This post goes a long way towards hopefully helping you think about ways to battle the wintery conditions as we creep into December in bicycle-land, but upon re-reading it I felt a few things might need some reiteration or clarification. Further, there is a saying that I try to subtly echo on this blog, in the "Perfect Weather for a Bike Ride" banner: there are no bad days, only bad equipment. That can be true for some of the simplest things. Just a couple of those simple things are here:
I don't know about you, but when my heart-rate goes up and cold air is added, my nose runs. It's annoying, and the resultant sniffling is a constant soundtrack for all my winter rides. Every conceivable type of cycling glove, winter or summer, has a "thumb wipe" surface on it, so it's certainly not an individual problem. However, if you are like a lot of winter cyclists that found their winter riding glove solutions somewhere other than the local bike shop, you may not have this handy feature. Someone out there is a thinker:
The Glove Spot
Brilliant - available at many other places than the above link directs, but they had the best depiction of it.
Super soft, usable with ANY glove, washable. You want one.
Method on LONG rides: DAB, don't wipe, if you can help it. Especially when charged with electrolyte-rich hydration, your nasal secretions can be quite abrasive... multiply by the number of wipes it takes to complete a 200k, and you can look forward to a few days of red, irritated discomfort around the edges of your nose. A gross subject, perhaps - but simply everyday life for the winter cyclist. It's hard enough riding in the cold - so, even keeping your nose cozy can prevent the dreaded "fatigue multiplier"!
Dryness as a cold multiplier:
Hydration is very important in winter, even if it's not immediately apparent on the bike. I've been guilty of this on many occasions, where the feeling of rushing through the cold air on a winter ride simply does nothing to trigger the "I need a drink" reaction.
The air masses that bring cold air into the continental US are very dry indeed and you can feel the effects as dry skin, chapped lips, static electricity buildup, and more. Dry, cracked skin can make already cold air feel even colder, and is generally uncomfortable! Use lotions, lip balm and hand salves to keep moisture locked in - you'll sleep better, too, without those dry skin "itchies" that plague some of us. Hot teas and coffees are great warm-ups at controls - but remember the effects of caffiene on hydration and compensate accordingly with plenty of water and hydration solutions. Above all else, drink before you're thirsty! Zipping along through dry, cold air can suck the moisture right out of you - just like riding in the desert! Dry works without hot - stay on top of hydration, even in the cold! Keeping the connection between comfort on the bike and adequate hydration on AND off the bike is essential. Eight-to-ten 8oz. servings of water per day is a good start, off the bike.
Making this especially hard ON the bike, however, is the fact that it is difficult to stay hydrated if your water is frozen.
As a bonus, electrolyte-rich water in your bottles has a lower freezing point than plain tap water, so try those fizzy electrolyte tabs in your bottles. If its really cold, keep a bottle in your back pocket, under your jacket to prevent freezing. The very bottles you choose can make a difference, too: insulated bottles can help keep your drinks from freezing as fast, and bottles with the newer "Camelbak-style" nozzles don't freeze up quite as badly as traditional "pop-top" bike bottles.
Finally, though I'm not a fan, wearing a slim hydration pack inside your outer layers can help keep things flowing - but be sure to tuck the drinking tube back into your jacket between sips to prevent freezing.
I can't see!
Low sun angle, bright car headlights, and headwinds that rush behind your riding glasses and make your eyes water incessantly! Ugh, the trials of winter riding... I submit to you, cycling caps. Yeah, yeah -- some will cry "euro-trash" or "pro-wannabe", but you'll seldom catch me on a ride of any kind without a good cycling cap. Whether it keeps the rain off your glasses and helps you see the road, whether it prevents the cold headwind from drying out your eyes - or making them water so much you can't see straight, whether its acting as a visor against the low sun, or preserving your night vision against on-coming traffic on a dark road - the cycling cap is definitely not just some useless 80's pro-style throwback. It's layers for the head for me: a winter beanie or ear-band, and cap. If everything else in your cycling wardrobe is neon yellow, like me, the cycling cap can be your quiet homage to your favorite team, or just basic black - but it doesn't matter: That visor is GOLD.
Be careful: helmet fit should be maintained. It's remarkable how "just one more" thin layer of fabric can render a summer-time helmet really tight -- it's a good time to shop the clearance rack for a larger, or generic "one-size" "winter" helmet. you can fit bulkier winter head layers under it without sacrificing fit or safety. Plus, for VERY cold days, you can tape off the vents to help hold in heat and block out cold air, or use it as a platform for your winter helmet light set-up. Also, insist on genuine cycling caps... ball caps won't work here, unless you ride a recumbent -- the visor is TOO large, and can block too much of the road.
On that note - especially if you aren't used to riding with a visor: keep your head up... if you're a heads-down rider, a new visor can be an effective way to find the back of a parked car when you don't want to.
Other quick tips:
Buddy up: a lot of riding is done solo, but someone to talk to or share supplies with can be valuable. If you can't, make sure someone knows where you're headed, via email or the like.
Check your supplies: Tubes and patch kits can dry out after a season in the seat bag, so winter is a good time to make sure you rotate these items and ensure that if you get that dreaded winter-time repair opportunity, you have what you need - and it's all fresh and ready.
$1.99 survival: getting sweaty on a winter ride can be dangerous, and many don't think beyond the short term roadside ordeal. If your roadside ordeal becomes longer than expected, like someone needs to come pick you up, be smart. Keep moving around, a brisk walk with your bike towards your intended pickup location - keep the body heat UP, to prevent shivers and possible hypothermia. If you have to spend some time sitting it is very handy to have packed along a silver emergency blanket. Available almost everywhere, fits in any seatbag, and cheap... you never know. For most adventure races, this is required equipment on the packing list -- make it part of your seatbag kit, too, even if it's just a short ride.
Batteries are cold, too: it's also a good time of year to refresh your taillight batteries. Cold air can reduce the output of most batteries, and if you've already been running your taillight through the summer months, they could be close to dead anyways. Keeping them fresh can help keep you seen on dim, grey days. Rechargeables are great here, too, as are the more expensive lithium AA cells: though pricey, they don't succumb to the cold as quickly as alkalines.
That's all I have for now...hit the comments if you have more!
Dress up... go ride!
See you out there!