January 2015

jamesdean's picture

Winter warmers from the Caucasus - Gear for Winter Mountain Biking

I was recently asked what cycle specific clothing could a friend buy that would make him more comfortable during a winter ride. I offered my advice to which came the usual comment… “It’s very expensive!” “Yes, I suppose it is,” was my reply. Though coming from a background in the fashion business where, in my mind at least, prices simply can’t be justified I can with hand on heart say that with technical clothing, “it’s usually worth it”.

Okay not every brand on the market is worth its price tag but if you go for well reviewed clothing you shouldn’t have any problems. The fact remains that, although it can be expensive, riding in technical clothing made for the specific purpose of spending time in the saddle in all weathers does actually improve the comfort of your ride. And with most of the tech clothing I’ve bought it’s lasted for years rather than months so in the long run it works out quite economical.

For instance wearing a pair of padded under shorts won’t stop you from feeling sore after a day in the saddle, but they will make you feel less, and noticeably less, sore than not wearing them. Wicking fabrics, designed to draw moisture away from the skin which are used in base layers and jerseys will leave you more comfortable and less sweaty during the ride than say, a t shirt or sweatshirt. Even waterproofs ‘that aren’t totally waterproof’ will leave you a lot more comfortable after riding in torrential rain than just a normal jacket or shorts. Of course the old saying, “you get what you pay for” applies here too. A fifty quid waterproof jacket will keep you dry for a while, but a 150 quid jacket will keep you dry for a while longer. None of them will keep you dry throughout a day long onslaught of rain, at least not in my experience anyway.

So why is this? If it’s sold as waterproof, it should be well… Err waterproof. But that’s not so, selling a jacket as waterproof means that it’s passed or conformed to, certain criteria or a standard of waterproofNESS. This is measured in mm, (which is represented by the height of a 1mm wide column of water bearing down on the fabric!!!) so a jacket labeled waterproof to 12,000mm is quite highly rated and a jacket labeled waterproof to 5000mm is rated significantly lower. They’ll both keep you dry for some time but one for a lot longer than the other.

Then there’s breathability, the ability of a fabric to allow moisture created by the body whilst exercising to escape from the microclimate created by your ‘waterproof jacket’. This is also important as you don’t want to be protected from the rain only to find you’re soaking wet through from sweat at the end of the ride.

So I suppose if you accept that, a waterproof jacket, or shorts, or gloves or socks will not keep you totally dry in any weather and wicking fabric will not keep you completely dry under very heavy exercise then you can start buying what you can afford and what you think you’ll get the most use from without been disappointed. What technical clothing will do however is offer a certain level of protection and comfort which will be far superior to wearing non technical clothing in the worst conditions a typical winter will throw at you.

With this in mind here’s my advice for a more comfortable winter ride.

For your upper body go for 3-4 layers starting with a good wicking base layer, a jersey mid layer (or two if it’s very cold) followed by a hard or soft shell waterproof/ windproof jacket on top to keep out the wind and rain. Generally if you wear enough so that when you go outside you’re a little cold, by the time you’ve been riding for 15 minutes you’ll be warm enough.

For your lower half I would recommend padded lycra cycling shorts for comfort, with either waterproof or hardwearing baggy shorts, ¾ or full length trousers whichever style you prefer over the top. I use waterproof shorts in winter as the splash back from muddy trails soon works through your shorts and there’s nothing worse than a wet arse whilst riding.

For a more comfortable ride thermal/ waterproof gloves will stop your hands going numb from the cold and wet mid ride. There are many brands which offer waterproof riding shoes or boots shimano been just one of them, but for a cheaper solution overshoes made from neoprene work very well to keep the cold out. Also Sealskinz do waterproof socks, that although not entirely waterproof do keep your feet generally dry and at least once they do get wet they stay warm.

Here are a few places to try for winter gear and of course now is the time to buy with the sales on and the weather been typically challenging for this time of year: