How to Extend Your Cycling Season – A few pieces make all the difference!

I remember the first time I ventured out on my road bike below 60 degrees. Living in Southern Maryland in November, and it felt SO COLD. It was probably 55 degrees and windy that day, and I chuckle to remember back to how tough we all felt heading out on our group ride, shivering and miserable clad in old school lycra cycling tights, cotton gloves over our cycling gloves, head bands, and our running jackets. So much has changed since then, and I can honestly say most riders CAN enjoy riding in cold temps down to say 30 degrees with humidity and 15 degrees in dry environments without wind.  What?!?!! It’s true, and here’s how.

  1. Arm Warmers – These are key and your first step.  Purchase a pair that fits well measuring the circumference of your upper arm to get the right fit.  They are NOT all the same.  The best companies provide at least two sizes for arm fit with soft grips to keep them up, and a soft, fleecy, fuzzy wicking underside.  You can go super cheap or super chic here!  Super cheap is two bobby socks cut off at the toes and pulled onto your arms. Cost = $5 from Walmart  My preference is more towards the multi-sized fleece lined warmers similar to those sold by Pearlizumi.  For about $30 you can choose from SIX sizes to find your perfect fit, and they will last for years.  This arm warmer also has a water shedding outer fabric, so absolutely perfect when you’ll be out there a while.
  2. Wind Vest – The next major item to pick up is a wind vest.  There are TONS of different styles.  My favorite are those that are thick enough to truly block the wind on the front, while allowing venting on the back with full rear pockets.  There’s a case for the expensive whisper light wind vests that weigh less than a feather, but those are further down the purchase line.  Make sure to get a vest that’s well fitting (you might want to layer a full sleeve base layer and short sleeve jersey under it, and make sure those pockets are easy to get into while riding.  The collar should come up high, and the zipper should be easy to zip up and down with one hand while riding.  Bonus if there’s a bottom up second zipper!  My favorite vest is the Pactimo Breckenridge Vest. I’ve been testing it for the past two months and ridden it into the high 20s windchill.  It’s awesome and is comfortable from 45 – 68 degrees for this cyclist with arm warmers and a short sleeve jersey.
  3. Ear/ Head Band – Covering your ears is key for most cyclists below 50 degrees. Not only does it simply cause tender ears, many cyclists find just by covering their ears with a thermal band they feel significantly warmer.  I love my old, black Pearlizumi headband, which also has a hole to pull hair through so the thermal fuzzy fleece stays close to your head and is comfortable under your helmet.  They’re harder to find, but search out one that fits your head well, softly covers within pulling on your ears, doesn’t affect sound (you have to hear cars) and is comfortable when your helmet is fastened.
  4. Wool Socks – It’s surprising, but tall, often dorky looking, wool socks are key for extending the warmth of your feet and ankles.  There are multiple weights, so go for a pair designed specifically for cycling and check the temperature ranges on the tags.  Each company generally gives temperature guidelines for their socks.  There are thick ones and thin ones so you need to try them on.  When you put on the socks and your cycling shoes, make sure you can still wiggle your toes.  If your toes are squished in the shoe because of the sock, and you can’t wiggle them, you’re setting yourself up for foot numbness, pain and potential injury.  Make ‘em wiggle always! NOTE FOR TRIATHLETES – Your shoes were designed to drain myriad “liquid” away from the foot and out the shoe.  As such, there are lots of vents and you’ll find your toes freezing long before your roadie cycling buddies do because road shoes, often make of leather, aren’t designed to vent and drain.  Therefore, TRIATHLETES, pick up a pair of toe covers to keep your tootsies warm.  Just having the neoprene toe cover sleeves over the front of your tri shoes will easily give you another 10-15 degrees of comfort. 

    Many experienced roadies will start to wear toe covers somewhere south of 50 degrees, but if you’re a newer rider or are wearing triathlon shoes, you might need them below 60 degrees.  Test it out and see what best wool sock/ neoprene toe cover combo works for you.
  5. Wind Jacket or Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey – While it’s great to have BOTH of these, when you’re expanding your cycling wardrobe, it’s better to get one that’s really high quality than two that are so-so.  Wind jackets with water resistance, soft fleece at the chin, long sleeves that go to the hand, an extended back that cover a few inches of the back of your shorts, easy to use zippers (including bottoms up) and convenient easy accessible back pockets is key!  I know that’s a lot of requirements, but let me break it down for you.
  • Having fleece at the collar will save your chin or neck from abrasion from zippers or cold material which you will be glad of post ride.
  • Long enough sleeves are a must for cold riding.  So often we used to get cold wrists and our arms would freeze and be painfully while riding because our gloves didn’t come up high enough and the sleeves were short.  Get sleeves that come down a minimum to your wrist bones and that are easy to slide and don’t pull on your wrist wearable watch.
  • If you’ve seen that Half Moon Sunburn on the back of cyclists, then you know shorts are sometimes low cut while jerseys are high cut, well, make sure your jacket comes a few inches below your shorts to cover your back when bent over on the bike.  Bonus if it comes down further in the back to keep your hips warm.  Having a cold draft as your jersey and jacket slide up while riding S-U-C-K-S, so keep your back warm and toasty with a long jacket.
  • Finally you want easy to use zippers and pockets.  There’s nothing worse than having to stop during a group ride to zip up or down a stuck zipper, or have to remove your gloves when it’s cold to futz said zipper, or to not be able to get into your back pockets to get your snacks riding.  Here’s the scene, cruising up a monster hill that’s going to take a while you start to get hot, knowing you don’t want to get sweaty, you go to unzip your jacket to vent.  It jams.  Then, you know you need calories and your jacket or jacket pockets are too tight to get your gloves hand into to pull out your fuel.  You end up either suffering up the hill and are sweaty and hangry, or you pull over, deal with the zipper, get your fuel, restart up the hill, then stop at the top of the hill to zip back up for the descent.  Make sure your zipper goes up and down like a roller coaster with one hand and is super easy.A winter long sleeve thermal jersey is fleecy, fits well, and is like a pajama top in its comfort going on. Coming off it is a clammy, sweaty, heavy piece of clothing if not paired well with other kit items, or worn on a hot day.  Once you’ve gone long sleeve thermal you’re kind of stuck with it for the day so it’s awesome when it’s that sweet spot of temps where you won’t get too hot and you won’t being going through lots of temperature changes.  It’s a great luxury for shorter rides, but newbies beware if you’re not a pro at temperature management.
  • Nice to Haves & Cheap Hacks – Long fingered gloves, leg warmers, thermal tights, and winter cycling jackets, thermal caps and balaclavas all extend our cycling comfortably into the 30s and below.  There’s a big difference between an hour ride and a 200K randonneur in February, so know your temps and climate.
  • Long fingered gloves can also be cheap or chic. I’ve used those stretchy gloves from the drug store over my cycling gloves, and also the sculpted neoprene full fingered gloves that hold moisture in but keep you warm, to the Bar Mitts monster handle bar covers.  Warm hands are needed for braking and shifting, and you can find gloves that go from just about every single temperature range and size.  You can spend $3 at the drug store to get an extra 10 degrees or up to $150 at the bike shop to ride in 10 degrees.  Options abound!
  • Leg warmers are like arm warmers, but they go all the way down to the ankles.  I prefer those that cover the actual ankle bone.  Older Riders (Men over 50 in Particular) in most cases should be riding with socks that go up to mid-calf and use tights or leg warmers for a second layer to keep their Achilles and Soleus warm.  (Want to know Why?  Contact Coach Clare here:  Leg warmers are great when you don’t want to commit to full tights, don’t want the drama of full tights (do I go chamois in or bike shorts and no chamois tights?) and they roll up nicely into jersey pockets if you get warm on a long ride and it warms up.
  • Thermal tights can be hit or miss, I recommend thermal bibs for riders going under 40 degrees (with a DROP TAIL BIB) for women.  These stay up nicely while riding, again feel like jammies, stay where they’re supposed to and don’t cause bunching at the leg crease, and generally are all around comfy.  Try these on though, as you do NOT want any pulling on your shoulders, and they are cut very differently from brand to brand.
  • Finally winter cycling jackets, thermal caps and balaclavas are designed to keep the cold out and the heat in.  These are for COLD temperatures, because you will sweat at lower temps.  These are not good at venting but at least you can zip up and down, and some do have armpit zips, but generally speaking, these jackets start about $150 and go up into the $300s easily, thermal caps of quality will run about $70 and balaclavas with holes at the mouth to breath, and a Velcro nose flap are great to allow you to modulate when climbing, can run $60-$150.  Note – these items should last your 15-20 years, and while they may go out of fashion, they’ll far outlast most items in your wardrobe.

All in all, October and November are typically the most beautiful times of the year to spend riding your bike.  The weather is often cool or warm with low humidity, but sneaky winds and cloudy days drop temperatures fast.  Being able to enjoy riding outside down to 40 or 45 degrees in a GREAT GOAL for most riders! Ride mid-day on the weekend if you can safely do so to enjoy the sun and warmth, and push off that indoor trainer time.  It’s coming soon enough!

Stay Warm and Ride Safe!
And Just Get On Your Bike And Ride!

Coach Clare