8 Tips for Managing Warmth on Cold Winter Rides

By Jiri Kaloc

Yes, there are high-tech turbo trainers, Zwift, and many other inventions that make indoor training fun and realistic but nothing beats the adventure of real winter outdoors cycling. If you’re one of those who want to keep cycling year-round, here are a few essential tips for fighting the cold.

Protect your feet

Let’s start from the bottom. Having an extra pair of cycling shoes just for winter is often outside of the budget. Warmer socks make it OK to use one pair of cycling shoes most of the year. But when it gets proper cold, you’ll need windproof or insulated shoe covers for added warmth. If you want a low-budget option, put tin foil over the socks where your toes are before putting them into your shoes. It’s wind-resistant and reflects heat back into your feet.

Winter Cycling
Keep your feet warm on your ride. © Profimedia

Prevent sweating

The most important thing is to dress appropriately for the weather. Of course, you should layer and choose functional clothing but don’t be fooled, you can overdress just as easily as underdress. When you’re too warm, you start sweating and that sweat can really chill you. Try dressing so that you’re a bit cold when you start. You’ll warm up after 15 minutes of riding and avoid unnecessary sweating. Similarly, you don’t want to overheat and sweat as you work hard on a climb. Make sure to unzip and open vents or take a layer off on longer climbs.

Focus on the right fit

Each layer of clothing needs a different fit. Your base layer should be really snug to work properly. Your insulating mid-layer should fit close to your body but not as tightly as your base layer. Its fabric shouldn’t be compressed but at the same time, it shouldn’t be so loose that there’s an empty air space. Your top layer should be a similar fit as the mid-layer. Make sure it’s not flapping in the wind.

Carry an extra top layer, gloves, and hat

The sun might be going down, there might be a headwind on the way back, you’re climbing first and then descending to get home – there are many reasons to expect the temperature to go down on winter rides. Make sure to have a windproof top layer with you on every ride. And while you’re at it, take an extra pair of gloves and a hat. Your hat and gloves can get sweaty. Swapping them out for a dry set can make the ride home so much nicer.

Get an extra bag on your bicycle

So much extra clothing requires some extra space. Consider investing in something bigger than just a saddlebag. It will give you the freedom to take the best pieces of clothing for the weather, not just the ones you can cram into your jersey pockets.

Experiment with chemical warmers

Chemical warmers can provide that extra protection from the cold when it really gets tough. They may be too warm to put directly in contact with your skin, though, so try them between your insoles and socks or between the top of your shoe and a shoe cover.

Structure your training smartly

If you’re planning to do some intervals, keep in mind that it might take you a bit longer to properly warm up in the cold. Also, try to do your intervals early in the ride in case you need to cut your ride short. But if you have the option, it’s best to keep intervals for indoor training and use your outdoor time for endurance.

Don’t forget to eat and drink

You will probably sweat less in winter so your hydration needs might be lower but that doesn’t mean you can forget about drinking completely. With food, it’s likely going to be the opposite. You will be burning even more calories as your body tries to keep your temperature high. Even though it’s uncomfortable to eat in the cold, make sure to always have some fuel with you. Try to keep solid foods close to your body so they don’t turn into a block of ice.