Riding in the Cold

As we head back into the colder months, it might be time to pass on some tips about riding in cold weather. Most other activities in the cold (like skiing), your physical activity generates heat but this is often not true for riding. Working your bike through an off-road trail keeps you warmer than cruising at highway speeds, but remember that there is more heat loss with higher wind speed so highway riding is colder than round town.

Layers, layers, layers! We kinda know this already but it surprises me how often this is forgotten when riding. Perhaps it is because the need for armor limits what we can put underneath it but the same principles apply: two thin layers underneath is better than one thick layer. Some of that armor, like D3O, stiffens up when cold so that, along with the Michelin Man effect, can limit your mobility. 

Stay dry: as well as not getting rain (or snow) soaked, your layers should breathe. Above all, avoid having cotton in any of your layers. Many years of shepherding cold kids around ski hills has taught me that cotton is not your friend. 

Live better electrically: because we don’t generate much body heat, external heat sources make more of a difference. Heated grips are a must in Canada and are easy to fit — this is money well spent. They also work better than heated gloves and are easier to maintain: nothing to plug in and no batteries to charge. 

When the temperature drops into the single digits, it is also worth considering a heated jacket. This is a bit more fiddly because you have to plugin each time you get on the bike but once you have one, you’ll never go back. One small thing to consider: how much current do these electrical doodads draw? It can be quite a bit. A heated jacket at full power will typically draw 6-8 amps, which is more than many connectors are rated for. 

Hot headed? While we don’t, as some urban myths would have it, lose 10% of our heat through our heads, it is still worth considering what is happening around your head and neck. A neck tube is easy to wear, and easy to store if things get warmer. A full-face helmet will also keep you much warmer but then can also create some challenges with foggy visors

Most of us know about Pinlock secondary lenses: the double glazing effect is the most effective way of preventing condensation inside your visor. But this only works if your Pinlock properly seals to its outer layer — it is common for the soft rim around the outside of your Pinlock lens to harden over time, allowing moisture between the two layers. This means that you now have two foggy layers instead of one. Check and adjust this seal at this time of year. 

Not all of us can use a Pinlock lens so what else can we do to prevent fogging? You can buy fancy anti-fog solutions but dish-soap is much cheaper. Apply one or two drops to the inside of your lens and smear it around to a somewhat even film over the whole surface. Let it dry for at least 5 minutes then polish this layer, leaving no visible smear marks. This should last all day. 

Cold feet? Circulation matters. The common mistake is to add too much thickness inside your boot. More thin socks, less thick socks. I also recently made the mistake of wearing compression socks on a long ride, thinking it would help improve things for tired legs, just like for running. It did not: coldest feet I have had for a long time. 

Finally, bike type. Few have the option of changing bikes for different weather. But do bear in mind what kinds of bikes are in your riding group. Big adventure bikes and cruisers with lots of faring tend to provide more weather protection so take pity on your buddies on naked and sports bikes – they will need to stop more often.