Tuesday, November 16, 2010

what I do to stay warm in the winter

It hasn't really gotten cold yet in south-central pee-aay, but it's a 'coming...and so are the questions on how to stay warm.

Yesterday, I got a note from a friend asking how I keep my package warm when it gets cold--bibs and tights, just tights, two pairs of tights? I figured I'd share my response, along with some other cold-weather riding tips and just what-I-do sorts of things.

Everyone has to figure out what works for them, which is to say there won't be a universal right way to stay warm, but I think it's helpful to learn what those who have ridden through more than a few winters have learned.


On keeping male genitalia warm when cold-weather riding...

To start, I don’t have any padded tights. I always wear bib shorts under everything. When it’s cold enough to warrant, I pull on a pair of tights over them. Except that I cut all my tights off mid-shin, so I guess that makes them knickers.

I have two pair of knickers—one that’s not that warm, which I wear when it’s about 35-45 degrees out, and another that I wear when it’s colder. If it’s REALLY cold, like less than 25 degrees, I wear a modified pair of hiking pants over whatever else.

When it gets to freezing or below, I don’t leave home without my anatomically trimmed patch of fleece. I cut it from some old fabric I had lying around and, when it’s cold, I just stuff it down my shorts, wrapping my package in the warm, soft, comfy texture of 200 weight fleece.

It’s really the best solution I’ve found. My genitals never get cold when I have that thing in place.

There are other possible solutions. Craft makes a brief with a WindStopper patch on the front that you supposedly wear under everything. I think that would work ok, but I don’t like wearing underwear under my shorts in the winter not so much because of discomfort (though that's a concern), but because the extra fabric makes my butt all sweaty. And sweat, when it’s cold, should be avoided when possible. So if the fleece patch doesn’t appeal to you, I’d consider taking a look at the Craft brief. (Craft makes super stellar winter wear. IMO, Craft, Icebreaker, and maybe Patagonia are THE top-of-the-line in respect to cold-weather athletic wear.)

On keeping legs warm when cold-weather riding...

I'm a dedicated knee-warmer fan. Such a great piece of cold weather gear. If it's under 65 and cloudy, I've probably got my knee-warmers on. If it's under 60, they're on. When it’s cold enough to put my knickers on, it’s over the knee warmers. And I have several pair—those that are just lycra, and others that are fleece-lined.

As I said above, I always wear a pair of bib shorts under everything. When it gets down to about 45, I pull my lightweight knickers on over my bibs and thin knee warmers. When it gets cold enough that I want my shins covered (35 degrees or so), I wear tall socks.

My leg-covering strategy by approximate temperature ranges:

55-65: bibs + thin knee-warmers

48-55: bibs + fleece-lined knee-warmers

38-48: bibs + thin knee-warmers + thin knickers

20-35: bibs + thin knee-warmers (sometimes fleece-lined warmers) + warm knickers + tall socks

under 32: everything else + fleece genital cozy

under 20: everything else + specially modified hiking pants

On keeping feet warm when cold-weather riding...

Shoe covers are of course critical when the temperature drops down into the 40s. Sometimes they also make sense even when it's a bit warmer. Nice neoprene numbers are the best because they're waterproof.

However, the single best cold-weather gear purchase I’ve made in the past five years are my winter riding shoes. I have the Shimano MW80s. Such. A. Good. Idea.

I got mtb (as opposed to road) winter shoes because they’re much more versatile. They work well when mountain biking, obviously, but if I want to wear them on my road bike I just move my pedals over. Mine are a size bigger than my usual riding shoe size so I can wear a thicker sock and still have a little room in there. A too-tight shoe makes for blood circulation problems which accentuates cold-weather feet-warming issues.

If it’s really cold (less than 25 degrees), and I’m going to be out for more than two hours, I’ll put shoe covers over them. But really, I’ve found the problem with keeping feet warm on a bike in the really cold is the negative heat transfer from your cold metal crank and pedal to the sole of your shoe. Shoe covers do nothing to solve that issue. So if my feet get cold in 20 degree weather I find I just need to get off and walk a few minutes and they’ll warm right back up. This is of course easier in mtb shoes than in road shoes.

On keeping the torso warm when cold-weather riding...

Keeping your torso warm is a good deal about managing sweat and wind. I've found that when heading out for a long winter ride I'm going to sweat a lot more in the first, say, 60-90 minutes than I am the rest of the ride. So I like to bring along a spare base layer. After 90 minutes or so I strip off my sweaty wet one and put on the fresh dry one. Or just take the sweaty base layer off and then put everything else back on. Makes all the difference in the world.

Bulking up with extra layers is less important than making sure you've got a good wind shield in the front. So a good wind vest with rear ventilation is critical.

I've found that with our new (last year) Shippensburg jackets that it's so warm I don't want to put it on until the temperature drops well below 40 degrees, and then with just a base layer under. But I always bring along a vest, and if I get cold later, I either swap out base layers (for a dry one) or put on my vest under the jacket, or both. I can go a long way in 30 degree weather using this strategy.

On keeping your head warm during cold-weather riding...

When it gets down to 50 or so I like to throw on a thin hat or ear-covering thing (actually, I used to do the ear-covering thing, but now I only do hats). I have low tolerance for cold ears, so I keep them covered.

When it gets below freezing, you might benefit from wearing a balaclava. I find, however, that keeping a nice full beard does the job and balaclavas often leave me over-heated.

When it’s under 30 degrees I usually wear ski goggles right over my helmet. This works surprisingly well. I've found goggles make an amazing difference in keeping your entire face/head warm. A skullcap + goggles keeps my head much more comfortable than a balaclava + sunglasses, but I generally pack along an extra balaclava when it's cold just in case. Goggles + balaclava makes your head virtually impenetrable to cold, which I've found advantageous when it's cold, the wind is blowing, and, if that wasn't enough, it starts to snow.

On keeping your hands warm during cold-weather riding...

This one is easy: wear gloves.

Really, it's that easy. If your hands are cold your gloves aren't thick enough. Ski gloves work best.

I've also found leather work gloves to work really, really well until about 32 degrees. And leather work gloves are an awful lot more economical than fancy full-fingered winter cycling gloves.

Now, if your hands do get cold when you're out riding, it helps to windmill your arms several times really fast to push the blood out to your finger tips. When people first see this trick they're generally skeptical, but then they try it and they believe. Trust me, it works.


Well, I think that about covers it. Have your own cold-weather riding tip? Post away if you're not afraid...

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