We had a chilly ride Saturday morning. It was one of those days where the temperature wasn'ttoo bad, but the wind chill was-it was in the mid-20's. As I was getting dressed, I was thankful that we haven't had too many cold weather riding days this winter-it's either been a pocket of unseasonably warm temperatures or too cold and wet to ride(or too cold and wet for me to ride. Other people are tougher).
As usual on days that are on the colder side of what I'm willing to ride in, I thought about which "tricks" I've picked up over the years that I wanted to use. Saturday was a medium trick day; I used some but not all. If the weather is going to be in the 20's or below for the whole ride, I pull out all the stops and use every trick I know. I thought I'd share a few of them, so that maybe some folks out there can avoid some of the more awful experiences that I've had.
But let's start at the beginning. Generally speaking, riding in the cold is about protection from the wind and creating a small environment that you can warm up with body heat as you ride. You want to protect your core and your extremities(hands/feet/head). The biggest mistake that people make, in my opinion, is looking for one jacket, thermal jersey, glove, or shoe cover that is their 'cold weather riding garment'. The problem is that those garments may work for 30 degree days, but they'll be no fun at all for 45 degree days(or days that start at 30 and end 45 degrees). I think it makes much more sense to start with a wind protecting garment, and then vary what you put underneath it according to the day. If the garment can be adjusted mid-ride( e.g. a wind vest that can be unzipped from the bottom), all the better. For instance, on a really cold day, I very rarely wear one pair of gloves. I have a nice pair of gloves that have a Gore-tex shell that keeps the wind out. I bought them big, so that if it's really cold I can wear a thin pair of gloves underneath-or two pairs(my hands get really cold). The same goes for keeping the core warm: I'd much rather have the aforementioned wind vest with three different base layers than one massive thermal jacket.
On to the tricks. I'll start at the head and work down.
-HAT: You don't need some massive hat under your helmet-as we all know, your head generates a lot of heat. Something that's thick enough for insulation is fine. The most important thing is that it covers as much of your ears as possible. If your ear lobes are exposed, put a bit of vaseline on them.
-FACE: You need to protect that beautiful moneymaker of yours. Apply some lotion beforehand. It will provide a thin layer on your skin to keep warmth in, and you won't get quite as windburned. And invest in a gaitor-it will keep your neck warm, and you can pull it up over your nose when the wind gets really bad. When you do that, you get the added benefit of directing warm air down to your core. Also-if you use a little scented lip balm before you head out, it smells great when you cover your face(don't worry, tough guy-nobody will know but you).
-CORE: I already mentioned the vest. It matters. Also, when it's very cold and going to stay that way for the whole ride, my absolute best friend is my windshirt(a baselayer with a windblock layer on the front). It's a life saver. I've had it for ten years. I love that thing so much I buy it Christmas presents.
-HANDS: See above for gloves/layering, but also on the really cold days, you can get a couple of the little chemical hand warmers and put them under your jersey at your wrist. It warms up the blood as it flows you your hand and it's glorious. I've always been suspicious of those little things-how are they so warm? They're like little nuclear reactors. But I happily trust my hands to those little Chernobyls if it means they'll stay warm.
-UMMMM...NOT SURE WHAT TO CALL THIS AREA...PRIVATES? JUNK?: Let's just call it "Area that we least want to have frostbite on". I'm not a big believer in thermal tights, but we'll get to that later. Regardless, if it's really cold, few garments have enough wind protection for the babymaking parts. So...I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but a piece of plastic will do the trick. I use a plastic grocery bag. BONUS: If you don't believe me, start the ride without it, and then realize that you should have believed me, you can almost always find a similar piece of plastic(think newspaper wrapping). NOTE: I think this should be obvious, but I have no way of knowing if this is gender-specificadvice; I've only ever had the parts that I have. So for all the ladies out there...your results may vary?
LEGS: Like I said, I don't like thermal tights. If I'm riding a bike, my legs are in motion and keeping themselves warm. I usually go with leg warmers or even knee warmers with some embrocation(warming lotion) on the exposed part of the leg, and generally I'm fine. But I think this is a matter of preference.
FEET: Again, the idea is wind protection. But what we really need to protect are our toes-they're pointed right into the wind. On super super cold days, I take a big thick plastic sandwich bag and put my shoe in the corner. Then I cut off the excess bag around it, leaving only the part of the bag that covers the toe and forefoot. I put a toe cover on top of it to keep it in place, and it makes a very effective wind barrier. Also, I've recently started using the foot warmers that attach to the sock and go inside the shoe. So far, so warm.
GENERAL: After getting dressed on a super cold day, it's a great idea to get your core temperature up before you go outside. Some folks will get fully wrapped up and put the bike on the trainer/rollers and ride for a few minutes. That definitely works-you'll be begging to get outside in the cold after an indoor mile or two. If you don't have time for that, a few pushups does the trick almost as well. Does it feel ridiculous? Of course it does. But then again, if you're dressed to go riding a bike in the middle of winter, you already look ridiculous-so don't worry about it.
Hope some of these help. Good luck out there. See you out on the road.