Tips for making the best of winter riding
Guest blog post by Beth Ann Orton!
Riding in the rain isn’t always fun, but most of the time it can be, particularly if you prepare appropriately. If you want to ride bikes between the months of October and June in the Pacific Northwest, you don’t have much choice but to embrace daily drizzle. I’m a Pacific Northwesterner through-and-through, but I still have days when the prospect of riding in a cold down pour seems down right horrible. I typically drink two very black cups of coffee and stare at the radar with petulance. At some point, I stop dragging my feet, dive into the rain, and love it. My enthusiasm is definitely temperature dependent. I have problems with cold hands and feet in wet, cool weather, and I’ve learned some tricks to improve riding comfort in these types of conditions. Here are a few of my favorite wet weather riding recommendations mostly, but not completely, in order of importance.
- Coffee: Preferably espresso preferably lots. Add milk and sugar if that’s your thing.
- Friends: Long rides fly by with the addition of friendly conversation, and there can be safety in numbers in particularly bad weather.
- Humor: Laugh at yourself. What is more ridiculous than riding 50 miles in torrential rain? Not much.
- Vaseline: It works well for skiing and cycling alike. Apply to toes, tops of feet, hands and fingers, before socks and gloves. If it’s particularly windy and bitter, apply a thin film to your face.
- Embrocation: Embrocations are warming balms, typically made with a petrolatum base. Use sparingly and with caution when you try them for the first time. Apply to legs with gloves, or wash your hands thoroughly after application. Be leery of contact with chamois or sensitive spots (bibs and tights on first!), least you be in for a spicier than expected ride.
- Fenders: Build inexpensive fenders on to your training bike. Even the most svelte road frames will accept fenders, and any Portland bike shop will be happy to help. Removable front and rear fenders are also an option, but they don’t provide reliable protection from rear “wheel spray”. Your riding partners will thank you for installing a complete fender set.
- Tire pressure: When it’s raining, let some pressure out of your tires, front and rear, to ensure better contact with riding surfaces. Experiment to find what tire pressure works best for you. On especially rainy days, I run 15 – 20 psi less than I do for a ride on dry pavement.
- Lights: Bright lights and clothing improve visibility during foggy, rainy rides. I keep small front and rear lights attached to my training helmet all winter, and add at least one, very bright, rear tail-light to every ride.
- Clothing: Appropriate clothing for rainy rides includes socks, base layers, tights or leg warmers, a soft shell or hard shell rain jacket, gloves, and booties.
- Socks: Wool or synthetic socks are best. Thicker isn’t always better. Be sure your feet and toes have room to move. On colder days, loosen your shoe straps to encouraged circulation.
- Base Layers: Wool or synthetic are best, again. I prefer thin, wool base layers during winter months: They help wick moisture and remain warm when wet. For very blustery days, consider special wind blocking shirts manufactured by many cycling brands.
- Leg warmers: Thick leg warmers or tights are a must on winter rides. Don’t skimp on them. Risk being too warm over the possibility of being much too cold and miserable.
- Jackets: I prefer soft shell, water resistant or waterproof jackets for their comfort and temperature regulating capabilities. On particularly wet or cold days I stuff a packable rain jacket in my pocket to be worn over – or in the case of cold winds or rapid temperature decline –under my soft shell jacket. Some folks prefer traditional, hard shell rain jackets. I find them too warm, and typically unnecessary in Oregon rain, but many will argue otherwise, so try for yourself!
- Gloves: Neoprene gloves can be very warm in a downpour, but don’t work well in cold, dry, weather. If your hands are prone to cold, try layering gloves: Use thin wool gloves or rubber nitrile gloves as a base, covered by thicker, winter riding gloves. When it’s exceptionally cold, it’s okay to skip on cycling gloves and reach for ski gloves. I take extra gloves on almost every long ride, because I know cold fingers can be my downfall.
- Booties: Cycling over boots aren’t just funny looking, they’re actually useful! Neoprene booties work well in rain. Thicker, winter booties work well in cold, dry weather. Many Portland riders use simple, cotton over boots for every-day rides. If you are prone to exceptionally cold feet, consider investing in a pair of winter riding shoes.
- Extra Layers: Never leave the house without at least a warm hat. I prefer to carry a hat, buff (neck gator), extra gloves, and a thin, packable rain layer if temperatures and precipitation are unpredictable.
- Recovery: Establish an efficient recovery routine for wet, cold, rides. Remove your wet clothes and chamois immediately. Set the kettle to boil while you quickly rinse your bike and lube your chain, then, enjoy a hot cup of tea or recovery drink, followed by a small meal.
- Trainer: I don’t like riding on trainers or rollers longer than about 45 minutes, but sometimes it’s necessary. When roads are covered in snow and ice, or when you are time restricted, it may be time to pull the plug and go for a trainer ride (or go mountain biking!). Make sure you have a cooling system in place (fans), loud music, and a favorite bike race to watch. Consider joining a cycling studio or training studio if you find yourself reaching for frequent indoor training rides.
Learning to enjoy rainy rides comes more easily to some than it does for others. If you simply don’t love riding in the rain, consider cross training with skiing or other aerobic sports. If the cost of wet weather riding equipment is daunting, remember clothing (with the exception of chamois) doesn’t need to be cycling-specific. Ski clothes and cold weather running or hiking clothes will suffice, just fine. And finally, remember it’s okay to be lazy. If the weather is truly awful, punt. Eventually the sun will come out.
Beth Ann Orton is a Pacific Northwest native, and is all too familiar with the challenges of enjoying outdoor activities in a wet, cold, and often a bit dark climate. Beth Ann has a background in mountain sports. She is most at home in the hills of Oregon, riding bikes, skiing, and adventuring, even in the rain. Beth Ann loves to race, particularly cyclocross and time trial. You can find her mashing pedals on cyclocross courses around the country for Team S&M/Sellwood Cycle Repair. In 2015, she will race for a U.S. based road team. When she isn’t racing bikes, Beth Ann works at Oregon Health & Science University as a PA in their family medicine department, where she retains a part-time practice and faculty position in their family medicine department.