Cycling in the Winter

We recently received a question on our Facebook page asking what’s the best gear for winter cycling.

I’m an avid seasonal (Spring/Summer) mountain bike rider with new hopes and needs to ride in the off season (fall/winter). What suggestions do you have for cold weather gear, specifically clothing?

Great question and what we’ve learned from years of pedaling through Portland winters is… it depends.

Here are a few determining factors:

  • How much do you sweat?
  • In general, do you get cold easily?
  • How long are you going to be out in the cold?
  • What kind of terrain will you be riding? (flat or hills)
  • Is it dry and cold or wet and cold?

Do You Sweat A Lot?

This may be one of the most significant factors on how you should dress.  I’m not a big sweater (Is that a word?).  But I ride with people who are.  If you’re someone who gets soaked easily, you need to be careful not to wear too much clothing.

Several of my sweaty friends swear by the Gore Phantom jacket.  It’s kind of spendy but it will last you many seasons of cycling.  It’s made of Windstopper fabric, has removable sleeves, and has three nice big pockets for storing things like an extra windbreaker for descents.  It seems to be exceptional at keeping sweat to a minimum and drys super fast.

Do You Get Cold Easily?

Yes, I do.  I’m a wimp when it comes to cold.  I shiver even when it’s in the 60s.  I like to layer to stay warm.  I’ll start with something like Craft base layers followed by a good winter jacket, and cap it off with a wind vest AND a wind jacket.  Like I said, I’m a wimp.

I usually end up stuffing the windbreakers in my pockets if the ride starts to climb.  It’s not unusual for me to take my jackets off and on throughout the ride based on whether I’m climbing or descending.  I regulate on the climbs by removing or unzipping and put everything back on for descents.  And yes, that means frequent stops and starts…but at least I’m out riding.

How Long is Your Ride?

If you’re only out for an hour or less you can take risks that are inadvisable if your ride takes you away from warm shelter.  If I’m heading out of what I consider to be safe bailout range, I ALWAYS take a plastic jacket with me.   It’s my go-to piece of gear when steady rain or the shivers start to take over. I swear by it.  It won’t keep you from sweating, that’s for sure, but it does an excellent job of sealing in heat.

Flat or Climbing?

If you’re on a flat ride, your internal temperature isn’t going a vary much so you can find a clothing combo and stick with it.  If you’re climbing and descending, layering is essential and you’re likely going to need to remove clothing on the climb and put it back on for the descents.  That being said, I’ve ridden with guys who seem to be cold-blooded — almost nothing phases them in terms of cold temperatures.

Is it Dry or Raining?

This will make a huge difference if it’s really cold.  Fenders are an excellent option for winter riding in Portland.  You’ll never regret having them when it’s really dumping.  Here are some tips for cycling in the rain.

My cold weather riding essentials:

  • Base layer – Craft or a thin wool layer
  • Winter Jacket – I like Windstopper fabric but there are lots of choices
  • Thermal gloves
  • Balaclava – for your head and neck
  • Winter cycling tights
  • Wool socks
  • Booties – for your feet
  • Wind vest and wind jacket
  • My faithful clear plastic jacket (usually stuffed into a cut off water bottle and tuck into a water bottle cage.)
  • Hand warmers – if it’s 35 degrees or below and I’m going to be out for more than 1 hour

The Last Resort

If you’ve been beaten down and can’t face another day of rain, you can always opt for indoor cycling workouts.  Here’s my take on the best indoor cycling videos.