Cold Weather Cycling: Tips for Riding a Bike in Cold Weather

Most people prefer to ride when it’s warm and sunny, and I’m no exception. That doesn’t mean riding in cold weather can’t be enjoyable, though, and depending on your area it may be a necessity if you want to ride with any consistency.

Just because the temperature is cold doesn’t mean you have to be. Don’t hibernate like a bear-get out and ride! Use these tips to help keep warm and have more fun on your next cold-weather outing.

Dress in layers

This is probably the most valuable cold-weather tip, as it allows you to regulate your temperature much better while riding. Your body temperature can vary widely during the course of a ride, depending on the air temperature, time of day and your output (especially if you do any climbing). By dressing in an undershirt, long-sleeve full-zipper jersey, a thermal vest, and wind jacket. \

For example (instead of just one, big thermal jacket), you can take off or unzip layers over the course of the ride to keep your temperature constant. This helps avoid getting really sweaty when going hard, then getting a chill when you ease up or cool down.

You should feel slightly cold when you first start out. It is always tempting to stand outside your front door and dress accordingly. But if you’ve dressed so you feel totally warm, as soon as you start riding down the street you’re overdressed and will be too hot as soon as you warm up.

Get gloves long enough so your fingers don’t press in the ends.

A pair of gloves may seem to have enough room when on your hands, but once you grip a bar and bend your fingers, you may run out of room. As with any apparel, make sure to test those gloves in the store by holding a handlebar to simulate riding conditions. For the best MTB grips, click here. Or click here to see our best-rated MTB gloves.

Spend the time and money to get a few good undershirts.

Most reputable cycling clothing companies produce them. Get a material that wicks away moisture such as polypropylene or a wool-polyester blend.

I always get mine sleeveless-they keep my torso warm and don’t bunch up under my arms. Do not wear cotton! Once you sweat, a cotton undershirt will hold the moisture right against your body.

Full zippers are key.

Hunt out full-zipper jerseys, jackets, thermals, etc. A full zipper allows you to regulate the temperature in controlled increments from a little to a lot. Unzipping a jersey or thermal top when climbing can help keep your temperature down so you won’t overheat and be sweaty on the following descent. It also makes taking clothing on and off a breeze. Being able to lose the extra jersey or vest without taking off your helmet is especially nice.

Don’t tighten your shoes too much. 

Nothing turns a good ride bad like cold feet. If you have problems with your toes going numb, try riding with your shoes looser. This will allow good circulation throughout your feet and prevent you from getting those frosty appendages. If you are wearing shoe covers this may require some guesswork, as some make it difficult to adjust shoes on the fly.

Invest in a quality set of shoe covers.

Following up on the previous tip, cold feet are a bummer. A good set of covers should fit snugly but not too tight, allow clearance between foot and crank and not disrupt the function of your clipless pedals (especially if you use pedals with rotational float).

Don’t shy away from bringing your best cycling shoes into the store when shopping for shoe covers to ensure a proper fit. If you are going riding on a dry day that is cold but not arctic and you think that your shoe cover may be too warm, cut a hole in the bottoms of an old pair of cycling socks and put them over your shoes. A lot of the time all you need is a thin extra layer to help keep your feet comfortably warm on a cold day.

Vests are super-versatile cold-weather garments

The torso gets cold quickly because it is not working and the wind is hitting it straight on. A lot of the time, you’ll want to take the chill off the upper body, but having long sleeves can make you hot. Having a vest of any material is easy to throw on top of everything and adds a lot of extra warmth. Without sleeves, it won’t bunch up under your arms, and if you choose to take it off, it will fit in your pocket.

If in doubt, toss a wind jacket in your pocket. Having an outer layer that blocks the wind can take the place of two jerseys in certain situations. My wind vest has probably gotten more use than any other single piece of winter clothing I own.

Always have some overlap

Make sure your gloves go over the sleeves of your jersey, your tights go into your shoe covers or over your socks and your jersey hangs below the top of your shorts. Standing there after getting dressed you may be all covered, but once you sit on the bike and ride for a while, some skin can become exposed. Having a touch of overlap is like a little bit of insurance.

If you want a set of tights, go for bib tights. Normal tights and shorts can allow your lower back to become exposed if your jersey rides up when you’re bent over. With a set of bib tights, you have that area covered and add some extra warmth all around your midsection.

Cover your head

You can pick up a neck/head mask with a face opening at any sporting goods store. A winter riding hat or even cycling balaclava is enough to keep your head warm.

You may need to take the pads out of your helmet in order for it to fit, though. If you have on an old retired helmet that you haven’t gotten rid of yet, keep it as your cold-weather helmet. Make the necessary strap and pad adjustments to wear it with a hat or hood, and leave it. That way you won’t need to keep altering the fit of your good helmet each time you ride in the cold.

Really strip down when you climb

If you are comfortable riding tempo on the flats, you are going to overheat as soon as you hit a decent-sized climb. Layers can be unzipped or put in a pocket. Gloves and hats can be stuffed in a jersey. Taking off a few small items will let you keep cool and not soak them with sweat. Taking them off before going uphill will let you have something dry to put back on for the trip down the other side.

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