The Mountain Bike Life

As anyone that’s ridden in the cold season knows, the proper clothing can turn your ride from “death wish” to something worthy of at least two free beers. The key to surviving winter rides is actually pretty simple: layer your clothes! It’ll keep you warmer to begin with, you can take some off if you’re working hard, and it’ll keep you from freezing to death if you fall down somewhere wet.

It’s important to note the skid mark trailing down the hill to where my bike is laying (backwards)

For the top half, I like to have two always-on layers, and one removable. Under Armour is, regardless of the temperature, a must. On hot rides, it keeps your pack and shirt from sticking to you as you get sweaty. On cold rides, it keeps whatever sweat you make off your skin, meaning you won’t feel like you’re freezing to death after that break at the top of the hill. Long sleeves are definitely a good idea! Above the Under Armour, I just go for a plain t-shirt or jersey. Nothing too fancy, really. As it gets colder, I usually do away with the looser shirts, and aim for somewhat tighter, thicker materials.

Under Armour and a Fox jersey are the perfect combination for chilly (~10C) days.

I tend to be a fairly warm person in general, so I usually don’t wear too much on the top. I like to pack along what I believe is actually a running jacket – made by Mizuno, it’s essentially a short-sleeve, water resistant poncho. It’s not too warm and it vents pretty well, but it definitely makes a huge difference when you’re going fast.

It looks kind of goofy when you’re wearing it, buuuuut it works really well!

As for the bottom half, it’s pretty basic. Over my chamois shorts, I wear a schnazzy pair of Pearl Izumi tights – fleece lined, with a 6” zipper at the ankle.  They probably don’t qualify as “high fashion”, but I think that’s a small price to pay to keep bits of you from freezing off. Over those I wear my usual mountain biking shorts, partly for pockets and partly so’s I don’t look ridiculous.

Chamois, absurdly reflective Pearl Izumi tights, Zoic shorts.

Quite a bit has been said about buying shoe covers. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve only used them a few times, so don’t take my word as gospel truth here. I have found, though, that they aren’t worth the price. I certainly wouldn’t pay real money for them. It seems much easier, cheaper, and less wreckable to buy yourself a few pairs of nice wool socks to wear while you ride (the picture is of Columbia socks, but my all-time favourite would have to be Sock Guy socks). On the trails I ride, it’s not really a consideration of “if” you’ll get wet; it’s more of a when.  I’ve found that decent socks are a much better way to prepare myself – I recommended wool because they stay warm, even after you’ve accidentally dismounted into a puddle, or misjudged the depth of the stream crossing.

I’ve actually put so many hours of riding into these socks that they’ve achieved a permanent foot shape. Remember: buy wool!

Hands are very import to keep warm, as I’m sure you all know. The fact that they’re on (usually) metal bars, with metal brake levers, and at the leading edge through the wind means that they usually get the coldest the fastest. The majority of my other cold-weather gear is either baseball or running oriented, but for gloves I find it’s definitely worth the money to get something bike specific. I tried a few, and eventually settled on the Pearl Izumi Cyclones. They’re warm enough for pretty much anything I’ve ridden in (the lowest I’ve ever had them out was -10C. If you’re a commuter and not lucky enough to live in the PNW, then you may want to get something heavier). They also have rubber strips on the fingertips, so even if you fingers are completely incapable of finging, you’ll be able to brake!

I bought these in August of 2010, and they’re still going strong!

Finally, the head! If it’s super cold, I’ll pack my balaclava, and pretend like I’m too focused on the trails to notice all the funny looks I get. If I’m planning on hitting the faster trails, I will sometimes trade that in for my full-face and a pair of goggles. Both keep me plenty warm, though I’ve had a couple days end with the balaclava frozen to my face.

Look cool, stay warm!

It’s important to note that people are different, though! These clothes may not actually work for you, so it’s definitely worth the effort to find brands and prices that work best for you. The most important thing, though, is to layer properly. It’s much, much easier to take off an extra sweater and throw it in your pack than it is to deal with frostbite. It’s a fantastic time to ride, but it’s also pretty dangerous – stay safe out there!

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