Winter cycling can be a tough thing to accomplish. Not only does the sun set as we leave work, but the dropping temperatures make it hardly bearable to hang around outside.
As someone newer to cycling, I figured I would have to say goodbye to the road beneath my wheel and bring my trainer out in the coming weeks. That was until I spoke with more seasoned riders who explained to me that despite the chilly temperatures and darkness, winter cycling can be just as useful and enjoyable as sunny summer rides.
To dig further, I sat down with my cousin, Matt Zimmer, a semi-pro cyclist with Gateway Harley-Davidson/Trek U25 Cycling and an avid supporter of winter riding, to pick his brain for more advice.
Q: I’m a newbie at riding. Should I ride outside in the winter? I don’t even know where to start.
Matt: Yes! It’s easier, mentally, to bike outside versus the trainer. If you have 45 minutes to get a ride in, it’s worth it to bundle up and hit the road or bike path. You can get a great workout in even if it’s cold.
Q: Okay, so the sun goes down pretty early now, though. What about riding when it’s dark?
Matt: I’ll ride home from work at 6 p.m. in the winter and I take backroads. The key is to have reflective clothing and a rear and front light. I use the Bontrager Flare R Tail Light and a Bontrager Ion 700 RT for the front. It is bright and motorists like that they can see me.
Q: Let’s talk clothing. What do I need to be wearing to enjoy the ride outdoors?
Matt: The trick is to layer rather than wear a thick, heavy jacket. Start with a wool base layer, then add a fleece-lined jacket and then put on a windbreaker jacket. If you need more you can add but that should be a good start. The most important thing is to keep your knees covered. There is a rule that you should cover your knees in temperatures below 65 degrees to prevent injury, so I wear knee warmers and leg warmers in temperatures under 60 degrees. If it’s really cold, I’ll add neoprene bibs and leg warmers under the bibs, too.
When it comes to shoes, you can get winter-specific riding shoes, or you can duct tape the soles of your regular cycling shoes to prevent air from getting in. Wear neoprene socks and shoe covers. The shoe covers should also be wool-lined.
Q: What about gear for the hands and head?
Matt: Invest in a pair of thick riding gloves. If your hands are cold, you’re going to be miserable. For anything 25 and below I also generally use waterproof bar mitts. These can be expensive, but they last for a really long time. As for above the neck, there are cycling-specific hats designed to fit under helmets. I wear one of those and also include a balaclava mask if it’s below freezing. I also wear regular sunglasses but I’ve known people who wear goggles, too. It’s personal preference.
Q: Do you have any stipulations when it comes to riding in the winter?
Matt: As long as the roads are clear, I generally ride if the temperature is above 0 degrees. If there is a strong wind and the windchill is below 0, I opt to stay indoors.
Based on my conversation with Matt, I am rather relieved that I won’t have to spend this winter on the trainer – looks like it’s time to head to my local bike shop to invest in some winter riding gear!