How to stay warm on the bike

Another cold snap has hit us when we were getting used to the idea of some milder weather and the roadside flowers of spring. From Twitter and whatnot I get the impression that people not used to riding through a winter are riding their bikes and struggling a little with the cold. Morning temperatures are below freezing, it has been incredibly windy, and the day hasn’t been getting much warmer. So what are my tips?

Most of your cold weather riding kit is obvious. Wear two jersey layers. Wear a windproof jacket, and preferably one that is also waterproof. Get some nice thermoflex leg warmers or tights (thermoflex is a lovely fleece-lined Lycra if you haven’t seen it) and good winter socks. Merino wool is the fabric on the tongue of all winter cyclists these days. Sportwool too. Obvious stuff.

But there’s more. Not all base layers are created equal. Find a good, long-sleeved, warm base layer that you like (Craft do some great stuff that’s not expensive, people rave about Rapha’s but they are a bit more expensive) and wear two base layers. Maybe a short sleeved and a long sleeved layer, but wear them both. Great for warmth and breathability (is that a real word?) and they don’t add bulk. Even in the winter you’re not allowed to look Michelin man, and you don’t need to.

Next: the hat. You need to cover your ears, you need to cut out the wind, but you also need a cap. What? You don’t cycle with a cap? You need caps. In the winter the peak keeps the low sun out of your eyes but far more importantly it keeps the rain off your glasses and out of your face. Some days it will even keep the stinging hail off your soft cheeks when you’re descending the Rhigos mountain like it did for me the other week and you will love it like your first born child. If you get everything else right (including mudguards) the peak of a cap often means you barely even notice that it’s raining. But how do you keep your head warm and wear a cap? You get one of these:

Even the Rapha version of this hat is not particularly expensive (£35ish I think) and for the amount of use it will get if you ride in the cold it may be the best value item you can buy. A helmet goes over the top of it just fine and you can just about push the peak up if you want tot get super low and aero and fastass descent.

Working our way down you could add a buff or a snookie/snoodle/snood or whatever the premiership footballers call it for your neck and chin but personally I find the collars of long sleeved jerseys to be so good these days that I don’t need them. But hey, I’ve also got a beard and tend to give up shaving when it’s cold. So fingers are the main issue for a lot of people. When it’s cold (really cold, below 5C certainly) it doesn’t tend to rain like a madman. You get light rain, maybe hail, and snow. Or it’s dry. I live in South Wales and that’s what I see. So the solution is huge great big lobster mitts. The have a load of insulation on the backs of the hands but less on the fronts and good palm grips so you can feel the bars and levers. Hands are warmer in mitts than gloves but you can’t change gear in mitts. Maybe you can brake but I don’t fancy it. The solution is the lobster mitt, which lets you grip the brake hoods with two fingers and change gear with the other two. I wear these things all winter and they work. They are completely windproof and waterproof except for the huge cuffs, so a problem can arise when it’s raining hard as water will run down your arms and into the gloves. This is unusual but does present a daily issue for me when the temperature is hovering around 5C and it may or may not rain. Lobster mitts or Sealskinz? Buy some lobster mitts. Pearl Izumi do some.

My main problem in the cold has always been cold feet. I’ve tried everything over the years from carrier bags and newspaper, to mountaineering socks and neoprene overshoes. Nothing really worked. The wind chills your shoes, the cold metal pedals suck heat out of the soles of your feet, and any water on the roads gets splashed on your shoes. An hour is ok, but 4 or 5 hours is painful. The solution? Shell out for some winter boots. Big, oversized ones. This can be an expensive thing to do, so it’ll depend on how your feet fare in the cold and how much time you’re planning to spend out there. I bought some Diadora Chilli’s (is that a pun?) that weren’t too expensive. They’re not the best you could buy, and they’re so waterproof that they fill up with water in really heavy rain, but the difference between these and a summer road shoe plus overshoe combination is night a day. If you buy some buy a pair that are too big for you, and wear two pairs of socks or a really thick pair of winter socks. It’s important that even with thick sock layers you can still wiggle your toes. If you put thick socks on and stuff your feet into summer shoes you won’t be much better off because you’ll crush all the air spaces in the sock that do the work of insulation and you’ll limit blood flow into and out of your foot. Spend the money, buy big, get some good socks (merino, winter, OnOne do some good ones) and you might not have toasty feet but they will be comfortable. Until you hit that rainstorm, it’s 1C and the wind’s blowing 50kph. I tested that last week. Numbness.

Now is a good time to buy winter kit too, as it’s all at sale prices because winter has supposedly ended. Get ready for next winter and stay warm in this cold snap while you’re at it.

Try it and let me know how you get on.