Cycling in Winter & Staying Warm on the Bike
Staying bike fit through the winter in Scotland can be challenge: short days, and cold weather conspire to beat even the toughest resolve. That is why many opt to use an indoor trainer.
For sure, turbo trainers are great for a midweek strength or interval session, but come the weekend you cant beat meeting up with a few mates and getting out in the fresh air and banking a few miles in the legs.
To do that enjoyably, you need to be prepared.
Below are a few tips you can use to help you stay warm on the bike when you are cycling in winter.
Boil yer Heid!
It’s a myth that you lose the most body heat through your head, but keeping your head, face, ears and neck warm will definately make your ride more comfortable.
If you have more than one helmet, then use the one with the fewer number of vents. Non-vented aero style road helmets will keep your head warmer than helmets with many vents, and will keep your head drier if it rains. If you don’t own an aero helmet then consider a helmet cover; preferably a helmet specific cover rather than cling film!
If it really cold then wear a windproof skullcap, a traditional cycling cap, or a neck tube under your helmet. A neck tube also offers the advantage of being able to cover your ears.
A second neck tube can be used to keep your neck warm and when the mercury really drops it can be pulled up over your mouth and nose.
Swap the cool looking summer sun shades for glasses with clear or light enhancing lenses. This will help prevent your eyes from watering by protecting them from drying cold winds.
Warm hands, warm heart!
Hands, after the feet, are probably the worst area of the body to get cold. Not only will cold hands be uncomfortable, but they can make braking and changing gear difficult so they definately need a bit of attention.
When choosing your winter gloves look make sure they have some insulation, are wind and waterproof but yet not too bulky. Some riders swear by mitten, or lobster design gloves rather than full finger gloves reasoning that keeping fingers together keeps more heat in the glove. The jury is out on this, so it is more a personal preference. No matter what type you choose, make sure they’re not too tight as this can restrict blood flow and cause your hands to become chilled.
A thin pair of glove liners are great when it gets really cold. Liner gloves provide a gap for some warm air to get trapped between themselves and your main gloves. Silk glove liners or thin Merino wool liners are favoured by many riders.
Some riders also use chemical hand warmers, e.g. Hot Hands inside their gloves, or if they have to stop whilst a fellow rider repairs a pincture or mechanical. Be carfeul however, you can burn yourself with these!
Lastly, avoid the gap! Make sure the cuffs of your jacket go over the cuffs of your gloves to help trap warm air.
Get Yourself a Hot Body
It is fairly easy to sort out your body for cold weather cycling; just think layers. Layering will keep you warmer than using a single thick jacket, and it will also make adjusting to temperature changes easier by allowing you to zip and unzip as necessary.
Next to you body wear a close fitting base layer that wicks away moisture. The ability to wick sweat away from your body is important as a sweaty, wet base layer can get cold very quickly. Avoid cotton, and opt for merino wool or a man made fibre.
On top of the base wear an insulating mid layer. A winter weight cycling jersey is ideal. Some riders, especially those who suffer from exceptionally cold hands, also wear arm warmers under their mid layer. They reckon keeping their arms extra warm also helps keeps their hands warm. Worth a try.
As a top layer wear a windproof layer to block cold air and wind. A softshell, perhaps with a gillet, is perfect for those crisp dry winter days. Gillets are essential winter cycling wear. They keep the wind at bay, and can be easily stowed in a rear pocket if you start to overheat. On wet days, opt for a waterproof jacket instead of a soft shell. And on those inbetween days, when rain is forecast, or it is forecast to dry up during your ride then a stowable waterproof over your soft shell is ideal.
Hot Legs (not Rod's dodgy song)
In autumn you may get away with leg warmers, but come winter you will need bib tights. These will keep your lower torso warm, especially if you are in the drops.
Opt for bib tights made from Roubaix material, or made with windproof front panels and more breathable rear panels. Ankle zips can make putting them on easier, but are not essential.
Cold feet are probably the biggest complaint from cyclists during winter. Stiff soled cycling shoes attached to metal pedals act as heat sinks, draining warmth from your feet. And, as they spin around at 90 plus RPM, they generate their own wind chill effect.
First tip may sound daft, but keeping your core warm will help keep your feet warm. As core temperature drops, your body diverts warming blood flow away from your extremities, that is your feet and hands. So keep your body warm.
Just like your body, think layering for your feet. First choose your socks carefully. Avoid thick bulky socks as these may make your shoes too tight and restrict circulation. Again, merino is your friend. Even relatively thin morino socks are toasty. But make sure they are long enough; you want knee length, not ankle socks. For wet rides waterproof socks are good, but that bit more expensive. A cheaper alternative is poly bags over your socks. Yes this works, but it can cause your feet to sweat, and since the bags are not breathable you risk your damp feet chilling.
The next layer is your cycling shoes. Check these for vent and drain holes. If there are any then tape them over. And when you fasten up your shoes don’t make them too tight.
The top layer is overshoes. A pair of insulated and waterproof overshoes are your primary weapon against frozen feet. Make sure that they fit well with minimal gaps and openings, especially on the sole of your shoe. Designs with just a gap for the heel and cleat are ideal, however unless manufactured with a solid heel,the heel will take a battering if you do any walking whilst wearing them.
An alternative to shoes and overshoes are booties. Booties are effectively shoes and overshoes combined. An expensive option. If you go down this route make sure you buy a pair that is sized to allow you to wear 2 pairs of socks; a thin lining sock, and a normal winter sock.
Before braving the cold put your shoes, neck tubes, socks and gloves near a radiator to warm them up. It will make the first couple of miles much more pleasant.
Have your porridge! A decent breakfast, or light meal if you are riding later in the day, is essential. Low blood sugar will make you feel cold, so take sufficient grub with you. If taking energy bars it is a good idea to open them before you go, as gloves makes handling them difficult whilst riding.
Put the kettle on! Consider ditching your regular water bottles for insulated bottles, and fill them with a hot drink. Adding a spoonful of honey to your drink will also help your fuel intake.
Check the forecast and choose your route accordingly. Hillier routes are more likely to be exposed so best avoided when the wind is from the north, or is on the high side.
Road Routes to Try This Winter
The Hatton Hoop
This relatively demanding 20 mile route starts and finishes at Dyce railway station and passes through the villages of Kinmuck and Hatton of Fintray. There is an option to cut the route short if need be.
The Garioch Loop
The 35 mile Garioch Loop leaves from Inverurie station and circumnavigates the areas most famous landmark - Bennachie. En route you pass castles, ancient standing stones and have fine views to the distant Harlaw Monument.
MTB Routes to Try This Winter
Kirkhill Forest mountain bike fun park and cycle trails, are just a couple of miles out of Aberdeen, making them hugely popular.
Kirkhill offers a good variety of tracks to suit riders of all abilities and degrees of fitness, and even features as a venue in the national SXC series .
Pitfichie's MTB trails lead through varied forest and across open hill tops to provide exciting rides through real countryside. Challenging granite slabs and a downhill specific trail help make this one of the most popular mountain bike venues in Aberdeenshire.