Saturday, December 3, 2011

Riding In Winter? You Bet!

While it isn't for everyone, some of you might want to consider not hanging up the bike for winter. Many of us at Europa Cycle and Ski continue to ride all throughout the winter months. While we do ride bicycles, most everything else we do is unique in several ways. So, I am going to offer my tips on Winter riding, and the other guys will chime in with their tips later.

So, let's dive in and see what it will take, (from my viewpoint), to get out and enjoy the winter months on two wheels.

Planet Bike Borealis Mittens
Layers, Layers, and More Layers: 

The biggest obstacle to riding outdoors in winter is staying warm. I suggest that you consider your clothing options using the "onion approach". Onions have layers, and so should your clothing for outdoor activities in cold months. You can break down the onion theory into three basic parts, or layers.

Base: This layer should be form fitting. It also should be made from a wicking material. That means that it needs to be something that transports sweat from physical exertion away from your skin, and to the next layer. Typically base layers are poly-propylene, silk, wool, or some blend of these materials. They tend to be garments that are thin, like underwear, if you will. You can get base layers at the shop, just ask and we'll set you up.

Insulating: This is the layer that keeps you warm, and serves as the transport destination for sweat, coming from the base layer. Sweat needs to get off your skin, since it can cool you off to the point that you will be chilled to the bone and uncomfortable. A good insulating layer can absorb this perspiration and transport it to the outer layers from the base layer. These garments are typically Lycra based, or fleece, and can also be made from wool. We like wool a lot, since wool still keeps you warm when it gets wet. Synthetic materials have a difficult time with this.

Me. Happy. Layered.
Outer: The outer layers can be dual purposed, or matched to conditions. These typically are technical garments for the feet, legs, torso, head, and hands. They are your first line of defense against the elements, and the last stop for perspiration before it gets evaporated into the atmosphere. (Hopefully!)

These garments are often windproof, water resistant, and in some cases water proof. Keep in mind that the more wind resistant and water proof a garment is, typically the less it breathes. This can be bad, or it can be good in winter. Normally I am not a big fan of total wind and water proofness for winter riding. However; there are times you will want that, for example- when it is snowing.

So- there are the basic layers. The "Onion Theory"! But there is something you should strive for when layering up, and that is temperature management. To start off with, you should be slightly chilled at the beginning of your ride. Don't worry! Your exertion will warm you up. Start out on a ride feeling all nice and snug, and you will be asking for a disaster, possibly a dangerous one. Why? Because starting out warm will lead to getting hot after a bit, then your sweat kicks in big time. Once you sweat a lot, it gets a chance to get cooled down by the ambient air temperature all around you. That cools down the garments, gets next to your skin, and then you are freezing. Hopefully not literally!

Being slightly cool to start with means that your exertion is necessary to stay warm. Sweat doesn't happen as readily, and you never get "too hot", but you attain a state of "just right". 

Also, your garments should have venting capabilities that allow you to manage your temperature according to exertion levels and weather conditions. Keeping on top of your temperature keeps you out there longer safer.

Okay, that's it for this edition of "Riding In Winter? You Bet!" We'll be back with more winter riding tips on clothing and hardware for your bicycles soon.


  1. great post! definitely worth reading. i actually wrote about my frustration and mistakes with layering while commute yesterday over at

  2. agreed! this stuff can't be said enough! this will be my 5th winter commuting and i still have to remind myself of this stuff!