Winter cycling survival guide

Gear and tips to keep you going through the cold

In the glorious warmth of summer, just riding aimlessly along is easy, a simple pleasure. Who cares where you're going or what you're wearing. In the depths of winter, however, getting caught out without the right gear or the right plan will make you hate riding bikes in a hurry. Here are a few things that work for me to keep the cranks merrily spinning along through cold winters.

Gear and motivation are everything

If you're lucky enough to squeeze in some outdoor rides with the winter's limited light, good clothing is your friend. Yes, some sturdy clinchers and a set of fenders/mudguards are a good idea, too. But if your hands, feet or other extremities are painfully cold, who really cares about the stupid tires

If work, family and/or lousy weather conspire to keep you inside, it's all about the motivation. You could have Chris Froome's Pinarello and closet full of brand-new kit, but without a specific reason to climb on the trainer, you're not going to get much done.

Clothes I'm loving this winter

Okay, so it's not exactly clothing, but the snap-on Lazer Aeroshell is a great little piece that, for £15 / US$15, keeps the wind, rain and snow out and the heat in. The Aeroshell is obviously specific to helmets from the Belgian brand, but Lazer does sell it for a few different helmet models. A close second is a rain-resistant cycling cap worn under the helmet.

I'm not a fan of bulky hats — they usually make me overheat, plus they don't fit well under helmets. But cold ears on frigid days are no fun. Enter the lowly headband. The Pearl Izumi Thermal Headband is a great one, at a great price (£10 / US$18). 

On the other end of the price spectrum, a wind-blocking but breathable jacket simplifies winter cycling. Yes, you can stack up 400 layers, but I like to spend more time riding than I do getting dressed. I've been wearing the Alé PRR Thermal Winter Jacket (£160 / US$260) on days slightly above freezing with just a long-sleeve baselayer underneath. 

The Alé Winter Thermal Jacket
The Alé Winter Thermal Jacket

Along the same lines, I've come to prefer thermal bib tights over bib shorts and leg warmers. Less hassle, more comfort. Done. Here are our Best Winter Bib Tights.

I'd recommend signing up for an event just a bit outside your comfort zone, something that worries you enough to get moving. If you can get a friend to do it with you, all the better.

Similar to the headband, a simple neck gaiter can go a long way towards keeping you outside when it's nasty. A number of brands now make various knock-off versions of what Buff could be credited with popularizing. I favor a wool/poly blend that Bontrager made for a year, and the thin polyester gaiters from Pandana because they come in fun Colorado prints. 

Many gloves work well for moderately cold days, but few do the job well when it's at or below freezing. I've found Pearl Izumi's new AmFIB Super Gloves to do that rare double duty of warmth and dexterity. They look a little goofy, but when your water bottles are freezing, who cares what your gloves look like if your hands are warm?

Typically wool socks and neoprene booties do the trick to keep the feet warm, but those of you with cold toes will appreciate taking a page out of the skiers' book and using little hand warmers like those from Little Hotties Warmers. Just tuck one on top of the toe of each shoe with a shoe cover over the top to keep it in place. Cozy.

What's motivating me this winter

If riding road bikes is something you do in the summer for fun, why in the world would you suffer through the cold, or spin mindlessly on a trainer? Good question. For me, getting out on the bike usually offers a welcome hit of endorphins. German researchers have posited that exercise can affect the brain in a similar way as marijuana. Regardless of the internal chemistry, I know I nearly always feel better after a ride, no matter how bad the weather.

It's corny but it's effective: committing to a goal event will get you moving. For me, this year that's racing masters road nationals plus some local events with a team I recently joined. I'd recommend signing up for an event just a bit outside your comfort zone, something that worries you enough to get moving. If you can get a friend to do it with you, all the better.

Once you have a target on the horizon, you have a reason to be on the bike or on the trainer in the first place. For specific indoor workouts, TrainerRoad is the best thing going, providing power-based structure and rolling text commentary ("relax your shoulders!") as you grind out the intervals. If you're just looking for entertainment, the indoor version of a group ride, then Zwift is a godsend. Using a smart trainer improves the experience for both softwares, but I've also used both quite a bit with a 20-year-old set of rollers.    

What hooked me on riding years ago was getting out and pushing myself with new and old friends, and that remains a primary driver for me today. Plug yourself in with a group of like-minded knuckleheads, and you'll find yourself pulled along through the winter.  

Ben Delaney

US Editor-in-Chief
Ben has been writing about bikes since 2000, covering everything from the Tour de France to Asian manufacturing to kids' bikes. The former editor-in-chief of VeloNews, he began racing in college while getting a journalism degree at the University of New Mexico. Based in the cycling-crazed city of Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids, Ben enjoys riding most every day.
  • Discipline: Road (paved or otherwise), cyclocross and sometimes mountain. His tri-curious phase seems to have passed, thankfully
  • Preferred Terrain: Quiet mountain roads leading to places unknown
  • Current Bikes: Scott Foil Team, Trek Boone 5, Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4, Marinoni fixed gear, Santa Cruz Roadster TT bike
  • Dream Bike: A BMC Teammachine SLR01 with disc brakes and clearance for 30mm tires (doesn't yet exist)
  • Beer of Choice: Saison Dupont
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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