10 Must-Have Items for Winter Cycling
When I started riding fat bikes in the winter I wore my Sorel Pac boots (bought in 1992) and my cross-country ski pants over cycling tights.
It worked just fine so if you are new to fat biking don’t feel like you need all the gear, just get out there and have fun! However, over the years, I’ve found a few things that are my favorites:
1. Bibs that are pit-stop compatible, wind proof, and are three-quarter length. Bibs are perfect for keeping out cold drafts when your layers ride up. Of course, the drawback for us girls is pit stops. My favorite bibs at the moment are halter-style and are fairly easy to take down, the Giro Chrono Thermal Halter Bib Knicker. I say ‘fairly’ easy because everything is a challenge when wearing lots of layers. Three quarter length is nice for wearing tall socks without extra fabric bunching up.
2. Wind-proof pants. I upgraded from my xc ski pants to the Bontrager Old Man Winter Women’s Soft-shell pants and I LOVE them. The design is spot-on. I got tired of “making do” with other pants that didn’t quite work and I’m glad that I splurged on these. The waist comes up higher in the back than most, the zippered cuffs and snap easily accommodate the bulk of winter boots, and the adjustable waist with the built-in belt is convenient.
My favorite part is the zippered pockets on the front of the thighs. I put chemical hand warmers in the pockets when my thighs get cold. They are a roomy fit, which is nice because I wear my 3/4 length wind-front bibs underneath.
3. Heated gloves were a game changer for me and the only reason I can ride in the winter. Some riders can get away with lobster claw mitts but I need active heat to keep my hands and feet warm. Even with handlebar mitts/pogies and chemical hand warmers my hands get cold. I’ve had Gerbing Gyde S7 Women’s Battery Heated Gloves for four years. They’ve been through the wringer and have held up well. They have rechargeable batteries and on long rides I carry extras. I also bring a regular pair of bike gloves and lobster claw gloves so that the heated ones don’t get sweaty. But even when the heated gloves get sweaty, they still keep my hands warm.
4. Bar mitts/poagies. Check out Dogwood Designs and Revelate Designs. Bar mitts are essential to keeping your hands warm and they also will hold snacks, a handkerchief, and whatever else you think to stuff in them.
Around a fire with winter boots
5. Oversized winter boots. Bike-specific winter boots are not roomy enough in the toe box for my wide feet. I ride flats anyway so I wear my Ranger Thermolite winter boots. It’s an upgrade from my heavy Sorel Pac Boots that I wore for years. The key is to have enough toe room so make sure whatever boots you wear are a size or two larger than you normally wear. If it’s fresh and deep snow I’ll sometimes throw on gaiters for when I fall or step off the trail.
I also have a pair of Keen winter boots that work well for temps over 30 degrees and the stiffness of the soles is great for riding.
See my post for great options on winter cycling boots and how to keep warm with your existing boots. Contributors to the post are women ultra-endurance athletes (thanks ladies!).
6. Chemical hand warmers and duct tape. I duct-tape chemical hand warmers to my toes over my light to medium-weight wool socks (knee high socks because of the the three quarter bibs). I buy them by the box and use the ones made for hands because the ones for feet don’t cover enough surface area. I’ll throw on a pair of ankle-high wool socks over the hotties if it’s below about 25 F. Make sure your toes aren’t squished with the hotties. Squished toes = cold toes.
7. Puffy. I have the warmest puffy that Patagonia makes and stuff it into my seat bag. It is helmet compatible so I wear it over my helmet on descents with a wool balaclava and/or wool neck gaiter. It’s handy to have when we stop to make a fire. In addition, I have a myriad of layers – lightweight wool base layer, wool jersey, lightweight windbreaker and/or lightweight wind-proof vest.
8. Goggles. They may not be essential for most people, depending where you ride, but they help with stinging snow pellets in the wind and for downhill. Mine are cheap ski goggles. I’ve tried a smaller style as well to see if I can avoid fogging (with no luck so far). Seems like every winter rider I know has the same issue with fogging. I’ve seen riders on the trail with snowboarder helmets – it looks toasty!
9. Extra (wool) base layer top and extra wool beanie or balaclava for the descent back to the trailhead. As chilling as it may sound to change your base layer at the top of the ride, it’s essential in my opinion. The key is to strip your top layer off before getting cold. Most everyone I ride with does this before the ride down. (Our main winter trail has a descent of about 2000 ft back to the trailhead.) My favorite beanie is the merino wool cycling cap 45 North – it covers my ears well. It’s probably the best purchase I’ve made in awhile. It was a little big but I washed it and put it in the dryer and now it’s perfect.
10. Bike Bags. Carrying a hydration pack makes for a sweaty back and is a hassle when taking off/putting on layers. I have a frame bag, a seat bag, gas tank bag, and a feed bag. The water bottles go on my fork (and get a slug of whiskey to keep from freezing). I carry hot tea and cocoa as well. My new favorite bags is the Mag Tank 2000 Bolt On Cockpit Bag. No fumbling with zippers with cold hands or gloves. It’s perfect for a couple of candy bars and your phone. For more info on my bag set up see: 5 Perfect Presents for Your Favorite Fatbiker.
And winter sunshine in Wind River Mountains. Fossil Hill near Lander, Wyoming.
If you stay for the credits at the end of a Marvel Movie then you are probably still reading this. So your reward is bonus point #11 – Whiskey. I like my Stanley flask for whiskey and King Cage (made in the U.S. of A.) makes the Oliver Cage for just for that.