November 21, 2009
Winter will be setting in shortly, but that doesn't mean the riding season is coming to an end. While we don't see a lot of people on extended tours through the winter months, there are still plenty of folks hitting the road to stay in riding shape for their early 2010 tours. Here are some tips to help keep you as comfortable as possible while riding outdoors in the cold, and hopefully they will make the winter months seem less intimidating, and get you in the shape you need to be in to make your next tour more enjoyable.
While you will likely feel the bite of the cold on your extremities first, it's a good idea to focus on your torso and head. Much of your body heat escapes through your head, so in addition to your helmet, add an insulated helmet cover, or hat that fits under your helmet. I'm a big fan of balaclavas, as they not only handle my head and ears, but they make up for my inability to grow a solid winter beard.
Keeping your torso well insulated will actually help keep your extremities warm as well. Your internal organs are the highest priority (heart, lungs, etc), and when they start to get cold, your internal body heat is focused here, leaving your extremities neglected and cold. No matter how you choose to layer up, make sure your jacket is brightly colored and/or reflective to set you apart from the bland and dreary landscape.
Overdressing can be just as bad as underdressing. Sweating a lot will make you damp, and once your sweat cools off, it will rapidly bring down your body temperature. If you're unsure as to how to go about dressing, stand outside for a few minutes before you jump on your bike. If you're comfortable, you're overdressed, and if you're shivering you're underdressed. Try and find a point where you can stand outside and be mildly chilled. Don't be discouraged if you don't get it right the first time. Keep at it, and you'll be dressing for winter time success in no time.
Surprisingly, there's not a lot you have to do to your bike for the winter. Tires are important to consider, and involve a pretty simple retrofit. Studded tires are a popular option, especially if you have 700c wheels. Mountain bike tires with a medium tread pattern also work well on the ice and snow. Whatever you choose, be sure they have a strong layer of puncture protection, because there's nothing worse than changing a tube with cold hands.
A good set of front and rear lights is never a bad idea. The days are short, and darkness can sneak up on you quickly. There are also fewer cyclists on the road in the winter, making us further removed from the minds of motorists. The more visible you can make yourself, the better.
Lastly, keep your drivetrain clean and well lubed. The grit and slush on the road will do a number on your chain, derailleurs, cassette, and cables. Fenders will help keep everything protected, but give it all a good wipe down at the end of your ride, and lube your chain when it starts talking to you.
TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.