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Tips: Road Cycling in Winter
Cold, wet, dark: there are many special challenges to be overcome when riding a road bike in winter. But one thing is clear: Even in winter you can cycle outside. What needs to be considered and how to do outdoor training in winter – tips and information on clothing, training and planning.
Cold: Road cycling in winter
Once the temperature drops below 20 degrees, it may be wise not to limit yourself to short jerseys and pants. Arm warmers, leg warmers, gloves, overshoes, a windbreaker, a scarf and a headband should usually be planned for in autumn and spring.
Especially when driving in the mountains with exposed altitudes and long descents or on shady routes, for example through forests, the temperature differences can be large - especially on long drives during the course of the day. It is also important that damp roads and rain showers are much more unpleasant when it is cold and can increase the risk of overcooling.
Cycling around the freezing point
When it comes to road cycling in winter, the same challenges apply in terms of temperatures – but in a much more intense form. In winter the conditions are more extreme. But: With the right clothing and strategy, you can also train around the freezing point on the street. It can be crucial to know how cold it really gets.
Ten, eight, five or three degrees Celsius: at which temperatures is which type of weather protection required? Exactly where the limits are, from which certain warm clothing items are necessary, is individual – and depends on the track conditions as well as the duration and intensity of the ride.
Road cycling in winter: routes and sensations
Wind, lack of sunlight and proximity to bodies of water are among the conditions that influence the temperature. In addition, there is the individual sensitivity to the cold and the question of which body regions one freezes particularly quickly.
In order not to get cold, it is particularly important for many people to keep their torso and neck warm. These body regions are exposed to the cooling wind, and the muscles there are hardly stressed when riding a road bike in winter. In moderate temperatures, a wind vest with a high collar helps. In extreme cold, a windproof and warming jacket and other warming layers underneath are necessary.
The fact that a disproportionate amount of heat is "lost" through the head compared to other parts of the body is a myth that has now been scientifically disproved. However, it is one of the parts of the body that is particularly far away from the torso and therefore cools down particularly quickly, similar to the hands and feet.
In addition, many are particularly sensitive to cold on their heads, which are exposed to the wind.
At least one headband, but usually a helmet cap that completely covers the ears and is ideally equipped with a wind stopper material, is therefore useful in winter. You can keep your neck and neck warm with a multifunctional scarf. This can usually also be pulled over the mouth and nose. At low temperatures and with a high training intensity, you can prevent cooling down by the wind, the so-called wind chill effect.
cold fingers? Road cycling in winter
Many people are particularly sensitive to their feet - especially their toes - and their hands: Both body regions are usually exposed to the wind from the front. In addition, the feet are particularly at risk of getting wet due to the proximity to the ground. Warm, windproof gloves that are not too tight when holding the brake handle, especially between the thumb and forefinger, are therefore important for many.
At very low temperatures, "mittens" or similar glove constructions are often a sensible choice. However, it is important that the fingers and hands are not restricted when steering, shifting gears and braking.
Shoes and overshoes: the feet
Windproof and well-closing overshoes can help in many cases. However, cycling shoes are often designed for good ventilation. Cool air can often flow in through the sole, which is not always completely covered by the overshoes. However, the sole can often be "sealed" with a layer of aluminum foil or something similar underneath the insole.
Slightly thicker, warmer socks can be useful. However, socks that are too bulky should not fill the space in the shoe or even cramp the feet and restrict blood circulation, which in turn can contribute to cooling down. The thermal insulation and protection against cold and wet should clearly come through the outermost layer of road cycling - overshoes. Unlike winter cycling shoes, which are often heavier and less stiff, the combination of overshoes and "normal" performance-oriented cycling shoes enables the same biomechanics and power transmission for road cycling in winter as in summer.
Cycling shorts for road cycling in winter
Depending on the temperatures, you can either combine warmer short bib tights with leg warmers or choose long bib bib tights. A thicker fabric material, linings or windproof material can make sense depending on the temperatures. It is important that the cut does not restrict the fit.
In addition to an optimal fit of the padding, it is important that the often somewhat firmer material in the knee area does not become tense when pedaling. Preformed cuts and inserts made of flexible material can be useful here. In some cases, winter cycling shorts are higher than models for the warmer seasons. You can then warm the torso, which can be considered with the upper body clothing.
Overheating and sweating: road cycling in winter
However, it is also crucial that you can be too warm – or not breathable enough – even when riding a road bike in the wind. Sweat can contribute to cooling down. Material inserts made of more breathable and often flexible fabrics make sense in combination with heat-insulating and wind- and water-repellent textiles. When combining several layers of clothing, care should be taken to ensure consistently high breathability.
Visibility when cycling in winter
In addition to the heat function, the clothing should also serve to make you visible to other road users. Signal colors and reflective elements make sense and should be combined with the front and rear lights on the racing bike - especially during the day in autumn, winter and spring.
If you wear light-colored or reflective clothing, you can be seen on the road when cycling in winter from a significantly longer distance than with dark clothing. Reflectors and signal colors on the parts of the body that are moved when cycling, especially on the legs, increase the identifiability as a cyclist - in accordance with the "biomotion" principle.
In addition to special clothing, special material is also useful on racing bikes in winter. Since the roads in many regions are often wet in the winter months and the wet conditions in winter can contribute to cooling down, mudguards can be particularly useful in winter.
Due to the particularly frequent pollution of the roads, puncture-proof tires can be particularly useful. Wider tyres, around 30 millimeters wide models that can be ridden with lower air pressure, "roll" over sharp stones or the like more easily. Tubeless models that are mounted with sealant can be advantageous.
Since there is also a lot of road salt and other dirt on the often particularly damp roads, more intensive care of the material can make sense. Front and rear lights belong on the racing bike, even during the day. Instead of darkening sunglasses, a glass model with a contrast-enhancing, brightening function can be useful.
Professional cyclist interview
We interviewed two professional cyclists what is particularly important when riding a road bike in winter?
Rideable or not - up to what temperatures do you drive on the roads?
Malcolm: Whether I ride on the road hardly depends on the temperatures. With the right clothing you can drive very well on the road even in sub-zero temperatures. If I have to reckon with ice and a lot of moisture, then I prefer to switch to my gravel bike and go into the forest, which also offers more protection from cold winds.
Don: We ride in all temperatures. All northerners like us can certainly understand that: We have many rainy days and, above all, wind every day. A good training group helps enormously. If you know that five people are waiting at the meeting point, then you have to be there. From October we will also get more and more on the gravel bike, because then we can finally ride new routes.
What is most important for you in order not to freeze on the road bike?
Malcolm: Personally, I prefer to ride non-stop in winter, otherwise I get too cold. It is also important for me that my fingers and chest are warm.
Don: We now have a rule that we don't take long breaks on three-hour rides. Once you stop, it just takes too long to warm up again. Fingers and feet must be warm. Otherwise the cold will radiate directly into your arms and legs. Many wear two pairs of socks on top of each other. However, this often leaves little space for warm air in the shoe.
Wind, humidity, lack of light, temperature fluctuations throughout the day on long rides: what factors do you have to take into account when estimating how cold it will really be on a ride?
Don: It's actually not that complicated. Before leaving, we look at our cell phones and believe the weather app that shows the least amount of rain. And then we always dress the same in winter. Our clothing is warm and breathable, and we are flexible through different layers. We only pack a rainproof jacket if there is a high probability of rain.
What mistake from last winter do you want to avoid this winter? What did you learn from?
Malcolm: In recent years I have often dressed in one layer that is too thick. This makes it easy to overheat and sweat when the day gets warmer. If you then make a stop, you risk getting cold. Last winter I often started later at the weekend when it was warmer. However, long rides often end in the late afternoon in the dark when it quickly cools down extremely. I'm going to change that this year: I'd rather start earlier and wear several layers, maybe take off one or even two thin layers with the rising temperatures and body activation and then don't come home too late.
Racing bike in winter: do you ride “winter bikes”? Or do you customize your racing bikes?
Don: In the winter we'll be converting to 32 millimeter wide tires, which we'll run tubeless. Especially when there is a lot of loose chippings on the streets, you don't get a flat tire that quickly. Some of us fit mudguards when road biking in the winter. Otherwise, the cyclocross or gravel bikes are our winter bikes.
Is there a very special tip for the right clothing for road cycling in winter?
Don: My insider tip: take a second undershirt with you on long trips! This still fits in the back pocket. During a longer break I can put on a dry undershirt and I don't freeze. Otherwise, fundamentally: It is better to invest in the right clothing once than to buy the wrong things five times just because they seem cheaper at first glance.