11 Apparel Tips for Winter Trail Riding
Winter is here, and gone are the days of riding in just a jersey and shorts. With the right gear and layering techniques, riding your e-Bike through the winter months can feel just like spring-at least on the inside.
The actual temperature outside is not the only factor to consider when deciding what to wear for your ride. You should also think about how hard you are going to be riding. A slow cruise warrants thicker layers than a ride where you will be generating a lot of body heat. As a rule of thumb, if you walk outside and feel warm in your gear before you even step on the pedals, you’re probably over dressed. You should be slightly cold before riding so that you don’t get too warm during the riding effort.
KEEP A WARM HEAD
We talk a lot about mountain bike helmets and how well they ventilate; however, winter is one time of year when you’ll wish there were fewer vents in your favorite lid. Keeping your head warm goes a long way toward helping you feel warm all over. Then again, if you overdress your head, it can overheat your whole body. We use a cold-weather skull cap that can be easily removed during a ride if we get too warm. For cool temperatures, a traditional wool cycling cap will provide just enough of a barrier to keep the cool air off of your forehead. For the coldest situations, check out a balaclava that integrates face and head coverage.
PLAN FOR FLEXIBILITY
Mountain biking is a tricky sport to dress for because of the variable situations we find ourselves in on the trail. One minute you can be grinding out a climb and the next you are descending with the wind in your face. Plan your gear so that you can make adjustments on the fly. This may mean a jacket with vents that open and close or simply being able to slide down your arm warmers on a climb to prevent overloading your base layer with perspiration. Once you saturate the layers against your skin with sweat, it is very tough to dry out on the ride.
LAYERING TO CREATE AIR POCKETS
Staying warm during a ride isn’t simply about throwing on as many layers as possible. If you use the right garments in the right order, you might be surprised how little clothing you actually need. The goal is to create pockets of warm air to insulate your body. The basic three layers are a base layer, a jersey and an outer shell or jacket.
WORK FROM THE INSIDE OUT
To maintain a warm core body temperature in cold conditions, the goal is to stay dry. While you’ll inevitably sweat when riding, keeping the moisture away from your skin is important. This can be accomplished by wearing a moisture-wicking base layer. Base layers are polyester-based, thin garments that are made to be worn directly against the skin. Base layers are available in sleeveless, short-sleeve and long-sleeve options and in some cases with extra layers of protection for the coldest riding situations.
While a jersey may be your outermost layer for most of the year, in cold situations a jersey’s primary job is to maintain the pockets of warm air and aid in moisture transfer. In a standard, three-layer base/jersey/jacket setup, the jersey plays the middleman in temperature regulation.
CREATE A WEATHER BARRIER
The outer layer forms a barrier against the cold air outside and traps body heat inside. There are a wide variety of jackets available in varying thicknesses and materials, depending on how much air flow or insulation you need. For cool temperatures, a light windbreaker or even a wind-blocking vest will suffice. When riding in wet conditions, look for waterproof fabrics that will still allow air to pass through without letting water in. For the coldest situations, an insulated soft-shell jacket will provide plenty of warmth while maintaining mobility.
MAINTAIN CONTROL AT THE LEVERS
Cold hands aren’t just uncomfortable, they’re also dangerous because they make controlling your bike more difficult. In cold weather, don’t go overboard with big and bulky gloves. Instead, look for standard full-finger gloves with less ventilation than a summer glove. You don’t want to have to take off your gloves because they are too hot and then lose the protection they provide. For very cold situations, choose a heavily insulated option that feels more in line with snow skiing gloves than cycling gloves.
Okay, this is not an apparel item, but if hand numbness is a problem for you, A’ME’s heated grips are a great solution. Combine these with a product like Heatflex handguards from Skinz Protective Gear and you will almost look forward to winter storms.
LEGS MATTER, TOO
With all the talk about upper body layers, don’t neglect your lower extremities. In cool weather, we like to use knee warmers along with our baggy shorts. There is little to no mobility sacrifice, and you can always remove knee or even leg warmers mid ride. If you are dealing with near-freezing conditions, you’ll have to pull out the big guns. Something like a thermal tight underneath your baggies or a riding-specific pant is ideal.
SHOES NEED HELP SOMETIMES
It’s easy to forget about your feet since they are covered by your mountain bike shoes. However, like your helmet, most mountain bike shoes are designed to be well ventilated. If you live in an area where cold-weather riding is half of your year, invest in cold-weather-specific shoes. Otherwise, go with a slightly thicker wool sock or for really cold conditions use a shoe cover that goes on the outside of the shoe to block the wind.