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Winter Clothing - What to wear to ride the Winter Print This

Riding in the Winter can be almost as much fun as the Summer. Less people on the trails, no insects, less sweat and the extra tricky trail conditions add up to a ride you really shouldn't be missing. The only real problem is the cold. We've been riding through the worst the British Winter has to throw at us for ten years now and the clothing advice below has evolved from this experience.

SealSkinz the socks for the Winter!

Feet
Perhaps the most important things to look after (once you have a decent waterproof jacket) are your feet. Downhill specific boots such as those from Shimano (not much tread, which is a downer) or Winter specific boots such as those from North Wave are good, but not essential. 
Porelle drys have now been superseded by SealSkinz, the new sock from the same company. Thinner and more flexible, these are the ones to go for this year! We use our summer shoes with SealSkinz waterproof socks on cool wet days (from 5 to 10C) and add Sidetrak neoprene overshoes on the coldest days (below 5C). The key point to remember with your feet is to wear your shoes loose. This is because although you may not realise it, most of our shoes are pretty snug. This restricts the blood supply to your feet. In the Summer this is no problem as your feet won't get too cold (although they may feel a bit numb from time to time). In Winter even the slightest reduction in circulation will turn your feet in to two frozen prize turkeys! The worst problems can come with the addition of thicker socks. These take up more room in your shoes (DUH) and can result in colder feet! However if you slacken off your shoe bindings until your feet have room to wobble about, they will keep your feet a lot warmer and drier than thinner socks. This year the SealSkinz people have also added thermal liners to the range (for a very reasonable 5), this combination may even make overshoes unnecessary. We're testing them over the coming weeks as the weather gets colder (including at night) watch this space for a report! here now at SealSkinz Review

Hands
Next in order of priority are your hands. These get cold for the same reason as your feet, so don't wear gloves which are too tight. However you really need to keep as much fingertip control as possible so this brings me to the real problem with many gloves, finger length. If the gloves you buy are even a little too long for your fingers, the resulting useless finger extensions will make you in to a fumbling Klutz. So try on plenty and choose some where your finger tips go right to the end of the glove. SealSkinz are making a new waterproof glove which we're going to try this Winter, in the most extreme conditions waterproofing is essential.

My favourite gloves are some extreme condition glove liners from The North Face, (at good climbing/hiking shops) underneath an XXL pair of cycling mitts. I bought the liners, which are gloves in their own right, in a smaller size than I would normally so that my fingers reach the tips. This gives great flexibility and the combined glove/mitt can be removed and replaced together for speed when you need to. SealSkinz glove liners (5) can also be used under mitts on less cold days.

Head
Your head will only suffer on the very coldest days/nights. Ears are another matter however, being almost as short of warmth bringing blood as your other extremities. We deal with this in three stages:
1. The head band/ear warmer. Much beloved of roadies these work well and keep your ears warm without overheating your head.
2. The motor bikers balaclava. Available from motorbike accessory shops these are around 7 and keep your whole head warm when the temperature's well below freezing.
3. The Micro fiber balaclava. Similar in appearance to the very thin motorbike balaclava, Cannondale make the one I've had for years and it's indispensable the coldest nights. This one can't be used on cool days though, or it bakes your head like a jacket potato.

The motocross goggles downhillers use (and some cross country riders, like us!) are fantastic at keeping your eyes from streaming and the worst of the cold from your upper face. Follow the instructions for de-misting on the Winter tips page. When the snow and hail are coming right at you on a mountain top you'll be glad of the goggles and a balaclava to pull right up!

Arms
Arm warmers are an excellent piece of kit, around 12. They allow far better fine tuning of your temperature during a ride. Plus they stuff away in to a very small space. Take care if stuffing them in a jersey pocket though as when one falls out and is lost the other one is pretty useless! (anyone want to buy one arm warmer...?)

Body
The most important piece of clothing you can carry is your waterproof jacket. The other kit helps make the ride more comfortable, but your jacket can save your life. Buy the best one you can afford, I highly recommend the Polaris Stormlite for around 75.
Another piece of road/general cycling kit I like is the chest protector, around 12. Worn underneath your jersey these look a bit like a bullet proof vest, but do a great job of preventing the front of your body getting seriously chilled on Winter night training rides. The alternative is to wear more jerseys/thermals but then you're in danger of over-heating the rest of your trunk. If you over-heat (possible even on very cold rides) you'll feel slow and week and your ride may even be ruined.
On the very coldest nights a Cannondale Micro-Fiber jersey is the warmest base layer money can buy, around 30. Again these are too hot for ordinary use and as they're not wind proof they can only be used as a base layer. I often use a Summer jersey with arm warmers as a base layer, as this allows more adjustment if you over-heat. Add the chest protector when it's colder.
A good addition to these base layers is a light-weight Pertex wind-cheater. These look like waterproofs, but are in fact a much more breathable alternative. They are the lightest top layer you can buy and they stuff away to the size of a sandwich in no time if your temperature climbs. Around 40.

For more winter clothing and general winter tips see Winter Tips

Coming soon - Ride the night feature!
We know night riding! don't even think of going out after dark without reading this article.

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