Winter is approaching, the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are approaching freezing point. Just a few decades ago, almost all cyclists were looking for an alternative sport for the cold season. Running, ski touring or cross-country skiing were – and still are – highly popular. However, skiing is not possible everywhere and running is not an option, especially for knee problems. With the boom in fitness studios, some cyclists were attracted to the spinning courses on offer. A few hard-boiled ones continued their training in the cold by mountain bike. With RaphaFestive500, more and more cyclists started out in the cold and with the triumphant advance of cycloscrossers, year-round training has established itself alongside the indoor twin communities that are growing in parallel.
Climate Michel and Windchill or just f*cold
Especially in winter, choosing the right clothing is a challenge. Whereas in the past some cyclists used to wear down jackets in winter, nowadays you usually only see ebike riders with a suitably thick jacket under which the heat quickly builds up during physical activity. The clothing industry is constantly developing new functional clothing. Achievements from sports with high demands on clothing such as diving or mountaineering are gradually spilling over into cycling. But when do you feel “properly” dressed? The German Weather Service uses the so-called Klima-Michel model to describe the human heat balance and, with the help of wind chill, to record the deviation of the temperature felt from the real air temperature due to wind speed. No matter how good these models and calculations will be in the future, every person is different. Thus, every clothing recommendation will apply to one person or another, but not to others. In addition, each individual is subject to a natural adaptation to cold temperatures. What is still felt to be sh*cold in autumn is already pleasantly warm in spring. The human organism has the ability to adapt to the cold winter temperatures, if you let it. However, if you heat your home to a cosy 22 degrees in winter and keep the bedroom at a tropical 20 degrees at night, you will not feel any adaptation. Why should they! If you regularly cycle outside, you can be sure of a certain degree of acclimatisation to the cold conditions.
What does the weather forecaster wear? *
This year I have received many questions about what the weather forecaster wears on her bike in winter. As a weather forecaster you do not know “THE WINTER”. The fluctuations in temperature have become quite big, especially with the climatic changes. Even in Germany there are differences from region to region. Nevertheless, I would like to describe in detail what I wear in the temperature range of minus 2 to plus 5 degrees. For this temperature range I have found “my” outfit. The position of the sun is low from November to February and therefore the factor sunshine plays a minor role in the choice of clothing. The listed clothes I have “accumulated” over the years and some of them are no longer available on the market. The prices are in the middle to high price range. In general, I have nothing against discount products and have even bought good running clothes at very reasonable prices. I haven’t had much luck with cycling clothing there yet. When it’s cold, I don’t want to make any compromises. I’m not fixated on one particular brand, but I’ve had better experiences with certain brands than with others.
Let’s start at the bottom: Feet
After many rides with cold feet, all sorts of socks and overshoes, I came to the solution: winter shoes. I now ride Northwave shoes for both crossers and road bikes. On the road bike the model Extrem GTX. The shoes have an aluminium sole. If they didn’t have one, I would have put one in. The shoes keep my feet warm. The model Celcius Arctic GTX for my SPD-Cleats is warmer and definitely keeps my feet warm even in stronger minus temperatures. I have only worn the racing bike model to minus 4 so far. Should it get colder and my feet cold, I would additionally put on my overshoes from Gore Bike Wear (model no longer available). As far as socks are concerned, I wear thick and cheap “Noname” sports socks as well as winter socks from Castelli or DHB. Should it get even colder, I would unpack my mountain sports socks with Merino fibre, which I had used for my high altitude tours.
Whether short or long, trousers are a matter of faith in cycling. Translated, it means: every butt is different and the choice of seat upholstery is the top priority. I personally get on best with Castelli upholstery and that’s why this is the brand of my choice for trousers. At the same time the quality of Castelli trousers is very good. In winter I wear the no longer current model Chic without straps. If you ever had to defoliate your entire upper body outdoors at minus 2 degrees to urinate, you know why I wear WITHOUT straps. The trousers are in the middle price segment and have no special wind stopper. However, the material is wind-repellent and roughened on the inside. On the front of the knees the trousers consist of two layers, which improves the mobility. If the temperature goes below freezing point, I have kept the option of overtrousers open. The overpants are actually normal bike pants without padding from VAUDE. I also have the Castelli Sorpasso ROS Tight, which I have not yet tested. According to the description, these pants are wind and water resistant (for muddy off-road tours!) and also warming at the front of the thighs and back, which I hope I won’t need the overpants option.
Gloves are always a balancing act. If you sweat too much, your gloves get wet and then cold in the wind. Voluminous gloves make gear changing difficult. I only use the trick with the thin silk gloves when it is very cold (in combination with Röckl winter gloves). On longer tours you have to take off the thick gloves every now and then for various reasons and then you like to “peel off” the silk gloves as well. The fumbling when putting on the gloves, which are usually damp, is annoying in the cold. Luckily I found out by chance that the gloves I originally bought for mountaineering are great for cold temperatures on the bike. The gloves from Salewa are not thickly padded. A warm inner lining keeps you warm even at slightly below zero temperatures, but even at higher temperatures you don’t sweat. The gloves are non-slip, offer perfect protection through Gore Windstopper (now called Infinium) and are touchscreen compatible. At minus 10 degrees and less, only ski gloves help me.
Head and neck
At the neck I swear on a tube cloth from Buff with Gore Windstopper. The Buff shields every breeze, is lined on the inside with a warm lining and has a robust windstopper layer. The cloth keeps its shape well. I clip the front under the helmet loop and pull it over the chin to the mouth. I can handle this very well in slightly sub-zero temperatures.
As a cap under the helmet, I wear a cap with a wind-repellent GripGrab forehead when the temperature is above zero degrees. When it’s colder, I change the cap for a windstopper cap with roughened inside from Castelli. I wear a wide string band of Polartec fleece from Haglöfs as extra protection for my ears and forehead. It is mandatory that I always have cotton wool in the ears. Helps against draughts and in summer against casual insects (once you’ve had a bug in your ears that didn’t want to come out, you never go without cotton wool again!)
My aero helmet from S-Works has proved to be a good helmet. Since the helmet is unisex and I have a rather small head, there is room for everything underneath and the helmet ends rather lower. Aero helmets also keep you warmer. If I don’t care about the look and it’s going into the severe frost zone, I sometimes replace my cap and bike helmet with a ski helmet. If it didn’t look so stupid, this would always be the helmet of my choice.
The onion principle is of course the means of choice when it comes to cool and cold weather outside. However, I have found that too many layers are also counterproductive. Sweat is increasingly difficult to transport to the outside with additional layers. Moisture transports heat away from the body and you cool down. Therefore I try to limit my number of layers as much as possible. I don’t wear cheap and inferior things under my jacket anymore, because they are often not very breathable. For me there is a vest from Gore, Castelli or DHB (my models have a similar quality) on the skin. If it’s below zero degrees, I replace the vest with a regular cycling jersey with collar (breathability!)
The highlight for me is the long sleeve jersey by Castelli with Polartec fleece. Unfortunately this model is no longer available. It is actually intended for cool winter days without a jacket and has a slightly wind-repellent outer side, but is still super breathable. The collar has an extra warming fleece insert. There is no heat accumulation and you are still wrapped up super warm. A dream!
As a finish I wear a water and windproof jacket from Biehler (model no longer available). The jacket is very breathable despite being waterproof. Unfortunately the jacket is cut short and in frosty temperatures the area between the coccyx and the bottom gets cold quickly. Here my already 9 years old Castelli jacket is used. It has a winter stopper layer and is cut slightly wider and longer. Both jackets have a special micro-fleece on the inside, which keeps very warm without creating a heat accumulation.
For winter clothing around the freezing point I would generally recommend products with high breathability. As soon as clothing gets damp or even wet, it transports heat away from the body. My indication that I’m dressed correctly is when I get a bit cold when I start driving and wonder if I need an extra layer. As soon as the circulation is then in full swing, the temperature sensation is perfect. Every person is different and I myself also notice that over the winter an adaptation to the cold temperatures takes place, keyword thermogenesis by brown fat tissue. According to my basic units in winter, my clothes are warm and only slightly moist after wearing them. I would only fall back on strongly warming or insulating layers such as down or Primaloft if the values were (significantly) below freezing point. Windproof clothing is especially important in hilly terrain. This makes it possible to wear less warm clothing, which would quickly lead to overheating or sweating on ascents, but it keeps you warm when the wind is stronger on descents or on the plain. At least the front of trousers and jacket as well as shoes and gloves should be windproof.
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