Cold-Weather Cycling

NCBC 1/8/2001


Layering allows you to change the amount of insulation you need depending on how your activity level and the climate change. Wearing too little is an obvious problem, but if you wear too much, youíll sweat significantly, which is not only uncomfortable, but can make you dangerously cold when conditions change.

In cold weather, youíll probably want to use at least two of the following layers:

Experience is the best way to determine the right number of layers for the weather. Itís best to start most cold-weather rides feeling somewhat chilly, but not very cold, and allow yourself to warm up to a steady temperature during your first mile. Remove a layer as soon as you start to feel like you might get too warm. If youíre still cold after a mile or so, add a layer. If you canít add enough layers to get warm, seek shelter.

If your ride is very short, e.g. a mile or two for transportation purposes, and your priority is comfort, go ahead and dress warmly from the start, and regulate your temperature by regulating your pedaling effort or removing layers.

A rack-mounted cycling bag is very useful for storing additional or discarded layers as you ride, especially for longer trips or when experimenting with cold-weather clothing. For thin layers, a jersey pocket may be large enough for storage.

Never try to ride long distances in the cold without extra layers for emergencies. If you have a mechanical or physical problem, your body temperature can drop fast when you stop. Try to stay near civilization, and be prepared to phone for help if something goes wrong. Most importantly, never go cycling alone in isolated areas (such as seldom-used mountain bike trails) in very cold weather. If you become injured or immobile, you may not be able to get help in time. And of course, you can never have enough spare inner tubesÖ.or matches.


Cold-Weather Clothing Options

Body Area

Base layer

Insulating Layer





polyester turtleneck


fleece liner


nylon windbreaker

waterproof shell



cycling tights

shorts + leg warmers

Long underwear

cycling tights

shorts + leg warmers


cold-weather cycling tights

jogging, hiking pants

wool army surplus pants






ski mask


Neck Gator

helmet/full-face helmet

helmet cover/taped vents




cycling glasses, motorcycle glasses

ski goggles


silk gloves

poly gloves

mx/cycling gloves

ski gloves

ski mittens

Leather gloves

Neoprene gloves

"Sealskinz"rubber gloves


wool socks

man-made-fiber socks

wool socks

wind/water proof socks under shoes

neoprene booties over shoes

hiking boots

winter boots



Other Equipment:

Winter Cycling Web Links:

The ICEBIKE web site - for those determined to let nothing stop them from riding. Great info:

Winter cycling class:

Affordable clothing solutions for the practical winter cyclist:


Riding Techniques: Handling Ice and Snow

Metal-studded tires are ideal on ice and hard-packed snow. Knobby MTB tires are also acceptable, and do well on shallow snow. Slicks should only be avoided if there is significant ice or snow on the road. Center-slick side-knobby tires allow safer turns but do not brake or accelerate well on snow or ice.

Platform pedals allow you to put your foot down fast if you slip. Wear boots; cycling shoes and clipless pedals donít work well when youíve been walking in snow.

Black Ice is a thin layer ice covering the road - it looks like a wet pavement. It is usually found where rain or melted snow has frozen due to falling temperatures. Avoid it if you can. If you must ride over black ice, do the following:

Textured ice and ice/snow mixtures make for unpredictable riding. Go slow, but braking and steering will be better then on a smooth sheet of ice.

Packed or shallow snow is often easier for maintaining control than ice, assuming the top surface has not glazed over. Be gentle with braking and turns. Knobby tires are all you need for these conditions. This can be a lot of fun, but be careful to avoid places where stumps, roots, and other hazards may be hidden under the surface of soft, loose snow.

Deep snow will give you quite a workout, or stop you in your tracks. How hard-core are you?

If your front tire suddenly slides sideways: Put your foot down on the side your body tips. Your foot will slide along the ice, and you now have three points of contact with the ground. Steer the front wheel slightly toward your tip direction to bring the bike back underneath you. Do not turn it too sharply or it will just slide, or may grab and throw you over the other side of the bike. When the bike begins to return, replace your foot.

If you are braking and your back tire slides sideways: Steer in the direction of the skid while reducing both front and rear braking. If you tip too far to stay on the bike, put your foot down and let it slide as a tripod until you regain control of the wheels.

Be careful where you stop and dismount. Try to find bare pavement or a surface with good traction properties before you put your feet down.