numbers on how much heat escapes through the head. Look for hats that are thing enough to get under your helmet, have some windproof portions and are long enough to cover the ears without creeping up on the head.
Things to be aware of during your ride –
It goes without saying you should know what the weather forecast is calling for. Having said that, the time of day is another variable you must consider. Are you leaving in the morning when it is coldest or heading out in the afternoon when the temperature will be starting to drop? Pay attention to the wind, headwinds in the winter can be brutal. If you are leaving in the morning when it is already cold, starting with a tail wind can make temperatures more bearable but don’t forget that this may test your endurance when heading back the last half of the ride into the wind.
Zippers, often overlooked for the value they bring and much more than a device to help you put something on. You need to be using your zippers during your ride to help regulate your temperature. Simply unzipping a little when you are working hard will help keep you from sweating, then once you bring your effort down and start to cool off, zip back up. Pay attention to your temperature and stay ahead of things, as you start to get warm unzip before you’re actually hot and sweating. Continue to do this as you climb or do your work portions of the ride to keep from getting wet, which means cold sooner or later.
Winter training also has its own considerations for nutrition but that’s another story for another day.