It’s winter. Officially. While short days and cool temps are definitely not my favorite, they are tolerable if you know how to prepare. Here are a few tips to help keep you on the bike all winter long, weather be damned!
*Disclaimer* I know North Carolina winters are mild compared to a lot of places. This isn't for those of you who need fat bikes and electric warming grips and what not.
I love wool. It’s an amazing material. It keeps you warm even when it’s wet! And it doesn’t develop that funky smell like most synthetic materials. A good wool base-layer and some wool socks will help to knock the edge off the cold and help motivate you to get on the trail!
Warm knees are happy knees. I am a fan of knee warmers and high wool socks, and Jenna likes full on insulated tights (“Fleece lined are the best!! They feel like kittens” - Actual quote from Jenna). Either one will work to help keep your legs toasty and warm (at least once you get riding).
Layering is key to riding in cold weather. A nice base layer (wool jersey or regular short or long sleeve jersey works) and then a jacket over top is pretty simple and most of us already have most of that hanging in the closet. I like a thin shell over my long sleeve wool jersey. Jenna likes a breathable, short sleeve base layer, a long sleeve jersey over that, and then a softshell jacket that she can take off once she gets warm on the climbs. (Then she has the jacket to put back on for the descents.) Experiment and see what works best for you! Key point: Do not overdo it! You want to be mildly cold when you start! Because remember, you’ll start to warm up real fast on the bike!
This may sound obvious, but thicker more insulated winter gloves are awesome. I recommend sticking with cycling specific gloves for the sake of dexterity and durability. I personally have three levels of gloves: summer, cold, and straight up freezing. I don’t use the “freezing” gloves often, but when I do I am glad I have them.
If you have one, this is a great way to repurpose that helmet of yours that may or may not be sitting on the shelf collecting dust (like ours unfortunately do...must have that helmet for the 1-2 yearly ski trips!) It will keep your ears warm and your head nice and toasty. Bonus points if your helmet has vents you can open once you start warming up! If you do not have a winter-sport helmet, do not fret! A thin beanie/hat under your regular helmet will get the job done too!
Extend your riding into the evening hours! Lights have gotten so much more affordable now that it is easy to get a good light for $100-150. Shoot for minimum 700 lumens. This will be enough to ride a lot of trails. I prefer my light mounted to my helmet so I can see where my eyes are looking. If you decide you like night riding then you can get an additional light to mount to your bars as well!
This is just a basic list of what it takes to get started in cold weather riding. Everyone has different cold tolerances, but the principles all still apply to pretty much everyone. Obviously more extreme environments require more extreme gear, but for most of us this basic list will get us out on the trails all winter long! Have fun, ride bikes (all year long)!