Having to train through Victoria’s winter is both a blessing and a curse. Although we are able to train outside all year round because of the more moderate climate, it makes for some miserable training days. I think back on the four hour 4 degree Celsius rides in the pouring rain and wonder if riding inside might have been better. Once I get my sopping wet clothes off, numb hands out of my gloves and slowly begin to thaw out I start to appreciate that I just rode outside in January and didn’t have to worry about –40 Celsius and frostbite or sweating up a storm in the basement while watching other cyclist enjoy the roads during the Tour de France rerun.
However, over the years I have learned how to make these miserable rides a little more bearable. The key is to have the right gear for the right day and layering them properly.
On a particularly gross day (4 degrees, heavy rain and some wind for good measure) I begin by putting on some Sportsbalm medium heat cream. This has a slight warming aspect to it but also acts as a wind barrier directly on your skin. I usually just put it on the parts that get hit by the wind most ie. quads, shins and wrists/forearms. Once I have done this, the base layer goes on. Thin wool cycling socks, thick winter leg warmers, Rider’s Cycles team shorts, Diadora wind block undershirt and a winter beanie that covers the ears. Next goes arm warmers and Rider’s Cycles team jersey or a full zipp long sleeve jersey (full zipp so you can regulate heat as needed under outer layer) and a wind proof shoe cover that will keep initial heat in.
Finally, the most important layer is the proper outer jacket and set of gloves and booties. For this I use the Rider’s Cycles team jacket, as it is the most versatile for any conditions. It is breathable, micro fleece lined, water-resistant and most importantly windproof. The key to staying warm, even when you are soaking wet, is to not allow the wind to flow past your damp clothes and skin. The same goes for your feet and hands so I have a winter fleece lined water resistant booty that fits snuggly over my shoes to block water and wind. For gloves, finding a windproof, waterproof fleece lined glove is the best. I use the axiom winter glove but I have seen others basically wearing ski gloves. Whatever keeps your hands warm will keep you a lot happier. And finally of course, goes on the helmet and the glasses to keep my head safe and the rain and road muck out of my eyes.
On days like these there is nothing that will keep you dry while riding for four hours, so staying warm and wet is your best option. The key to that is breathable warming layers that are windproof.
As for the bike, the best thing you can do to make winter riding more enjoyable is to have it properly prepared for the season. Having a pre winter tune up to make sure nothing breaks down while you are in the pouring rain in the middle of nowhere is a good idea. Installing some front and rear flashing lights, as the days are short and you are often out at dusk when motorists do not easily see you. As for making your riding time more comfortable, the best thing you can do is have a full set of fenders installed. I would suggest having this done by a mechanic so it is done properly, with extensions and without you losing your mind trying to get them not to rub. The rain gets you damp, the water on the road soaks you to the bone.
With all these things added up, you can spend a lot more time riding before you get wet, cold and miserable. It has taking me a while to acquire all these articles so if you are on a budget and looking for the best things to get, I would start with a good quality outer layer and fenders. You can always layer other cycling clothes on under a good outer layer for warmth.