By John Wente
The heat of a prolonged summer in Oklahoma is finally beginning to fade and the mild temperatures are providing some fantastic cycling weather. Soon, leaves will be falling and winter will be here. But take heart cyclists, some of the best riding in Oklahoma is on crisp, bright fall days, and Oklahoma winters also normally have a surprising number of days suitable for cycling if one is properly prepared. Many OBS weekly rides continue year-round, but one, the Floating Crapgame Ride (so called because of its “floating” starting points and destinations), is specifically a winter ride. The ride starts at 9:00 every Saturday morning November through March. Click here for starting points and ride leaders. The convenience of having a ride specifically designed for cooler weather might be just the motivation you have been waiting for to ease into year-round riding. For those of you who may be new to winter riding, here are some tips to make the experience more enjoyable.
When is it too cold to ride?
This will depend somewhat on how tolerant you are to cold, but if the sun is shining and the wind is light, most people find they can ride comfortably well below freezing (32° F). This of course is dependent upon having the right clothing, which is my next point.
You obviously can’t ride all winter in your shorts and T-shirt or summer cycling jersey. The most effective way to stay comfortable is to dress in layers. This is also most efficient in terms of what you have to buy and it gives you the flexibility to remove layers as the day warms up or as you warm from exertion. A rule of thumb that most experienced winter riders follow is that if you are warm and comfy the first few miles, you are over-dressed. As a minimum, you will need long tights or wind pants, full-finger gloves, wool socks, a wind shell or light jacket, long-sleeved polypro or wool undershirt, balaclava or headband that covers your ears, and a neck gaitor (usually not needed with a balaclava). Note: a balaclava is a ski-mask-like garment that covers the head, neck and part of the face with a cutout provided for eyes, nose and mouth.Some people will add polypro or silk tights under their cycling tights in really cold weather. I use tights with a brushed inside texture that gives added warmth. When it’s really cold, I wear my leg warmers (see below) under my tights. Always wear cycling shorts under your tights (unless you have padded tights).
Long-sleeved cycling jerseys are also nice to have for those not-so-cold days and to wear under your wind shell. My typical upper body layers for the colder days will include a polypro or polyester undershirt (don’t wear cotton next to your skin in winter, it will absorb perspiration and make you colder), a wool or synthetic sweater and a light wind shell. It’s amazing how warm this will make you. I do sometimes wear a cotton blend sweatshirt insulation layer, but never next to my skin. On not-so-cold days, I sometimes wear a short-sleeved cycling jersey over the undershirt.
Other items you may want to consider are leg warmers and arm warmers. Leg warmers are made of the same material as cycling shorts and extend from the bottom of your shorts to your ankles. Arm warmers are similar items for your arms. These are very handy on days with just enough chill in the air that you need the extra coverage on your arms and legs, which you can then easily remove and store in your jersey pockets or seat pack when the day warms.
The wool socks mentioned above will make a big difference in how warm your feet are, but if you are like me, the feet are the hardest part to keep warm. In very cold weather, I add thin polypro sock liners and booties (neoprene covers worn over shoes). I’ve also learned that covering your head helps keep your feet and hands warm. Strange, but true. Up to 70% of your body heat can be lost through your head and neck. A balaclava is the perfect solution!
Booties are the best solution for cold feet on the coldest days. Some think they are too warm and cause the feet to perspire, but I’ve not had that problem. Just as with the upper body, don’t wear cotton next to your skin on your feet. In fact, don’t wear cotton on your feet period. Merino wool or polypro are the best choices. Maybe those who complain about wet feet with booties don’t follow this rule.
There are also shoe covers (neoprene items that cover just the toes) for not-so-cold days. These are great when it’s not cold enough for booties, but too cold to not cover the mesh on your shoes.
Polypro or silk glove liners are also handy. I wear them under my cut-off gloves when the weather is just a bit cool and under my full-finger gloves when it gets really frigid.
As anyone who has lived through an Oklahoma winter knows, wind chill can make you VERY uncomfortable. When cycling, you are creating your own wind chill. Faster riders will find it much more comfortable to slow down and enjoy the ride, especially early in the ride when the temperature and your body are the coldest. Some cyclists prefer to ride mountain bikes in cold weather because they get more of a workout at slower speeds.
Just get out there
The most important thing is to just get out there and ride! Don’t let the fact that the calendar says it is winter turn you into a couch potato. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to get back into shape in the spring if you just ride once a week during the winter (on the Floating Crapgame Ride, of course).
Winter Cycling Clothing
“rule of thumb” cool weather dressing guide
Each person is different and there is no perfect solution to cool weather dressing, but this list is a good place to start.
65-60 arm warmers
60-55 arm warmers, knee warmers
55-50 arm warmers or long sleeve jersey, vest, long finger gloves (light weight), ear muffs, knee warmers or leg warmers
50-45 long sleeve jersey with either a base layer top or a light jacket/vest, long finger gloves (medium weight), ear muffs or skull cap, toe covers, leg warmers or light weight running tights.
45-40 Base layer top with a long sleeve jersey and a light jacket, Gloves(heavy), shoe covers, pants (medium weight), Ear muffs or skull cap/balaclava
40-32 Base layer top with a long sleeve jersey and a jacket, Gloves(heavy), shoe covers, pants (medium weight), Ear muffs and/or balaclava
32-22 Still can ride starting with a base layer bottoms and pants with a wind resistant front paneling, wool socks, neoprene shoe covers, Base layer top, with jersey and coat. Heavy gloves, Balaclava and ear muffs.
22-0 Good day for the trainer and performing maintenance on equipment.