If you’re on the Northern half of the world ball you’re probably shivering as soon as you think of riding at the moment. The temptation is to drop a ton of cash on new miracle kit that promises to keep you magically warm however far the mercury drops in the thermometer.
Before you risk wasting a load more money on chasing cold comfort, I thought I’d share a list of my favorite tips for boosting warmth whatever your wearing. And seeing as a lot of them date from when I was a totally skint archaeologist who spent winters slopping about in trenches that made the Somme look like St Kitts, most of them won’t even cost you a thing.
Before the ride
The vast majority of tips here are about retaining heat rather than losing it at every opportunity, and that starts the second you know you’re going for a ride. Put your riding gear somewhere warm and keep it there until the second you put it on. Whether that’s the radiator or the windscreen heater slots in your van on the drive there, if your gloves/socks/boots are warm when you pull them on you’re not immediately losing several degrees in your digits that you might never get back. Keep the rest of your kit as warm as possible too, don’t leave it in a freezing garage or back of the van or you’re losing heat before you even set off.
In contrast, don’t wrap up super warm on the drive there or while getting ready at home. In fact try and strip down as far as possible without the police getting involved. That way your body will turn up the thermostat itself, so adding your ride gear will feel cost straight away rather than going into freezing freefall when you swap that super cosy jacket for something skimpy.
Hot tip #1
Beware of hot radiators melting waterproof socks, base layers or anything synthetic. Also, sweaty winter boots steaming and stinking up the lounge might lose you more domestic credit points than cosy toes are worth.
Starting the ride
Keep the transfer from warm to wheels rolling as short and warm as possible too. Put your gloves on for pulling bikes out of cars, putting wheels on etc. rather than handling cold metal barehanded. Use an old foam mat or piece of carpet to stand on as you get changed and get your pre-warmed boots/shoes on ASAP – even if that means your trousers and pads are still round your shins.
Even the way you put things on can make a difference. If you’re pulling kneepads and winter boots on it’s really easy to drag your socks up so they’re really tight on your toes. That’ll kill circulation very effectively, so be sure to give yourself some toe slack to compensate or you may as well wear sandals.
Finally, while you always want hands and feet as warm as possible, there’s a lot to be said for choosing a top that means you’ll shivering before you start riding. Unless you’re starting at the top of a mountain, we guarantee you’ll generate so much heat in the first fifteen minutes that you’ll either need to waste time ditching a layer and/or spend the rest of the ride sweaty and losing heat through wet layers if you’re overdressed.
Hot tip #2
Synthetic base layers shift sweat fast but can feel cold and clammy while they’re doing it. Wool gets wetter but retains heat well when it does so often feels more consistently comfortable. It smells less too.
Never wear a cotton T-shirt as a base layer, as it will soak up and store sweat and then lose heat really quickly.
During the ride
Splashing through puddles is childish fun, but flooding shoes with cold water is comfort suicide and could even cost you digits to frostbite in extreme situations, so stay dry as far as possible. Think about that when you’re putting a ride together too, leaving the wetter sections until you’re almost home rather than starting out hitting deep puddles and streams at the start.
Mind the gaps. Moving about dynamically can often create gaps in clothing so be sure to close them before the draughts kill your core temp. Pull sleeves back down over gloves, jackets back down if they’ve been hitched up by waist/back packs and pants up if pedaling has dragged them down.
However, because sweat is your worst enemy for keeping your temperature consistent, be ready to reverse that hack to expose those spots for fast cooling. Use any vent zips to regulate heat sooner rather than later on climbs too, or you’ll be wet and cold on the following descent.
If your extremities start to go numb then you can physically force warm blood into them without stopping. Flick your hands as though you were trying to shake water off them and you’ll literally fling fresh blood into your fingertips. If you're losing your feet to the cold, then jump off and run for a bit to get them blending and flexing to promote blood flow.
Hot tip #3
Be aware that wrists, ankles, neck and skull (particularly if you’re bald) have a lot of blood vessels close to the surface, so having them exposed makes a ridiculously big difference to overall and extremity warmth. While long gloves, tall collars, winter boots etc all help, a Buff round your neck/under your helmet or home made leg/arm warmers cut from old baselayers can make a massive difference for bugger all cash.
If I had to pick a single miracle piece to add to your winter wardrobe, thin silk liner gloves add an insane amount of warmth to any glove without excess bulk and loss of feedback.
Whether it’s mechanicals, snack stops or waiting at the top of climbs / bottom of descents think about what’s likely to happen next. If you’ll be stopped for a few minutes then zip up or add layers to keep warm. If you’ve just climbed hard, let some heat escape but don’t over chill if you’ve got a long descent next.
The golden rule of mountaineering is never put your gloves on the floor when you take them off and it’s the same for winter mountain biking. Stuff them in your pockets or even down your shorts to keep you warm. Even if you keep your gloves on, stuff your hands into your armpits for warmth while you're waiting.
If your toes are numb from not doing much while pedaling have a little dance or hop around to get them flexing and feed hot blood round.
ALWAYS pack a ‘faff jacket’ (thanks to Dave from Corris for that phrase) to pull on just in case you’re not moving and getting cold for longer than expected too. If it’s a long wet ride, then it’s well worth taking spare gloves or even socks to swap into halfway round.
Hot tip #4
If your hands are cold after a long descent then use your hot brake disc rotors to warm them up. Obviously, be super careful though as they can get incredibly hot on long or steep descents so need approaching with extreme caution.
Similarly, lights often get hot enough to use as hand warmers too, but again be careful to avoid melted gloves or burnt fingers.
After the ride
Staying warm after a ride basically involves getting changed as fast and with as little exposure to cold as possible. If you can’t afford one of those fashionable changing robes then a big towel or old blanket – or my personal favorite an old lady’s quilted dressing gown – will do the same job fine for far less cash. Unless filth is a factor, get changed and warm before you start faffing with your bike. Save the post ride autopsy for the pub afterwards rather than chatting until your teeth are chattering.
Hot tip #5
I only discovered this hack accidentally last winter but I think it might actually be my favorite one of all. When you’re peeling off after a ride don’t pull your kneepads completely off while you drop your drawers. Instead pull them down over your feet and stand in them like blissfully cosy (if slightly sweaty) slippers while you get your kit together.