Winter Cycling Gear

Snow has landed in Madison and it looks like it’s here to stay. We wanted to take a couple minutes and chat about what type of gear you should be using for winter commuting or winter cycling in general. Most of these products we’ve featured on the site before, but they are just to give a good base of what types of items you should be investing in to ride safely and comfortably in the cold, snowy weather.

We of course encourage wearing a much wool as you can afford. Investing in a high quality wool mid or base layer can make a huge difference. Wool works well for regulating body temperature meaning it will help keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It wicks away moisture and keeps you from being stinky. A lot of the poly materials out there will often times stay wet or smell awful after a day of riding in the cold.

Wool socks and hats are quite nice as they keep the toes much warmer than cotton and they won’t stink after working up a sweat. I can’t tell how many hats I’ve had to eventually retire because of the dreaded sweaty hair smell. No amount of washing seemed help after awhile. Wool hats/balaclavas haven’t fallen into that trap. Ibex is our brand of choice as they their products are made in the USA, but Smartwool and other companies have great options available as well.

Helmets. Honestly you can pretty much ride in whatever helmet you like in the winter since you’ll most likely be wearing a hat, but Bern is unique in that they have special insulated liners that can be snapped in the helmet. We don’t have much experience with Bern yet, but we’ve had many friends express that they really love their helmets and all the accessories they can use with their helmets (Bern also makes audio accessories).

Goggles aren’t the first thing that comes to mind with cycling, but they sure do help when the temperature is so low that your eyeballs about freeze shut! Gusty winds and heavy snow can also make for a really difficult ride. We’ve been known to wear clear safety glasses in a pinch on rides home where the snow was coming down hard. Goggles are better as they are designed to keep good airflow and have anti-fog properties. We use Spy branded goggles as they are easy to find and fairly prices. Kids sized goggles work well for ladies with extra small faces.

Down is another material we really like. Pairing down and wool together will almost always ensure that you’ll stay warm. Brands like Patagonia, Outdoor Research, and Mountain Hardwear all make fantastic down hoodies and zip ups. They don’t call them jackets, but that’s what they essentially are. The hoodies are very lightweight, packable, and fairly breathable. The loft from the down is what keeps you warm as it traps in warm air. The downsides to down are that if it gets wet, you’ll end up cold. The other is that some folks are highly allergic to down.

Look for a down jacket that has a DWR finish that has built in water resistance or plan on wearing a very light shell or top layer to help protect against heavy, wet snowfall. We use our Bontrager vests as a top layer as they keep things dry enough that we don’t worry about soggy rides.

Finding a good insulated boot or shoe is important for keeping your toes warm. Frostbite in the extremities is not a laughing matter. It can come on quick and can be quite painful. Look for shoe or boot that has some sort of water protection. If you don’t opt. for a full boot, you may want to consider using waterproof gaiters. Outdoor Research, 45NRTH, Black Diamond, Mountain Hardwear, and many other companies make great products for wet and cold conditions.

Gloves. Gloves can really make or break a winter bike ride. Too thin and you’ll have painfully cold fingers, too bulky and you’ll have a hard time shifting, poor padding and you’ll get pinching/discomfort. You really need to do some experimenting if you plan on wearing gloves vs. using Pogies or Bar Mitts. Pogies and Bar Mitts are items you install on the handlebars of your bike and protect your hands against the cold.

We tend wear gloves as we have short commutes and like still having some sort of protection on should we need to walk our bikes or do some sort of maintenance. Craft’s lobster gloves are a favorite of ours for really cold weather. For a little more mild weather we also enjoy Pearl Izumi’s thermal long finger gloves or Answer’s long finger gloves. All of them are very comfortable on and off the bike.

Last but not least, we’ll talk a little bit about keeping your legs warm. Legs are more likely to get cold versus your upper body or core. Your legs are way less protected on the bike and take the brunt of wind force. Thermal or lined tights are always a fantastic option. On a warmer day they can be worn alone. They can be paired with bib shorts or bike shorts. They can also be used as an under layer under jeans or waterproof rain pants. Craft, Moving Comfort, Pearl Izumi, and even Target aka Champion makes some kick ass thermal tight options.
Another option would be to get some good merino base layer thermal underwear or even a union suit. Merino is expensive though, so it may be work looking into the thermal tights since they are designed to be used standalone as well as with an over layer. Thermal underwear aren’t really designed to be used by themselves.

A couple of additional notes is making sure you have reliable gear with you on the bike. Good rechargeable lights that won’t fail in extremely cold weather is important since it gets dark early. Light & Motion has stood the test of time for us. An easy to use road pump (remember you are bundled and wearing gloves) is also important. Lezyne’s Micro Floor Pump is super easy to use as it mimics how a full size floor pump works. Studded tires! Duh, pretty common sense when riding in ice and snow. 45NRTH, Schwalbe, Vittoria, Continental, and other brands all make great winter tires. Keeping your lips and exposed face protected is also very important. Riding in the dry, cold weather will take a toll on your skin. Carmex, Bag Balm, Aquaphor, and Badger Balm all do a great job of protecting skin. Fender. They cover your @ss! We like PDW’s Soda Pop & Origami fenders best as they are easy to install and remove.

We hope some of our tips were helpful for you. Riding in the ice and snow can be intimidating at first, but you’ll find with a little experience and experimentation that it can be just as or even more enjoyable than riding in warm weather!

If you have any tips or tricks to share or want more info on how to safely ride in the winter, please drop us a line on our contact page!

 

Cap City Trail Recon

Madison often boasts that its bike paths are cleaner than the streets after a large snow storm. That’s usually the case when referring to the Southwest Commuter path, Madison’s most used bicycle path that runs through the isthmus (downtown).

We can’t really say that for the Capitol City Trail. For those not familiar with Madison’s route set up, the Capitol City Trail is a route that extends past the major SW Commuter Path and heads out to the South Eastern burbs and then back into Madison near the Alliant Energy Center. (You can then continue back into downtown or ride the lake loop through Monona.)

It’s not maintained as regularly as our beloved SW path, but is still a nice ride. Today I decided to take a journey on it to not only get a lunch ride in, but to also report on the conditions. Starting from the Verona frontage road the trail was hard packed snow and ice. Not terrible, but not amazing either.

Riding downhill was a little sketchy in some spots, but overall it was decent conditions. Hardpack is a lot of fun to cruise on with knobby or studded tires. The overall view was very beautiful. The path is surrounded by trees on either side, so it doesn’t melt as fast as some of the other  trails. The trees looked untouched and there is still significant snow on the ground around the trail.

capcity

I did happen to come across some ruts, skate ski tracks, loads of animal poo (seems folks think they don’t need to pick it up in the winter?), and even a frozen possum that seemed to have passed somehow on the path. (poor thing)

The new studded tire (I only use one on the front right now) performed amazingly on the hard pack. It cruises a lot faster and smoother than on dry road, that’s for sure! In areas that had deeper snow or a bit of slush, having a loaded back end helped greatly. I have a fairly heavy saddle, a rear rack, and a half loaded pannier when I ride. I treat snow commuting much like snow driving. Keep weight in the rear, take it slow around corners, keep eyes on the trail to pick the best line of riding, and if I start to fish tail or slide…just power through it and DON’T PANIC or hit the brakes!

stud

I rode about a 3 mile stretch of the trail before I had to take to the streets to hit my destination. From the point of where I started to ride the trail, all of the offshoots had been plowed or cleared to some capacity, but for some reason the junction I needed to ride up wasn’t. I had to hop off and do a minor amount of trudging before I could get back on the bike. I’m glad I had my Bogs on! (They make for great winter riding boots btw. Future review?)

roadblock

A minor annoyance in an overall pleasant ride. It seemed like the maintenance crew just kind of decided to call it good enough.

I’m considering checking out the trail conditions in a few days after the weather warms up. Forecasts are calling for up to 40 degree weather, so there may be some slushy conditions ahead for daily path riders.

On my way back to work I decided to ride on McKee, which was not as pleasant as the ride on the trail. I didn’t have much time to enjoy the scenery, but it’s a straight shot to the work place. There was a huge headwind and my studded tire made the bike ride like a slow moving tank. Cars were also not feeling very  generous when I was trying to avoid chunky snow debris in the road.

If you’re looking to hone your winter riding skills with a serene environment, I would highly suggest checking out the Cap City Trail in the next couple of days before the snow starts to turn into muck!

Side note: Today I decided to wear regular poly/cotton socks, Bogs, regular stretchy skinny jeans, a short sleeve Road Holland jersey, the new Surly long sleeved jersey, my Patagonia down jacket, Ibex balaclava, Pearl Izumi long finger gloves, and my helmet. In the morning when it was 19 out, my thighs were the only part of me that was cold.

During lunch and on the ride home I was pretty warm up top so I unzipped the top two layers and wore the balaclava as a neck gator. I probably could have dropped the down jacket, but I wasn’t in the mood to stop and take it off.

I’m happy to report the PDW fenders kick ass and I have no issues with interference like I do with full length fenders. I also removed my usual Crank Brothers Candy pedals and installed the VP Vice flat pedals. They have an awesome, wide platform with tons of grip. There will be full reviews as the season progresses.

Also, a BIG shout out to all the new followers. We’re happy to have the support. Please e-mail us with suggestions, comments, etc. We want to continue to improve upon the site 🙂

-Cassandra