by Payson Mcelveen

The seasons are changing, is your wardrobe prepared? 

On bike start lines the world over, racers compare notes on chosen tire pressures, gear ratios, and clothing. At the start line of Iceman, talk of clothing alone seems to dominate. In 2016 we were treated to a “(N)Iceman”, but the 2017 edition saw the return of traditional weather. The climactic ingredients we had to keep in mind: temperatures in the high 30º’s, sporadic mud puddles, overcast skies, and the real challenge: some chance of precipitation. Would it be sleet? Rain? Snow? None? Do we dress for the start line temperature, presumed finish line temperature, or what we may face in between? 

So what processes do we use when suiting up for chilly, wet rides? Should you take a different approach when training versus racing? With my apparel partner Voler’s help, we’ve put together a list of best practices. While I’m still skeptical of the saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” I do feel strongly that, with the right gear, weather should never be your excuse. 

1. Gauging the forecast. 

Predicting the weather is a science, but obviously not an exact  one. I have several weather apps on my phone and like to check all three before making clothing choices. Also, consider the length of your ride and whether the weather is forecasted to improve or deteriorate. It may feel funny stuffing a rain shell in your back pocket on a bluebird morning, but during the monsoon season of Colorado, this is a very normal routine. 

2. Racing or Training?

The intensity and type of ride makes an enormous difference. Average speed and effort level are key factors that should be considered. While road riding, the windchill is significant, while barely noticeable while fatbiking. Similarly, if you will be racing or doing an intense ride, you can often leave an entire layer at home. If you’re training though and not as concerned about bulk or weight, playing it safe and packing an extra layer won’t hurt, and could be the difference between an enjoyable ride, and not. 

3. The key: layering. 

No matter if you’re racing or training, knowing how and why to layer is make or break. Here’s what the good folks at Voler have to say:

“It helps to think of your apparel selections as part of a layering system. As a layering system, each piece contributes to a variety of functions including moisture management, insulation, and the right fit so that you can perform at your best.” 

Let’s break it down and go through each of the layering elements. I’ve included the general temperature guidelines I use as well.

  • Base Layer:​ A nice wool base layer can take the place of multiple outer layers in terms of maintaining warmth. Some like a wicking base layer even in warmer conditions. Either way, it is critical to moisture management. Voler says: ​”(A core layer) draws sweat through the garment to the outer surface where it can evaporate. This keeps you dry allowing the body to warm and cool as needed.”​ This was a critical piece in my clothing choices for Iceman. At times I was sweating while climbing, but then shortly thereafter descending fast in frigid air. Without a ​wicking layer​, that sweat could have had a chilling effect. Personally, I leave the base layer at home when temperatures exceed 60oF, but many riders prefer them for sweaty warm rides as well.
  • Jersey and Bottoms:​ Voler says: ​”The jersey and bottom should feel and perform like a second skin allowing your body to operate without distractions.”​ This is one of the main reasons I opted to race in the​ ​Velocity Road Suit​ all year. Unless you’ve opted for a core/base layer, this is the garment that will be directly against your skin, so comfort and movement should be the first consideration.
  • Insulation Layer:​ I opt for an added ​long sleeve jersey​ insulating layer when temperatures drop below 60oF. As Voler mentions, fleece is the best option here, as it’s important that this layer be capable of some continued wicking and transfer of moisture as well: ​”Fleece insulation has gained in popularity for all the right reasons – it provides for great compression, lightweight warmth, and excellent wicking in nearly any condition.”
  • Outer Layer:​ This is the layer I add when temperatures drop below ~55o, conditions are wet, or windchill is going to be a major factor, such as on road rides with prolonged descents. Voler says: ​”Since this layer is your protection from the elements, it needs to be durable, a bit water resistant and not slow you down (you don’t need a parachute while riding). This is the layer that is breaking the wind and keeping the cold and rain from seeping into your bones. While the outer layer keeps the rain out, it also needs to allow for release of the moisture that your body heat is creating.”​ For Iceman, I reached for the​ ​Thermal Vest.​ I thought about grabbing the full wind-breaker, but had aero and extra ventilation considerations in mind. Had I been training instead of racing, I would have played it safe and gone for the complete ​wind-breaker​.
  • Arm/Leg Warmers:​ Arm warmers are a great option for when a short sleeve jersey isn’t enough. I like to cover my knees with leg or knee warmers anytime I’m road riding in sub 65oF temps, or mountain biking in sub 60oF. As Voler mentions, knees can get stiff in the cold, but your lower legs aren’t likely to overheat… its your upper body that’s likely to go too warm and sweaty: ​”While knees are prone to get cold, there’s less risk of your lower legs getting too hot and impeding performance. So, if in questions, it’s safe to error on the side of caution (and comfort) and cover your knees and legs.”
  • Other considerations:​ Some like to ride with ​cycling caps​ nearly all the time, but I reserve them for the 40o-50o range, and reach for the ​thermal caps​ when its below 40o. Similarly, neck buffs have been a game changer for me, and I regularly ride with one when it’s sub 50o out. This changes with racing though, and was the one place I overdressed for Iceman. ​Gloves​ are a hugely important consideration too. In my experience, having a wind-breaking glove is just as important as a thermal one, as your poor little paws are what hang out there and hit the wind first. Lastly, ​shoe covers​ or booties are an excellent option when temperatures are under 50o, or when it’s wet. And, during sloppy rides, they’ll keep your shoes clean!

4. Extra tips for when it gets really gnarly:​ When braving sub-freezing or wet rides, a few pieces of gear can make a big difference:

  • Thermal jacket:​ If following all of the above steps still doesn’t keep you warm enough, reach for the thermal, wind-breaking jacket as a final outer layer.
  • Install fenders​ on your bike to keep rain and snow slush from soaking you. I remember during my first winter in Durango, I didn’t really know about fenders yet for road riding. The temperature was just above freezing, so the snow on the roads had turned to slush. That slush got tossed up onto the bikes, but then once there, froze because of the windchill. We had to stop repeatedly and brake off chunks of ice so that our bikes would shift and brake.
  • “It’s easier to stay warm than get warm.”​ – One of Mama McElveen’s all time favorite quotes. And it’s so true. With that in mind, I’ll grab a warm drink and do 30-40 jumping jacks before heading out the door. It may sound minor, but can make a major difference.

To check out more of the gear that kept me comfortable all season, click here: ​



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