A few years back, I signed up for spring-time bucket list race in my part of the country known as the Dirty Kanza 200. A hilly 200 mile gravel race over farm roads, b-roads and cow paths in a part of eastern Kansas known as the Flint Hills. Immediately after my online entry fee was paid, the reality of the fact that most of my training hours would be in icebox-like conditions dawned on me. I would have to be upping my game in the winter riding gear department.
I already had all the base layers, a good jacket and cycling tights.
My main concerns were my hands and feet which naturally feel the effects of cold weather fast! Up until this point, the coldest ride I had been on was at 34˚ for one hour, and the last 20 minutes of that was pretty miserable. Shoe covers and heavy gloves alone were not enough to keep my digits from feeling like they were going to fall off.
There would be many long rides on the Katy Trail in my future and I was looking forward to it. Through the winter months I would be out there anywhere from four to eight hours at a time on the weekends, sometimes in temperatures that hovered in the teens. I needed to make sure that I had gear that could stand up to that.
Many people don’t know that with the right gear, winter cycling can be downright enjoyable and the community of people who participate in cold-weather riding is rapidly growing. But like any winter sport, you want to give serious consideration and research to time spent in below freezing temperatures.
The first order of business was to get the boots.
I had to have them. The only road shoes I owned up to that point where a pair of open top Sidi triathlon shoes. It was time to bite the bullet and make the investment. I did my research online and narrowed my selection down to three brands of boots. The 45Nrth Wölvhammers, Defrosters and Lakes all had great reviews. The final decision was easy as my local bike shop in Kansas City carried a few of these brands.
For those of you who can’t lay down that kind of cash quite yet... try layering socks. You can do this if you have shoes that are a half to full size bigger than what you normally wear and can be dedicated to winter riding.
Here is the set-up:
1. Thin wicking sock
2. Lightweight wool sock
3. Medium to heavy wool sock (I suggest Smartwool. Love them!)
4. Hothands™ full length insole foot warmers
5. Use duct tape to close off all vents on your shoes
6. Use a heavy weight insulated shoe cover (DeFeet, Louis Garneau, Pearl Izumi and
SealSkinz all make great shoe covers)
I still use the foot warming insoles with a heavy weight wool sock in my boots for longer rides when I know the temps are going to be 35˚ and below. So far, the coldest temperature I have ridden in has been -12˚ and I do just fine for a couple of hours.
The hands were fairly simple.
I spared no expense when it came to deep winter riding gloves. I cut through the chase and went right to the head of the line. For someone like me who easily gets bone-cold, this is serious business.
I personally like a liner glove which you can easily slip in and out a heavier, insulated wind proof glove to swipe your Garmin or cell phone. I like for the outer layer to still be breathable with well-placed padding but I also need dexterity as some of my winter riding includes mountain biking where I need a full range of motion. I also have a separate set of water proof thermal gloves for those days you have to ride through icy winter slop.
It has been a few years since I discovered finger warming goodness for myself and there are gloves out there right now that I would love to try. Lobster style gloves are capturing my attention. The split finger design keeps fingers together for extra warming. The Craft™ Siberian split finger wind and waterproof gloves have been on my radar for a while.
For my hands in sub-zero temps, I blew through the last of my Christmas bonus and got two sets of Bar Mitts Handlebar Mittens (also called pogies) for both my drop bar cyclocross and flat bar mountain bikes. They are essentially neoprene wind barriers and nothing gets past them. As of this date, they have stood up to the test of a two-hour sub zero temperature ride with flying colors!
Another tip is to have a package or two of hand warmers with you. You can use them for your hands or feet if you ever find yourself in a position where the temps have dropped and you are still a distance from your destination.
Bonus: Ears, neck and head.
One of the most versatile items I have found for my ears, head and neck are Buff™ merino wool head wraps. They can be used in a myriad of ways, work very well under my helmet and it is definitely a winter staple of mine. I use two, one for my neck and one for my ears and head.
When you get these important cold weather essentials dialed in, you are more than ready to get out there on the Katy Trail for some comfortable winter-time adventures of your own!