There is a saying that “there is no such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothing.” I refuse to agree with that statement, but with the right clothing choices, nearly any winter day in Oklahoma is rideable.
If you are one of those nut-cases that enjoys riding the trainer, you can keep doing what you are doing. If you can tolerate the trainer, you can build a lot of fitness on it during the pre-season. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those nut-cases.
In the years past, my hands and feet have always been my limiter. I can keep my head, face, torso, and legs very comfortable, but my hands and feet would always get extremely cold. For my hands, I tried knit gloves, fleece liners, fleece gloves, neoprene gloves, ski gloves, and pretty much every mixture of two of those, and nothing really worked. I finally decided to buy lobster gloves (mine are by bontrager, but pearl izumi and other companies make similar styles) and they worked wonders. For me, they were definitely worth the money. They will last for years, so it really isn’t a bad investment. They are windproof and waterproof, so even on windy and wet days my hands stay pretty toasty inside them. I experimented with some of the Hot-Hands chemical hand warmers this year, but the jury is still out. They need to be exposed to air to stay warm, so when they are inside windproof gloves they don’t seem to do much.
Wool socks are a must-have for feet. I find them warm in the winter, but not too warm in the spring. I’ve used plastic shopping bags over my feet with pretty decent results, but your feet get soaked from sweat. I’ve tried them inside my socks, outside my socks, and between two pair of socks. It worked pretty well in any of those scenarios, but my friend and teammate Joey Mesa gave me a better tip. He puts the bag outside his shoe, and puts a show cover (nylon, neoprene, or a big sock) over the top. Then you cut or rip the bag where your cleat is so that you can still clip in and out. This worked well to keep my feet warm at the NWA Spring Classic. It keeps moisture and wind out and body heat in. Best of all, it doesn’t cost anything.
On the coldest days, I wear a balaclava that covers my head, face, and ears. If it is in the 40s, I’m usually good with just something thin that covers my ears and head. I think I paid $5 for a thin cap at Academy, but if you can’t afford $5 you can cut the sleeve off an old t-shirt and pull that over your ears. I forgot to bring my cap to Mineral Wells Stage Race, so I bought a t-shirt from the doll store and fashioned some ear covers for the crit.
At NWA, Joey and I experimented with covering our helmet vents to make sure wind and water don’t get through to our heads. He used electrical tape. It looked cool, but took some time. I’ve used clear packing tape in the past, and that looks bad and leaves residue, but the strips are thick so the application time is lowered. At NWA, I stretched a swim cap over my helmet. That cost me about 30 seconds + $1; and no residue was left behind. Does it look cool? No. But lets be honest….we are dressed head to toe in lycra each and every day. What do we know about looking cool? It worked, and that was what I cared most about.
I’ve tried a few different brands of embrocation. I still put it on my legs, but honestly I can never really feel much a difference while I ride or race; I only feel it in the shower afterwards and for the next few hours. When I put it on my back and shoulders, it is a game changer. It feels awesome. Make sure you wash your hands after you put it on!
Using layers is super important, in my experience. The weather changes fast here, so giving yourself the option to take a few pieces clothing off as the day goes on is definitely a smart move.
A baselayer on your upper body will allow you to tolerate a few degrees less in temperature. There are some cycling specific ones like Craft, but they are pretty pricey. I got a cheap one at Target that works alright, but for a little more you can get a Bontrager one or Under Armour one that fit better and keep you a bit warmer. If I have something super tight around my chest, I feel like I can’t breath as well during hard workouts or races, so if I’m between sizes on a baselayer, I go with the bigger one.
On days above 45 and sunny, I can usually just do a jersey and a wind vest over the base layer and my upper body is fine. If it gets below 40 or it is wet or cloudy, I’m usually in a jacket. On raceway I’ll suck it up a bit more and might do a vest with an extra pair of arm warmers that I can take off if I get hot. If you know you aren’t going to get too hot in your vest on race day, consider wearing it under your jersey. That way you can keep the number pinned to your jersey rather than the mesh back of your vest. It still blocks out the cold wind, but you’ll be slightly more aerodynamic, assuming your jersey fits well.
I just got my first long sleeve jersey from Sugoi. These are kind of in between a jersey and jacket. I used it at NWA over a few other layers, and it seemed to work well. It will probably be a key piece of my early spring racing wardrobe next year.
It is important to always have your knees covered on cool days. I prefer knee warmers over leg warmers, but either works. It’s important to have the right size. Too small, and I feel like my legs are dead/tired the whole time. Too big and they move around or fall down. For extremely cold days, I’ll wear tights over my bibs to give my midsection an extra layer of coverage.
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