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!
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.
have now been superseded by SealSkinz, the new sock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
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.
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.
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!
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...?)
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.
more winter clothing and general winter tips see Winter
soon - Ride the night feature!
We know night riding! don't even think of going out after dark
without reading this article.