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Life Below Freezing: A Crash Course in Winter Apparel

If your winter consists of sporadic lows down into the 50s, you might as well stop reading right now. I’m here to tell you how to survive a real winter, no offense to California, so that you’re able to break the monotonous drawl of indoor trainers. First, let’s examine why you’re dependent on a trainer in the first place. Yes, 30 degrees is really cold, and yes, road conditions aren’t ideal in the middle of a snow storm. But, with the right gear, attitude, and some common sense, you shall overcome. Shout it from the mountain top.

Now, let’s start with how to protect the part of your body that’s most susceptible to freezing—your hands. It’s better to go over the top in protecting this part of the body at the beginning, tapering off as you adjust to the cold. First, you’re going to need gloves that are windproof, given that 30 degrees feels around 30 degrees colder with the wind chill of riding. Next, you’ll want to ensure that your gloves are insulated, but not so much that you’re compromising dexterity at the levers. I’ve found that “lobster-claw” gloves inhibit both shifting and braking modulation, so I tend to not recommend them. Eventually, you’ll find that you’ve broken down your glove selection to blocks of 10-degree increments. In other words, you’ve learned what works below 30 (Assos fuguGloves_S7 with the InsulatorGlove L1_S7 liners), from 30 to 40 (Defeet DuraGloves with the same liners), from 40 to 50 (the DuraGloves without the liner), and above 50, well, you really don’t need any gloves—harden up. Now, you’re probably wondering, “what about waterproof?” What about it? When it’s in the 30s, it’s a bad idea to deal with any moisture, whether it be snow, hail, or rain—you’re just begging to get sick or hurt. However, don’t fret, as most winter gloves are at least going to be water-resistant.

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Next on the list is another touchy area—your feet. Luckily, though, this is more of a set-it-and-forget-it situation. Here, you’re going to want waterproof, windproof, and insulating materials. Why waterproof here and not your hands? Well, because your feet are going to be at constant battle with road-spray. On top of this, you’ll need to invest in multiple pairs of Merino wool socks or something with a polypropylene fiber base, like the Assos FuguSpeer_S7s. They’re breathable, they control moisture, and most importantly, they’re warm. Seriously, just get some Merino in your life.

From here on out, things get far easier. After all, your body is generating a massive amount of energy while you’re riding, and energy is ultimately what’ll keep you warm. Think of your tights and jacket as a means of containing a fraction of that energy, and you’ll be OK. However, note that I said “fraction,” because if your apparel selection isn’t breathable, you’re totally screwed. Surely, you’ve heard the saying that sweat is death. And if you haven’t, well, sweat is death. For tights, I’ve had great success with the Castelli Sorpasso bib tights, but I have been enjoying the Assos LL.HaBu_S5 bib tights so far this winter. However, what you should be looking for are multiple panels, minimal seams (preferably none behind the knee), and breathable uppers. After all, no matter what a company might call it, nearly all things “winter-cycling” are made from some iteration of MITI’s Roubaix fabric—it all comes down to construction.

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The same goes for your jacket. However, I’ve found that a light jacket, like the Search and State S1-J, or even a well-weighted long sleeve jersey, like the De Marchi Pro jersey, goes a long way in the winter. More importantly, though, a jacket is only as good as the base layer beneath it. It’s critical that you wear one, either summer- or winter-weight, as moisture transfer will prevent a plummet into hypothermia. Luckily enough, base layers are cheap enough to perform a little trial-and-error to see what works for your style of riding. I personally opt for a sleeveless Craft summer-weight with no jersey buffering between myself and my jacket.

Ultimately, the main lessons to learn here are to harden up and to practice common sense. If it’s icy or snowing, no one will be out on the street to think that you’re tough for riding through the storm. Instead, you’re probably just going to hurt yourself. Save the ride for plowed conditions and decent skies, and you’ll break free from the trainer, and dare I say it, actually have some fun.

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Photo Credit: Ian Matteson