Winter puts the skids under your riding in more ways than one, but it’s also the best time of the year to pick up new skills and experience the best the countryside has to offer in terms of fresh cold air, and deserted trails.
So wrap up warm and pay attention as we bring you a brief BIKEmagic guide to getting the best from the darker 6 months of the year.So how do you get the best from your winter clothing?
A lot of winter clothing choice is down to experience with how warm / dry each garment in your arsenal keeps you, and therefore what to wear for given conditions.
If you’re starting without this experience though, you could have a miserable time learning, so let’s take it right from basics.Layering
The idea behind layering is not just to sell you lots of different bits of kit but to give you a ‘stacking system’ of protection. This is achieved through mixing and matching different clothing weights and performance characteristics plus the added insulation of air trapped between.
Your base layer is the clothing right next to your skin. It provides a degree of warmth but it’s main purpose in a layering system is to “wick” sweat away from your skin and into outer clothing layers before it cools and takes your core warmth with it.
Mid layers are rarely needed in mountain biking as your body is working hard and pumping out a whole lot of heat. For really cold days a second base layer, lightweight fleece jersey or fleece gillet (bodywarmer) can add welcome extra warmth and can be stuffed in a backpack if it gets too much. However cosy it feels fleece is lame as an outer layer as it lets wind through very easily.
Shell layers keep the weather off your cosy clobber underneath. They can range from fully waterproof jackets in Gore Tex or similar fabrics, through mostly waterproof stuff like Activent, to Pertex and other showerproof cloth, right down to windproof but rapidly soggy windbreakers.
The problem is that any garment designed to keep the elements out will also keep the sweat and steam you produce from getting out.
Breathability is a key issue with selling jackets. Some (Activent, Pertex, Gore Tex and It’s friends (XCR, PacLite)) are capable of dealing with the condensation of steady riding. A whole bunch of (sometimes) slightly cheaper fabrics (Sympatex, Nikwax analogy, Hydroshield, Zephyr, Aquanot, and assorted proprietary treated microfibre’s) can cope with gentle riding while others such as Gelanots and Triple Point Ceramic are better than purely plastic macs. The truth is though, that nothing made yet can cope with the amount of sweat produced by a hard working mountain biker.
So what should you do if you’ll end up steamed from the inside or soaked from the outside either way?
The trick is to look for garments that get round the steam problem or at least decrease it.
Wicking fabric or mesh beneath the shell layer spreads the sweat out for a wider, faster evaporation area, while vents allow cooling air to be circulated without letting too much weather in. As usual though not all things are created equal. Yoke vents on the back of the jacket aren’t very good even before you stick a rucksac or Camelbak on top and many vents we’ve seen (Endura, Altura) are too small to make a significant difference. Other vents only work really well at higher speeds or in conjunction with the front zip opened (Berghaus, Helly Hansen) while others let a chilling breeze in even when they’re shut (Paramo). In fact this leaves only Pace (Winteractive) Race Face, Buffalo and Ground Effect on our reccommended vent vendors list.
There are other features that can make a big differrence to the comfort of you coat too. Fleece lined collars feel immeadiately warm even when you’re wet, and though most hoods are useless when riding they are handy for standing about afterwards, or if the jacket also does dog walking or other rain duties. If you don’t like the lumpy neck option go for a removable hood or one that can be fixed round as an extra cosy higher collar (Berghaus Helium / Paclite jackets are great for this).
Sleeves should also be checked for two things. Can they be easily snugged down over the top of gloves if the weather turns evil? and can they be rolled up your forearms for valuable cooling exposure without cutting off circulation?
Weight / pack size versus pockets and features should also be taken into account if you’re going to be taking the jacket off and then having to carry it. Stuff sacs or those jackets that pack into their own pocket / bum bag are easy sources of cargo happiness.
Combination garments – water / windproof in areas it matters but thinner and faster breathing in more sheltered spots – are a smart idea and all sorts of combinations of fleece and fabric are available from skinny windstopper jerseys through to the arctic survival capabilities of Buffalo’s Pile and Pertex numbers. For extra versatility reversible jackets give two levels of insulation depending on whether they’re fleecey or fabric side out.Legging it
The great joy of legs is the fact they don’t complain much about cold and damp as they’re normally too busy complaining about the work you’re making them do. However, cold knees can cause arthritic aching and if the blood gets cold going down your legs, it’ll be freezing by the time it gets to your hooves so it makes sense to keep them cosy.
In a world of very similar tights it may not suprise you that thicker, furrier insides are warmer but there are some cunning extra features out there that can be worth the extra outlay. Bib straps with accompanying high back and front are great for keeping your back free from cold spots, but search out the ones from Endura and Gore Bike Wear which have QR buckles or velcro for easier pee stops (particularly for the laydeez). Zip ankles, stirrups or front fly zips are all other touches which can be useful but go for good fit over small tweaks like this everytime. Gore’s Windstopper fabric is also appearing on a lot of tights which is a great thing in terms of draught busting and a hefty degree of waterproofing but as it’s not very stretchy, the cut of the leg (and crotch) is crucial. Of the two we’ve tried Gore Bike Wear score an articulated knee and less baggy pants victory over Endura. Pace produce a tight (and it is tight) with wind / showerproof fabric over the shin, knee and upper leg which is a cracking fit, but can be a bit breezy round your bits. De Marchi’s tights curiously have windstoppery fabric from belly to knee but not on the shins which leaves them feeling frozen and unfairly persecuted.
The new range of playing out trousers is also worth a go for those who don’t like the ballerina look but all of them are heavier and sweatier to cycle in, and they cost a fortune.
Waterproof trousers may seem like a sweaty rustling nightmare, but if you’re riding regularly in filth and mire or winter commuting you’ll soon start to develop a worrying level of affection for them. Buy a good set in Gore Tex or similar and once you’ve stopped noticing the rustling you’ll keep your legs and lower half toasty and dry with no unwanted colonic irrigation however many puddles you charge through.More next week
Keep tuned to this station for more gems of wisdom on how to fight off winter’s freezing onslaught on your tender extremities with part 4 of our winter riding opus. Plus we’ll have a round up of all the hard learned tricks to get the best from the clothing you’ve already got. So if any of you frost hardened old lags out there have got some advice handed down by generations of elderly trawlermen or that you’ve learnt the hard way yourself, get them mailed in and recieve that extra warm glow of knowing you might have helped out somebody in need.