5 Ways To Stay Warm On Cold Rides

Here we go again…looks like the Polar Vortex has descended upon us once again. We don’t know about you, but so long as we don’t get one of our famous, downhome Carolina Ice Storms, we’ll keep riding outside as much as we can.

Now, you wouldn’t think a bunch of Southerners would know much about riding in the cold, but most of us actually grew up riding, training and racing in places like Vermont, Chicago, Pennsylvania, and Portland (Oregon, not Maine– which is a whole other animal), so we’ve learned a few things over the years about riding in the wet, the cold, and the snow.

So here it is: 5 Ways To Stay Warm on Cold Rides.

1. Layer Up

Using layered cycling clothing can help you adjust your temperature to suit the ride and the conditions. You can pretty much layer every part of your clothing system as the conditions warrant, from your feet all the way to your head. Click here for our guide to layering.

PRO TIP #1: No matter how well you think you’ve layer up on top, always bring a wind jacket or vest with you in case conditions take a turn for the worse. #1B is to bring some knee warmers on super cold days– if your knees get cold you can put them on over (but preferably under) your tights for extra coverage.

PRO TIP #2: Spare arm warmers, spare gloves or liners, a spare hat, and base layer can pack up small in a plastic bag that fits easily into a jersey pocket. On long rides, it gives you the option of changing out sweaty, damp garments for warm, dry ones.

PRO TIP #3: Don’t use super thick cycling socks with your cycling shoes. Instead, layer your overshoes as needed, putting insulated ones closer to the foot, covered by wind/waterproof ones.

Layering up is a great way to make sure you can a stay warm, and adjust your core temperature as you go
Layering up is a great way to make sure you can a stay warm, and adjust your core temperature as you go

2. Hot Water Bottle

Using an insulated water bottle filled with some warm tea or Skratch Labs Apples and Cinnamon hydration mix (which is absolutely delicious, by the way) can take the edge off a very cold ride. This is a tip that the pro’s use during early season races like Milan-San Remo to stay warm (check out a video here)

Make like the pro's, and use some warm tea to hydrate on your winter rides
Make like the pro’s, and use some warm tea to hydrate on your winter rides (Orica-GreenEdge)

3. Eat Enough

In the winter, you burn more calories on the bike than during the summer. Not only are you using fuel to exercise, but also to stay warm. That means that during the winter you should fuel up with a healthy breakfast like oatmeal, and then bring plenty of bars, chews or gels to eat while riding. This will give you plenty of carbs to keep your body warm and prevent the dreaded bonk—which could mean serious trouble if you’re far from home on a cold winter’s day.

Eating a solid, healthy breakfast, and having plenty of food for the ride will help prevent you bonking
Eating a solid, healthy breakfast, and having plenty of food for the ride will help prevent you bonking

4. Mix In Intervals

If you’re really feeling the cold, trying mixing in some intervals to bring up your body temperature. You can either 1) pick a target a good distance away and ride as hard as you can until you reach it, or 2) go by time, and ride as hard as you can for about a minute. Just make sure you don’t go so hard that you start sweating a lot, which can just make the problem worse.

Riding a few hard intervals is a great way to get your body temperature back up
Riding a few hard intervals is a great way to get your body temperature back up

5. Take a Rest

We usually like to plan our long, meandering winter rides with a destination in mind—usually a restaurant or café with warm drinks and food. But it’s OK to take a break at any time if you’re feeling cold, chilled, or just tired. Stop at a gas station, coffee shop, café, whatever, warm up and take a breather.

Go in and get warm, grab some hot tea or coffee, and eat a cookie.

PRO TIP #1: If you’re feeling the chill from a damp clothing, you can use your rest stop to change into your spare base layer, spare gloves or liners, and hat. That way you can go back out into the cold feeling dry and warm.

PRO TIP #2: If your toes are feeling very cold on your ride, see if you can get some aluminum foil or a foil food wrapper, and wrap up your toes. It’s not the most comfortable thing, but it does provide some additional insulation.

PRO TIP #3: Ask if the coffee shop or restaurant can refill your water bottles with hot water.

When you start feeling cold or chilled, go ahead and head indoors to warm up
When you start feeling cold or chilled, go ahead and head indoors to warm up

13 thoughts on “5 Ways To Stay Warm On Cold Rides

  1. Wrapping your feet in aluminum foil is a terrible idea. Metal transfers heat like crazy. That’s why your tongue will freeze to a flagpole instantly. If you want to ensure your feet become frostbitten, then wrap them in foil. Otherwise, forego the foil and call a cab for a ride home.

    1. Hi David,
      We’ve actually found the opposite, and this trick has worked for us on many training rides in the past. Aluminum foil is actually a great insulator instead of conductor, which is why it’s used to wrap hot food to keep it warm. It’s no substitute for a good pair of overshoes, but in a pinch it’ll work.

  2. My top cold weather riding tip is: “Don’t sweat.”

    You should leave the house feeling a *bit* chilly. If I’m not warm the first three miles, I’ll be fine. If I’m warm, I’ll sweat and then I will freeze. My clothing selection, layering, and pace are all dictated by the goal to not sweat. If I do sweat, then I need to ride that fast the rest of the way.

    I ride year round in SE Pennsylvania. Coldest ride last year was 8 F. Coldest so far this year was 20 F.

    1. Completely agree. Before leaving home, I put on what I’m going to wear on the ride and then walk around outside for a few minutes. If I’m a tad chilly (not cold), I’m good to go. If I feel comfortable, I’ll be sweating in 2 miles so I take something off before the ride.

  3. Aluminum foil reflect heat. That’s why forest firefighter’s emergency shelters and survival pack blankets are made out of the stuff. It is also the top layer of the Lake 303 cycling boot insole. (The shiny side of the foil should be facing your skin.) BTW, My feet have never been cold wearing Lake 303 boots.

  4. I wear a knitted watch cap under my helmet and insulated gloves on my hands. Both, in conjunction with layered clothing, do wonders to keep me warm.

  5. I’ve always had trouble with my fingers and hands. Even with 45 NRTH Sturmfist 4 gloves. But they seem to be OK in the low to mid 20’s for me even though they are rated down to 0-15 degrees. We are all different in what works for us individually.

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