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Snow Riding: Dressing the Part

Winter clothing
Wool socks, normal mountain bike shoes, and thick shoe covers are generally sufficient well below freezing. Photo: MillerPerspectives.Squarespace.com

Equally important to keeping the core temperature regulated is keeping hands and toes warm. Nothing will ruin a ride faster than frozen toes or numb fingers that lose their ability to shift or brake.

For the feet, there are several companies making shoes for cold weather. It is recommended to buy these at least a size too big, if not more, to be able to fit warm socks without cutting off circulation.

Thick socks insulate the foot, keeping the heat near the skin. If a tight shoe reduces circulation, blood flow will be so reduced the foot won’t produce heat, rendering insulation useless, so be sure to choose a shoe that will still fit with warm sox.

In colder temperatures, wearing shoe covers over the winter shoe provides added warmth.

Winter clothing
Winter boots on platform pedals are the choice of many snow bikers as they can be comfortable when the temperature dips below 0 degrees F. Photo: MillerPerspectives.Squarespace.com

Most snow bikers abandon clipless pedals completely for snow riding since they tend to clog up with snow quickly. Instead, many people ride with a pair of warm boots and platform pedals. While some power transfer is lost with the flat pedals, this eliminates the issue of pedals clogging and also makes the inevitable hiking in the snow more comfortable.

For their hands, snow-bikers will put pogies on their bikes. Pogies — essentially an outer glove fit over the grips, shifters and brakes — attach directly to the bike rather than the hand.

They are made of an insulating windproof material. They cover the hand like an extra glove, allowing the rider to wear thinner gloves inside the pogie, which increases finger mobility for braking and shifting.

Because the pogies aren’t in direct contact with the hand, they also don’t absorb sweat nearly as rapidly as heavy gloves next to the skin would.

Winter clothing
Nordic skiing specific gloves provide warmth and dexterity, as well as wind protection. Photo: MillerPerspectives.Squarespace.com

For cold weather where pogies would be overkill, but warm gloves are still necessary, check your local Nordic skiing shop for gloves. Nordic athletes deal with many of the same cold weather challenges as cyclists.

Riding comfortably in the cold is an acquired skill. The key is being able to constantly adapt to changing temperature and changing exertion levels since a body will make significantly more excess heat climbing a hill than coasting down it.

Wet or dry, warm is always the goal.

Check out more suggestions for how to prepare for winter riding. 

Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO.  She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past.  She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. All articles by Eszter.

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