At this time of year the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” always plays in my head. It’s the Dean Martin version, which to me is still the best version. Having grown up in Wyoming, I’m a little embarrassed to say that dipping into the 40s and 50s during the day makes me cold, but it does. After almost 30 years in the desert my blood has thinned. When I was little, my grandmother would always tell me to place a newspaper inside my shirt before I went out into the cold. No kid ever wanted to be caught with the Sunday funnies tucked into their shirt, so I resisted every time she suggested it. I was sure it was a stupid idea, but when I was forced to do it, sure enough, I seemed warmer.
When I was a kid, nothing could keep me off my bike—except snow of course—and as long as there wasn’t any of the white stuff on the ground, I’d be off for a ride. As an adult, the winter season doesn’t stop me from riding and it shouldn’t stop you either. The first step in winter riding is to make sure you have the proper attire. Layering is the key. If you are new to layering, it doesn’t mean to simply put on multiple layers of clothing. Instead, layering is a technique in which you vary the weights of clothing to wick moisture, trap heat, and block the cold.
The first layer–the layer closest to the skin– should be composed of a lightweight, polyester-based fabric. These types of fabric are designed to pull moisture away from the body. Remember, just because it’s chilly, doesn’t mean you stop sweating. In the winter, sweat trapped on the body can become very cold and will make you cold as well, so wear a layer that wicks (or pulls) moisture from the body. Natural fabrics, such as cotton, are not good choices as they tend to stay wet when they get wet.
The second layer should have some type of thermal capability, that is, something that retains warmth. While it is good to get the moisture your body generates away from the body, it is not so good to lose the heat your body generates. Choose a fabric that holds in heat, but at the same time “breathes,” which means it absorbs and releases moisture quickly. Both natural and synthetic fibers (such as polyester) will do this. The outer layer should be a fabric that serves as both a wind blocker and a thermal barrier. Wind block is especially important as cycling in the cold increases the wind chill factor. Nylon is one of the best fabrics for this purpose.
Don’t forget your head. Heat rushes out of the body through the extremities and the head is the biggest source of heat loss. Also, a great deal of blood circulates through the head, so keeping the head warm will keep the blood warm, which will keep the body warm. For this reason, it is always a good idea to wear a hat when riding, and, if possible, choose something with ear flaps. Just be sure to choose one that still allows you to properly wear your helmet. The hands and feet need protection too. Full fingered gloves with some type of insulation will keep your hands warm, and thermal socks that retain heat while still wicking moisture will work on your feet. If you’re an avid rider, you may want to use booties with toe covers that slip over your shoes. These will work the same as a windbreaker.
By the way, as it turns out, my grandmother was right all along. As I found out later, many pro cyclists put a layer of newspaper under their riding jersey, in both the front and back, to protect them from the cold, especially on long descents. So, don’t let the cold stop you this winter, grab the funnies and c’mon, let’s go ride a bike. +
Paul W. Papa is a bike enthusiast and the author of Best Bike Rides Las Vegas and Mountain Biking Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.
When not out on the trails, he can be found at www.paulwpapa.com.