Cycling in the Cold – aka don’t wimp out in winter

My first really cold ride, at -6C, was in January last year doing the the Strathpuffer 24. but preparation made it easy with ice spike tyres …. and enough layers to make an onion scared.

This year i have been hitting the turbo which is not a great thing as there are only so many cardio fat burn whilst watching Breaking Bad sessions I can do

I couldn’t stand the thought of riding indoors again, especially for a two-hour ride. Some will call it justification, but I prefer to call it logic.  Cycling outdoors in the fresh air and sun would be much better for my mental and physical well-being than riding an indoor trainer for two hours.

icy roads
icy roads

No, I didn’t have to ride outdoors; it was a well-thought-out choice, a preference. After doing that first really cold ride, I now know that I can do it and I much prefer being outside than inside.


I don’t think riding outside in sub-freezing temperatures is necessarily dangerous, but I do believe certain precautions are wise:

  • If the roads are snow-packed or icy, try to choose a route that has low traffic volume.
  • Relearn how to brake – a fistful of brake can see you hit the deck pretty hard
  • Minimize long downhill sections to avoid getting cold from wind chill.
  • A mountain bike, with its wide tires, is more stable than a road bike.
  • Run lower tire pressure to increase traction and handling.
  • Ride with a buddy so that if one of you has trouble, there is another person to lend a hand.
  • Carry disposable chemical hand or toe warmers. They can be put in your shoes if your toes get cold, or can be used to warm your hands if you have to do a mechanical repair.
  • Carry a cell phone.
  • Have someone available to pick you up if you call for help.


I’m sure you already know that some people show up in a jersey and knee warmers for the same ride that someone else will be wearing leg warmers, arm warmers, a vest and a base layer shirt. I’ll give you my personal preferences for cold-weather riding gear, but know that I get cold easily.

Recently, I did a ride where the temperature ranged from 10.9 degrees to about -2C degrees, not counting wind chill. I’ll take you through my outfit from head to toe.

and ear muff thing


Merino inner layer
Rapha long sleeve Jersey
Rapha Gilet
Rain Jersey – more as emergency extra windproof layer

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rapha 3/4 bibs
old arm warmers as lower leg warmers (leg warmers may be better)

Shimano shoes and neoprene covers

Gloves long fingered but not very thick

If the weather gets colder i sometimes wear my Nike running tights over the cycling bib and a thicker jersey over the long sleeve on instead of the Gilet. A neck warmer is handy too for the chin.


Trouble shooting – weird Heart Rate spikes, dropouts and how to eliminate them

For those who train with heart rate monitors, you have probably encountered a session where your HR graph just doesn’t make sense. With my garmin it used to start fine then my HR would skyrocket up to the 180’s 190’s and I would be dead if I was there 200’s. With my Suunto – sometimes I would get no reading before it kicked into life …

Suunto no record then suddenly pop into life ...

After you finish your activity and get back to your computer, you’ll probably see something like this – a major HR spike a dropout or even a level no read situation, followed by more normal HR activity: Below is my reading from the Alloa Half Marathon on the weekend with flouro yellow highlights of bits that don’t make sense ….

Frustrated, you wonder if the battery needs changing but then the next time it is fine so you forget about it …but here is a reason why this might be happening.

I presume everyone can put their strap on correctly – that is the right way up and against the skin just under the ribcage …

So assuming that you’ve got it fitted right then let’s look at what typically causes the spike or dropout in HR

1) Are you wet yet?

During the winter months and in the case of Alloa on Sunday the air is often fairly cold, and fairly dry.  This means that you’re less likely to have moist perspiration on your skin (from heat) and even less likely to be generating any sweat right from the start of the workout.  This in turns lowers your belt’s conductivity ability to read your heart rate beats …..   Simply introducing any moisture at all will usually remedy the situation – at least until you begin sweating enough to let sweat do its job.

2) Synthetic quick dry shirts:

At Alloa I was wearing a synthetic shirt as opposed to my ‘normal’ nicer smelling Merino. An unfortunate side effect of synthetics is that they can dry out the body and the skin’s sweat making the belt so dry that it can’t ‘read’ the skin. Another issue is that synthetic material can build up static which can cause electrical interference with the HR belt.

3) Your mum is a gorilla:

I have heard some people of the hirsute variety have more errors ….. you need to be very hairy for this to affect the HR belt but if you are this way inclined … a) shave or groom b) stay swinging in the trees instead of running c) if female remain indoors and plait that hairy back …..

How to lick the problem:

It is pretty easy to fix

1) Sweat it: This first one is a bit obvious – but will explain why the problem often goes away after just a few minutes of activity.  Once you start sweating it improves conductivity.  This in turn makes the HR strap work …. but you still have the earlier misread ….

2) Lick it: This is the simplest option and what I do all the time. I just give the sensors a good gobbing – but hold onto your bogeys for the run.

HR gel

3) Heart Rate Gel: If you suck at licking, then you can instead use electrode gel to improve conductivity.  This is what’s typically used in medical environs for scans and using TENS machines …. it just ensures a good contact moisture seal between belt and skin. They are cheap as chips – about £5 for a big tube that will last years … If it is a dry very cold day and I remember then I use gel on the belt before heading out.

4) Shift the strap:

If you spot a dodgy reading then adjust the strap – a quick shift up and down normally gets the belt to rub against some sweat and the belt normal corrects pretty quickly. Some people shift the strap so it is half on back and front or even all on the back … i have not tried but it seems to work as an option.

5) Replace the batteries:

Finally, it could be as simple as old depleted batteries – most belts use CR2032 batteries so i always make sure I have a handful around ….

From the excellent road cc The manufacturers have…

From the excellent

The manufacturers have blitzed us these last few weeks with news of an ever-more-impressive selection of vests or what we have learned to call base layers in the modern layering parlance. It’s funny that; they must know us cyclists are never more motivated than the first freezing ride to rush to the bike shops for a cosy new winter warmer.

It’s important to make the right choice as, second only to your shorts, the right base layer being next to the skin will have a huge effect on comfort. There are now 100% synthetic, pure natural and clever blends of both and all have their pros and cons, not least on price where the range runs from £25 to nearly £60. Our selection of eight here are all so new they haven’t been reviewed yet but they’re all in the works and in the case of the Scott Next2Skin Base Layer, due to be posted any day now. Watch this space but meanwhile in alphabetical order…

Altura Second Skin Base Layer £24.99


The Altura basic cycling garments are at the lower end of the price spectrum but tend to offer the really useful technical features without the bells and whistles.The brand tends to be stocked by big bikes shops with lots of fancy clothing which then display Altura as a good value ‘house’ offer. Apart from this cosier Second Skin base, there is also a lighter weight summer option called Transfer for £20 but we’re naturally going for the warm option here and there are both men’s and women’s cuts. A fairly high percentage of elastane – that’s the stretchy component in Lycra – 8% + 92% nylon means this base has a snug fit and we expect it to be a whiffier garment that needs a cool wash after every ride out but soft cottonish feel and seamless construction also means we hope it’ll be super-comfortable.


Bontrager B3 Base Layer £29.99


The Bontrager base layers are numbered B1 to B3 with the warmer B2 and B3 making it to these UK shores presumably assuming our cyclists could do with the help in our dank winter climate. To be honest the £27.99 mid-weight B2 is all we’ll mostly need especially as they only come long-sleeved but we can personally vouch for earlier versions of the B3 which make excellent warm base garments for all outdoor activities including just loafing around in the winter outdoors with appropriate sweaters and coats layered on top. Soft to the touch in 100% polyester, the fabric is knitted to feel cosy inside and to wick away moisture with a smooth exterior to slip against top layers for comfort and easy removal.


Craft Zero Extreme Crew Neck Base Layer £35


Not a well-known brand here but providing the kit for the Leopard-Trek professional cycling team raised the profile of Craft no end and it turns out they’re a Swedish company that started off making warm winter base layers for all those icy, snowy sports the Scandinavians love so much. Craft kick off by saying that their Zero Extreme is “guaranteed to be the best fitting, best performing and most comfortable base layer yet,” so that’s encouraging. Craft say, “A hexa-channeled fibre against the skin enhances moisture transport and cools the body down, whereas a hollow fibre on the outside of the fabric offers insulation and transports moisture to the next layer.”


dhb Merino Long Sleeve Zipneck Base Layer £40.99


dhb is the house brand of online retailer Wiggle and they’ve gone full-on into luxurious 100% merino wool, offering crew and zip necks, long and short sleeves for men and women and even colour choices; the latter of which might be an issue if you’re wearing your base layer as a leisure top. The first impression here is that the fit being long and fitted is more ‘performance’ orientated than ‘leisure’ – see Howies – but that’s no bad thing. The feel is certainly nice next to the skin and fantastic claims are made for the natural anti-bacterial qualities of fine merino wool making it relatively sweet-smelling after exercise.


Frankly Mens Basic Crew Tee £59


Now here’s an interesting one; a new Anglo-Australian company offering baselayers made from all-natural Neobi; “an organic cotton merino wool mix which wicks perspiration away from the skin to the outside of the fabric, keeping the wearer cool in the heat and warm in the cold.” They say the 200-grams per meter weight will feel like a mid-weight tee shirt and is excellent for warm to temperate climates and for underlayers in winter months. Also claimed is minimal odour, long life and no chemicals; got to be worth a try although the more complex garments with polo necks and half zips range up to £85.


Howies NBL Classic £55


OK, no introductions needed for Howies here but the NBL Classic in 100% merino wool has had a facelift and the slightly looser fit and colour choices suggest garments you’d be happy to wear indoors and layered out for leisure. Howies is one of those premium brands that attracts a Marmite reaction, some saying that £55 for a vest is ridiculous and others that for a garment you wash and wash over many years, it’s good value. We forgive them a lot for their branding being quiet and understated; plus in the case of the NBL Classic, it’s made in Fiji which has to be a first.


Scott Next2Skin Base Layer £49.99


Three different weights and textures in Meryl Microfibre are employed in complicated shapes; partly to help with articulation but mostly to do with being warm where you want warm and breathability – around the armpit area for example – where you want moisture to wick and evaporate fast. The flatlock seams and utilitarian appearance suggest a technical, performance-orientated garment; our Mat is just on the verge of posting his report. There are short sleeved and sleeveless options as well as fits for men and women, the latter a big issue for comfort if a base is to be worn with a sports bra.