How to maintain the right body temperature on winter rides

Get your temperature balance right when the mercury drops with these 4 simple tips

Getting the balance right between undergarments and overheating isn’t easy in winter. We consulted cycling scientist James Hewitt for a few tips on how things should be done…

1. Heat to the beat

The body’s metabolism converts the energy stored in food and body tissue into what’s needed for cycling, but only 25 percent of that is used, with the rest released as heat.

“You need to wear enough to keep your muscles warm, but balanced to avoid trapping too much heat," says Hewitt. "As you ride faster and harder you raise heat production, forcing you to sweat more.”

The baselayer is crucial to temperature regulation: “Get that core warm and contain that heat and it’ll help keep your extremities warm too, reducing the need for additional layers."

Baselayers are the first step in maintaining the right body temperature
Baselayers are the first step in maintaining the right body temperature

2. Stay dry, stay warm

Baselayers that provide ‘wicking’ to take sweat off of the body are vital — you’ll produce a fair amount of moisture on the climbs, which will quickly chill against your skin on the descent if you don’t use a material that wicks it away.

“Depending on the temperature severity, a second, long-sleeve layer beneath a zip-up top can help strike that balance,” suggests Hewitt. That zip is one of the simplest but most effective temperature regulators you can have to ventilate the build-up of heat or seal out the cold air.

3. Vests and more

You’re better off having more layers and stripping them down than going out ill-prepared. Even in the harshest weather you’ll rarely need more than three on top — base, second, zip-up windproof layer — though it’s worth pocketing a gilet (vest) and/or a rain jacket for long rides.

A pair of tights over your shorts keep your legs warm without feeling uncomfortable. Knee and arm warmers are also very useful as they provide much needed warmth on crucial joints that don't have much muscle or fat tissue. Plus, they can be pulled off and stowed easily should the temperature rise.  

If the weather is cold and/or wet then a cycling cap beneath the helmet works well — if it’s very cold opt for a thermal, skullcap-style hat.

Lobster gloves are a great way to keep your hands warm
Lobster gloves are a great way to keep your hands warm

4. Outer elements

“If your core is warm it’ll help ensure your hands and feet are too, though gloves that allow you to feel the road but not the cold are a must,” says Hewitt.

Layer two pairs of thin socks or use neoprene ones — wetsuit material — as opposed to just thick socks that don’t insulate. “The wind chill in the saddle makes temperatures feel colder,” adds Hewitt, who says when it drops below 10°C it’s time to think about oversocks and overshoes, heavier-weight tights, and an additional baselayer.

Gloves, as it goes without saying, are an important piece to the puzzle. Lobster-style gloves put your index and middle fingers, and your ring and little fingers together, which allows dexterity for shifting and braking while also maximizing heat. Having windproof gloves is a must as the temperatures drop since your hands are always directly in the wind. 

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