Never trust someplace green. The lush, green, beauty we cherish is a sure sign of the rain to come. The Pacific Northwest boasts forests and foliage that are a marvel to ride through in the summer. While the three months of summer are near perfect for cycling, the other nine months can present a challenge to the novice cyclist. Cycling is a challenging sport in the best of conditions, let alone a cold, wet, day. Set yourself up for success by being prepared for the conditions with the proper gear.
- Clothing. No such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing? I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but the latter is definitely true. The correct clothing is essential for enjoying year-round riding in the Northwest, your health, and performance.
- Core warmth is essential to staying warm on the bike. Make sure to use a base layer, and consider a vest for an added layer on the core. The base layer should be is warm and will wick away moisture. Your body will sweat under the layers of clothing, and the sweat needs to be pulled away from your body.
- Hands and feet are especially sensitive to the cold. Invest in gloves to keep your hands warm. Neoprene or thick winter gloves work well. For longer, wet rides, consider bringing a second pair of gloves in a Ziploc bag. Midway through the ride, swap out the wet gloves for the dry gloves. You’ll be glad you have them. For your feet, shoe covers are essential. On the really cold and wet days, I often use two pairs of shoe covers to keep my feet warm. Even better is to purchase a pair of insulated winter cycling shoes that have no vents. I also use adhesive hand warmers to keep my extremities warm.
- Embrocate! Warming cream will keep you feeling toasty throughout the ride. Mostly known as a Cyclocross product, it can work well for wet road rides, as well. Be careful with this, however; don’t get this on sensitive parts of your body and don’t let this fool you into thinking it’s warmer outside than it is. It will make you feel more comfortable, but you still need to wear adequate clothing to be safe.
- Up top, make sure to wear a cycling cap to keep your head warm. The bill on the cap will also keep rain off your glasses, which should be a clear lens for this type of riding.
- Bike handling. Adjust your riding style for the conditions. Be cautious on downhills and tight turns. Wet roads have less traction and you should brake before the turn and go into the turns at a slower speed. Be gentle with the brakes, and weight the outside pedal to aid tire traction. Watch for debris in the road and bike lane; choose your lines carefully, watching out for sticks, sand, gravel, or oil.
- Fenders. While is does rain a lot in the Pacific Northwest, often times you won’t be riding while it’s raining, but the ground will still be wet. Full-length fenders will keep the water on the ground from getting all over you. This is a must-have addition to your bike for winter riding.
- Tires. What’s worse than getting cold while riding? Getting cold on the side of a road changing a flat tire. Get durable tires. They might be a little heavier and require extra watts to keep rolling, but the puncture resistance will be well worth it. Ditch the 23mm tires and go with at least a 25mm to get a bigger tire on the ground for added traction and drop the tire pressure 15-20psi from your dry weather pressure. Don’t forget to check your brake pads often for wear, and keep your bike lights charged for visibility.
- Nutrition and hydration. Remember to drink even though it’s raining. You’ll be sweating under those layers of clothing and can get dehydrated even though it’s not warm. Even though you are riding in the rain, you’ll still need to drink fluids to stay hydrated. You’ll also need to keep fueled. Eating while riding can be tricky with the loss of dexterity with winter gloves, but make it a priority. Stop to eat if needed, and stick to your nutrition plan.
- Route. Change the course to be safe and get an effective workout. Look for protected terrain on a windy day or do a shorter, focused workout on the cold days to counteract the lack of volume. If you can’t ride for very long, consider swapping out the longer ride for some short, hard, hill repeats or threshold intervals to get a good training benefit without suffering in the weather.
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