I won’t lie, every single year since I can remember I’ve gone through a period that can only be described as the doldrums that typically kicks in once they days start to noticeably shorten. You would think after years of ‘having’ to train, I wouldn’t be affected but I can assure you I am.
To combat the onset of the dark mornings, fading light and temperatures descending towards freezing level and below I’ve had to come up with some strategies to make the most of the epic riding that Autumn and Winter can often provide for those that are brave enough to endure the elements.
It’s all about the layers
It’s all about the layers.
But perfecting the fine art of layering starting with the layer closest to your skin is critical to maintaining body temperature and being able to regulate it.
When we sweat we heat up, which is fine when we are able to maintain that body temperature but as soon as we stop and our heart rate settles down our core body temp begins to cool and that is when we enter the danger zone; a body that is chilling down covered in clothing that is now likely soaked in sweat (if effort has been involved).
When we cool down, synthetic fabrics (which bras/crop tops are often lined with) are the closest layer to our skin hence becoming the “layer of death“. Yes – I know a number of boys will be reading this but I will never forget my high school running coach (a male) always making us remove our sports bras after long/hard training sessions in winter for the ride home.
So here are a few of my tips on how to layer, stay warm, not overheat and not be chilled by the layer of death once you stop.
Start with superfine merino close to the skin (aka crop tops and singlets)
- Crop Top – these are not the easiest to find and my favourite is this one from Mons Royale
- Singlet – I prefer a fitted singlet and love this one from Icebreaker
- Long sleeve base layer – the choice and selection of longsleeve base layers continues to increase with lots of options from Mons Royale, Icebreaker, Kapeka and Smart Wool to name a few
- Gilet/Vest OR Windbreaker (depending on the outdoor temperature) – I have a collection of these that get rolled on rotation throughout the seasons. If it’s not bone-numbingly cold my go to is an old Betty Designs gilet and if it gets really cold with descent/snow/wind involved I’ll crack out a windproof soft shell jacket with a hood.
Layering – the bottom half
I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being a closest fan of fleecy-lined onsie bib tights that finish at my sternum and extend to my ankles. I’m so much of a fan and can’t understand how I didn’t have these in my life for years of riding bikes that I sold my indoor trainer. Yes…..I sold my Tacx, removed the tech frustration of having to connect countless pieces of tech to ride my bike and got outside instead. It would be fair to say that they have singlehandedly been game changers in getting me out the door in winter. Throw a pair of mtb shorts over the top if it’s really cold and you’re good to roll.
The other alternative is to find some mtb tapered pants that fit (yes, I’m talking about the age old problem of always having to roll a pair of boys pants with a rather large crotch area). Apparently Yeti and Specialized do a decent pair, but I’m get to sample the reality of these.
Feet – we’ve all been there, we all know the feeling of what it is like to ‘walk on bones’ so lets try to avoid that at all costs.
- wool socks
- plastic bags over your socks inside your shoes (game changing…)
- Neoprene shoe covers
- Mtb sneaker shoes
Hands – much like your toes and feet, it’s the extremities that suffer the most when dealing with the cooler months of the year.
- Trial and error – but have your gloves a little bigger so that the warm air can flow
- Surgical gloves underneath
- Go full monty and get the arctic handlebar covers and/or claw gloves
- Neoprene bar mitts
- Buffs/skull cap under your helmet etc
- Buff to pull up over your chin
To conclude, it’s possibly the least steezy time of year in the style department but I can guarantee that getting outside and feeling the freeshhhhh air on your face far outweighs how you look.
The secret is to keep rides shorter rather than longer, find a hill to generate some warmth early to get the heart rate up and the blood pumping to your fingers (the number one way to defrost your fingers), ride dirt and gravel rather than tarmac which means you travel at lower speeds reducing the windchill and find/bribe a friend as it’s always so much easier to get out the door when you’re meeting someone else.
And finally…..get yourself an insulated Camelbak drink bottle and fill it with hot water. Great for keeping fluid cold in the heat, but a game changer in the colder months when it’s really hard to drink as much as you know you should.
And a final secret…..if you’ve been climbing and tend to sweat a lot, tuck an extra gilet and dry pair of winter gloves in your back pocket if you’ve got a long descent.