I was home visiting my parents over the holidays a few years ago and had brought my bike to squeeze in some rides between the family festivities. I had plans for an old favorite route through the local canyon, one I'd ridden countless times years ago. It was a bit chilly in the morning, but the sun was breaking through the fog so I didn't think much of it and rolled off on the ride.
After a casual jaunt down the frontage road I turned off and headed for the twisty descent down to the river. Just a few kilometers in, things started to change, and I realized I might be in for some trouble. With each drop around a switchback, the temperatures rapidly dropped and the mist in the air thickened. One by one my fingers lost their dexterity as I could feel them turning from flesh color, to red, to purple. Any attempt at actuating a shifter lever was not happening, and even pulling the brakes seemed out of the question. Miraculously, I made it to the bottom of the road without completely losing grip of the bars. I had ended the treacherous descent but I was far from being out of trouble. The air only got colder as I was now riding along the creek. My toes so cold, just turning the cranks at tempo seemed an impossible task. Fifteen or so miles later I finally climbed back to civilization where I jumped into the nearest coffee shop to thaw my digits before braving the rest of the trip home.
It's experiences like those that teach you just how important taking the right precautions in gear can be when saddling up to ride in the winter time. From a brisk, foggy mornings to a full on el nino down pour, we're going to walk you through our favorite pieces of gear to keep our extremities comfortable for winter time adventures.
Let's start from the bottom up. Most cycling shoes are designed to be ultra light and breathable. Those vents and holes work wonders in the warmer months but leave our delicate little toes with next to no protection from the wind, wet, and cold. While a heavier winter sock is a great first step, at a certain point we much call on an over shoe layer.
It might look strange pulling what essentially looks like an oversized sock over your shoes, but a simple, lightweight overshoe like the Q36.5 Copriscopa can make a huge difference on your ride. The tightly knit fabric does a surprisingly good job of blocking out the wind, cold, and road spray. The tall height also adds coverage to your ankles. In addition to their protection from the elements, these lightweight and low-profile covers offer an aerodynamic advantage to your shoes, and available bright colors give added visibility for safety while on the road.
A different, however equally appreciated approach is the toe cover. While they don't offer the full height coverage of the overshoes, they offer a stronger outer barrier and an insulated lining. These also give you easy access to your shoe's buckles or Boa dials, making for easy on the fly adjustments.
For heavy rain, snow, or extra cold days, the full on winter shoe cover is the bests option. Combining the the heavy duty barrier layer and thermal lining of the toe cover with the full ankle coverage of the overshoe, these offer maximum protection. While not totally waterproof, they still keep you insulated and comfortable, even after getting waterlogged on a long day in a downpour.
Pro tip: For best results in the rain, layer your tights or leg warmers over the top of the shoe covers. This acts like a snow gaiter, and directs any dripping moisture to the outside of the shoe cover, rather than soaking into your socks.
Let's move along to our hands. Dexterity is critically important for keeping the bike under control, so hopefully we can help you find the right gloves to keep those fingers happy in the cold. Since this is about winter riding, we're going to skip summer style gloves and jump into or favorite options with heavier insulation.
Starting off, let's look at the Hybrid Q glove. This is one of the most versatile gloves on the market and easily our go to for cooler temps. Don't let the single layer fool you. The proprietary fabric offers incredible wind protection and insulation with equally matched breathability. No unnecessary bulk to hinder shifting or braking and for the weather we tend to get here in the Bay Area, and enough protection for all but the coldest of days.
As amazing as the Hybrid Q glove is, there are times you just needs a little more warmth. In those situations something like the Q36.5 Termico is the perfect answer. Impressively minimal in bulk while adding a significant improvement in it's outer barrier and inner insulation. It also features a longer cuff, ensuring no skin is exposed between the glove and you sleeve. Like the Termico shoe cover, it still works to keep you warm even after it gets wet.
Now, we know there's a masochistic bunch of you out there who like to get out there and ride no matter what, snow storms be damned. For those days, we call on the Be Love Zero. With it's primaloft lining and extraordinarily protective outer shell, this glove is ready for anything.
Fingers and toes are often where we feel the pain on the cold the most, but what's often most overlooked is the place we lose the majority of our body's heat. To finish things out, let's take a look at our favored pieces for under the helmet.
The ever ubiquitous cycling cap. Nothing fancy here but a simple cycling cap can work wonders in blocking the wind passing through helmet vents and the visor adds useful coverage when riding in the rain.
When the rain is really coming down, it can be nice to have something with a bit more protection. While it does look a bit like the hat of Sherlock Holmes himself, the Q 36.5 rain cap has a technical shell material, easily blocking rainfall, and dual bills help direct water out your eyes and out of your base layer.
The final piece we'll mention here is a good, thermal headband. Many people have sensitive ears and having something to slip over them can make the cold a lot more tolerable. The open tube construction can allow some ventilation when worn on the head, or enable you to slide it all the way down and wear as a neck warmer.
Don't let the winter force you into hibernation. There's plenty of riding to be done, even when things are cold and wet. With the right precautions for keeping your extremities covered, nothing can stop you from getting out on the road.