As temperatures drop and daylight wanes, many cyclists hang up their bikes for the season and retreat to the sweaty comfort of spinning class. But with winter temps averaging in the mid-40s and plenty of Rocky Mountain sunshine before dusk, dedicated riders can enjoy cranking out miles all year long. The right cold-weather gear and a few minor adjustments to your bike will let you pedal on Old Man Winter’s time.
When winter falls in Boulder, many of the favored climbs west of town are too packed with snow, ice and sand to ride. To the east, however, lower elevations and lots of sun exposure offer year-round potential. It’s not unusual to get a 60-degree day in January or February, and you can bet cyclists will be out in droves. Warm days are the exception, however, so prepare for cold weather with the right gear.
Fleece-lined, wind-resistant tights and thicker socks will keep the wind at bay. Gore-tex-style shell pants are a must on slushy days. Cycling shoes are great for venting heat in the summer, but in cold weather you’ll want a pair of covers/booties to keep toes warm. Some riders find this the biggest obstacle to winter riding and use heat packs in their shoes.
For your torso, layer. A medium-weight, wicking base against the skin should be followed with warmer fleece layers. Feel free to wear a looser fitting jersey over your layers (to hold tools and energy snacks) or a wind-proof shell. Perhaps most important is a balaclava and a thin but warm beanie to keep your head, face and ears warm under your helmet. Complete the look with thicker, full-fingered gloves. For especially cold days, lobster-style insulated mitts are warmest.
If you’re riding on sandy/icy roads, consider switching out road slicks for treaded tires. While not as speedy as slicks, they grip better on icy patches and shed sticky sand. And insulated water bottles not only keep cold drinks cold, they keep hot drinks hot.
Commuters essentially have the same layer and tire issues as road riders. Since they likely won’t be pushing as hard, overheating from the inside isn’t as much of an issue for commuters. Ensure you have a good lighting system — both front and back — to be seen on bike paths and in bike lanes. Redundant lights are an excellent idea to make yourself as visible as possible.
Mountain bikers need to adopt the same layering philosophy as roadies. Trails are often frozen hard, so knee, shin and elbow pads (and of course a helmet) are highly encouraged. Since mountain bikers are prone to falling more on snowy and icy trails, make sure base layers wick well and dry quickly. Gore-tex shells for top and bottom are a good idea. If you can’t get out before sunset, investing in a high-quality lighting system lets you light up the night, and don’t skimp on quality if you want to stay safe. Studded tires can be bought (or made) to ensure extra grip. Lastly, consider insulated water bottles or an insulated tube system for Camelbaks to keep your precious H2O from freezing.