Those hot summer nights and weekend rides in short sleeved jerseys seem years ago, nevermind months.
One moment you’re enjoying the sun, sipping a can of coke and eating an ice cream at a scheduled stop, and the next, you’re wearing twice as many layers and just putting in the miles to keep up the fitness. Sound familiar?
Cycling in the cold can be unforgiving — it’s not for the faint of heart — but keeping up with your training throughout the winter will make you a stronger and faster rider come spring.
This blog post will provide you with tips for cycling in cold weather, from how to fuel and what to wear to how to stay safe. We know how training in the cold can be relentless, so we’re here to help.
How to fuel when cycling in the cold
Often, when people think about cycling in the cold, the first thing that pops into their mind is what to wear. And although we’ll get to that, we want to mention the importance of fuelling — it’s often forgotten when the temperatures drop and the thermals come out.
But keeping up those energy stores and drinking enough fluids is absolutely critical.
When the weather’s hot, it’s easy to drink more — you’re sweating, the sun is beaming down, and you know you should take a drink.
Although perhaps less obvious, we also sweat in the colder months — dehydration is a real risk, even in winter. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids on the bike year-round. Colder temperatures can actually cause excessive sweating — you need to replace the water and electrolytes lost.
Aim to drink little and often. If you’re looking for a baseline, one bottle per hour is a good starting point.
So, what about fuel? You know, the good stuff — the snacks.
Well, the same rules apply: you need to eat little and often for rides over 60 minutes in length. Aim for easy-to-digest, quick-releasing carbohydrates. However, avoid difficult-to-open snacks or even snacks that could freeze. Instead, choose something that is easy to open and even easier to eat.
The Styrkr high carb energy bars and energy gels are a great source of quick-release carbohydrates. You can also add an electrolyte powder to one of your water bottles to replace lost electrolytes via sweat.
What to wear when cycling in the cold?
Layers are your best friend when dressing for the cold weather. A good base layer will become a staple in your winter cycling kit — you can also buy thermal base layers for added warmth. It’s especially important to protect the ears, hands, and feet — these get cold quickly.
When cycling (and during other exercises), our core body temperature rises rapidly. And for those who love numbers, strenuous exercise may increase heat production by as much as 1,000 watts, as found in one study.
Dressing in layers allows you to easily remove layers when you inevitably get a little hotter — that could mean unzipping the jacket (or removing it), taking off a gilet, or removing your gloves.
We’d always suggest wearing more layers than you think you’ll need than underdressing — it’s difficult to get warm if you haven’t got the necessary layers. And let’s not even think about getting a puncture and being stuck by the side of the road with too few clothes — I’m getting cold just thinking about it.
Below you’ll find a list of basic layers we recommend for the bike in cold weather:
- Base layer — a versatile piece of kit for all weather conditions.
- Leg and arm warmers — easy to remove, but great when you need them.
- Thermal bib tights (if it’s very cold) — added warmth on the coldest of rides
- A long-sleeved jersey — one with thermal layering is even better.
- A quality pair of cycling gloves — protect the hands with a good pair of gloves.
- Overshoes or winter cycling shoes — these will keep your feet warm cycling.
Dressing for the winter is an art — get it wrong, and you’ll suffer, but get it right, and you’ll be warm, toasty, and focused on your ride.
How to stay safe when cycling in the cold
Cycling in winter is a lot more dangerous than in the other months. There’s snow, ice, excessive rain, blistering winds, and darker nights.
So, how do you stay safe when cycling in the cold? First, you need to dress the part — wear the appropriate winter cycling gear (as listed above) but also choose highly reflective clothing options when possible.
You should also add additional lights and reflectors to your bike and helmet. And If you're cycling on country roads, we’d also recommend using a helmet light — this will light up the road and show you the path ahead, helping you avoid potholes and other hazards. Just make sure to dim your lights when approaching oncoming traffic. Check out our how to cycle safely at night blog post for more tips on cycling after hours.
Top tip: let out a little tyre pressure for added grip on snow, sleet, and ice.
And now for the advice you don’t want to hear: sometimes it’s best to cycle indoors or skip a training session.
When there’s snow, ice, and other torrential weather, it’s often not worth the risk. Luckily, that does not have to mean no training — you can use a smart trainer with apps such as Zwift, or if you can’t cycle inside, why not replace your session with a gym session?
Jason Streather, BC Level 3 Coach @pdqcyclecoaching mentions how winter is a great time of year to add strength and conditioning work to your training, improving your strength and flexibility. Jason also recommends pilates, yoga, and plenty of stretching. You can read more advice from Jason in our top 10 tips for winter cycling training blog post.
How cold is too cold for biking?
There is no right or wrong answer — it depends on where you live. But most cyclists would agree that anywhere below 0 degrees Celsius is when you might choose to head indoors. Snow and ice do not bode well with cycling.
Is it possible to ride a bicycle during winter?
Yes! It is entirely possible to ride your bike during winter. But you might not be able to ride it every day — check the weather forecast, be sensible, and if you’re adamant about training, consider an indoor trainer for when the weather is less forgiving.
Is it safe to cycle in winter?
As long as you have the right winter cycling gear and know what to expect, cycling in the cold is safe. But you should keep an eye out for wet leaves, patches of ice, and other weather-related hazards.
Can cycling in the cold make you sick?
If you do not layer up or practise proper hygiene, then you’re more likely to become sick. Wear the right gear, heat up following your ride, and practise proper hydration and nutrition to prevent any issues.
Know when to cycle in the cold
Cycling in winter comes with numerous challenges, from adapting your riding style to layering up and staying safe.
Riding throughout winter will make you a stronger, faster, and more resilient rider. But you need to know when it’s safe to ride outside and when it’s best to opt for the smart trainer or, in some cases, a day off.
Train smart, check the weather forecast, and don’t push the boundaries — cycling on ice is not worth the risk.