I’ve spent years perfecting my winter riding routine and thought it was a good time to show you behind the curtain. Even if you don’t experience snow as often as I do in Vermont, there are some really important things you should consider before heading out on your next ride.
1) Winter riding can be miserably enjoyable. Treating it like an adventure helps me stay motivated.
2) On good days, I try and get organized the night before. The gear and clothing requirements are so much more complicated than fair-weather riding, and having kit organized and ready to go is the difference between getting out the door in 15 minutes and 45.
3) I love to ride with lights, full fenders, and a giant saddlebag. Lights are such a game-changer, here in Vermont I immediately noticed cars were giving me more space. Having them on, charged, and ready to go means getting caught out at 4:15 when the sun sets is no big deal. On that note, I don’t know why bicycle clothing manufacturers make most of their warmest outerwear black, but I like to throw on a bright orange Rally Cycling vest over top of black outerwear so I am more visible.
4) I try and be flexible with both my routes and my training schedule. Dark clouds ahead? U-turn and back the way I came, maybe up a different climb, maybe just an out and back. Unexpected sunshine and clear roads? Try and sneak in another hour or two. Absolutely frozen on an endurance ride? Maybe hit that climb a little harder to warm up.
5) Hands and feet. I’m luckily a member of the hot hands club, but here are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way. If and when I ever take my gloves off, to pee, to go in a store, on a long climb, I always try and tuck them under my jacket next to my base layer to keep them warm. It totally stinks to come out of a 7-11 with your hot coffee to a pair of frozen neoprene gloves that you left on your saddle. On really brutal days, I’ll bring a spare set of dry gloves, which can be a game-changer. For feet- I have a super thick pair of booties that I love. Paired with good socks, they do the trick most days. If it’s gonna be a real doozy of a day I’ll put plastic bags over my socks, which can definitely backfire if it isn’t cold enough and you sweat too much.
6) Sweat. Try and minimize sweating. Jackets with big chunky zippers are your friend. Unzip up climbs, and zip up over the top. It’s so hard to stay hydrated when it’s cold out, and if you get too sweaty, you just start to freeze. We like to say, “be bold, start cold.’ I don’t think I have ever started a ride warm in the winter, and if I have it is usually a sign I am overdressed.
7) Eat and drink. It is so so easy for me to be massively dehydrated in the winter, or to get 2 hrs into a ride and realize I’m doomed because I haven’t had anything to eat. I’m pretty sure my body is working overtime just to stay warm, so I do my best to smash bars and drink. I like to add maple syrup and salt to my bottles in an effort to prevent them from freezing and to entice myself to drink more. Sometimes I’ll ride with a bottle of recovery for the same reason. I try and opt for bottles with wider, less complicated nozzles that are less likely to freeze.
8) Road salt. Road salt kills gear. I try and wash my bike daily in the winter unless it’s really dry. I ride with a small bottle of chain lube and a rag and when the drivetrain noise becomes unbearably crunchy, I’ll pull over for a quick chain wipedown. One time mid-ride I passed a fire station cleaning their trucks and asked them to powerwash my bike mid-ride which was amazing.
9) Bring extra. Bring extra everything. Phone charged, extra food, extra tubes, extra E-tap battery, sometimes an extra jacket in your handlebar bag. Extra saves rides.
10) Try to enjoy winter riding, as the adventure that it is. Emma Pooley summed it up best in her everesting recap on Cyclingtips, “It’s a privilege to be able to choose how you suffer – not everyone has that choice.” I try to stay conscious of this fact, I try to stay grateful and humble that I am able to ride a bicycle.