Adjusting to Cool Weather Riding

As I write this, the wind is whipping around my home office window. I left work this evening with 74 degrees showing on my car thermometer. When I got home, it had fallen to 63. I just got back from walking the dog, and it’s now 53. We’ll be in the 40s overnight, and it looks like the weekend will be a cool one.

Riders elsewhere in the country and other parts of the globe are probably snickering. They’ve already gone through bigger temperature drops than this — and are already feeling the onset of winter temperatures.

But what happens to your bike riding when the weather changes like that?

My natural reaction is to throw on a sweater and cozy up to the TV — or maybe snuggle up with a book. I should be figuring out how I’m going to adapt my bike riding to colder conditions.

The answer is simple: Keep riding.

Some riders handle cool temps better than others. The guy left front has a windbreaker vest over a long-sleeved jersey, the woman has a cool weather jacket. The guy in black is wearing warmer winter gear, but the guy in center background still thinks it’s summer.

The daily temperature drop isn’t that drastic, to begin with. So if you ride one day in summer kit, maybe all you have to do when the weather turns chilly is put on a long-sleeved jersey and a base layer. That’s not a big change.

“If you keep on riding each day as the temperatures slowly decrease, you’ll be more acclimated to the weather each day,” says Emilia Crotty, the Education Manager of Bike New York. She says you kind of trick yourself into believing that there’s not that much difference from day to day.

“Personally,” she adds, “when I’m feeling lazy or am in the middle of a good book, getting back on my bike on a cold winter morning is difficult!  The more frequently I ride in the colder months, though, the less dramatic the temperatures feel.”

There’s an added benefit to continued riding. “The more frequently I ride in the fall and winter,” says Crotty, “the better I am at gauging how many layers I’ll need, what type of gloves will do the trick, if I need a balaclava, etc. each morning (when I check the morning temperature and wind chill, that is).”

So resist the urge to roll over and pull up the covers when the fall mornings are cool. Get out there and ride. You know it’s good for you on several levels — but you’ll also build up your tolerance for cold weather.



  1. says

    If we waited for nice weather in England we’d never ride! Money spent on bad weather cycling clothes and winterising your bike with mudguards (fenders for you Yanks) is money well spent.

    The thing with bad weather cycling is that it is never as bad as you imagine if you’re properly equipped.

    The only thing I’m not keen on, but do anyway, is the constant bike cleaning!

  2. says

    I was just talking about this with some fellow riders. I came up with a quick list based on my experiences, your mileage may vary:

    Below 65F
    Leg Warmers
    Long Sleeve Under-armour shirt
    Long Sleeve Cycling Jersey
    Cold weather cycling gloves (covers fingers)

    Below 50F
    Long cycling leggings
    Long Sleeve Under-armour shirt
    Regular Jersey
    Long Sleeve Jersey
    Cold weather cycling gloves (covers fingers)
    Cotton thin gloves (wear underneath other gloves)
    Double socks

    Below 40F
    Long cycling tights
    Long Sleeve Under-armour shirt
    Long Sleeve Jersey
    Thermal Cycling Jacket
    Cold weather cycling gloves (covers fingers)
    Cotton thin gloves (wear underneath other gloves)
    Double socks

    Some folks also like to cover their head, so you can buy a skullcap ( Additionally, I suggest buying some toe covers ( and leaving them on for the duration of the “cold weather season”.

    • says

      Riding at 62 degrees today, I wore long-sleeved jersey, sleeveless base layer, shorts, short-fingered gloves, wool socks. I like to start feeling a little chilly, then warm up on the ride.

  3. says

    In my limited experience, it is more challenging for a recreational rider to stay motivated than a commuter, who has to cover the distance to earn a living. The commuter just gets on with it and figures out how to stay as comfortable as possible. The recreational rider must ask himself, “Do I really want to do this?”

    I think the key to staying warm is keeping your hands and feet comfortable. The extremities are the first to feel the effects of cold weather. One neat tip I’ve learned is to wrap your feet in Seran Wrap. It’s cheap and it works!

    • says

      I actually learned the technique from a Brit (Brian Goldsmith, aka “The Pedalling Pensionser’), who used the term Cling Film and forced me to do a similar google search!

  4. says

    ur post matches my thoughts exactly. I am planning on commuting as far into the winter as I can. I keep telling myself that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

  5. Nathan Brill says

    Wow, sounds like some people really think “cold” is below 70 degrees. I live in Salt Lake City, UT, and find that anywhere in mid-high 40’s is perfectly comfortable. I can’t fathom wearing arm warmers in 74 degree weather.

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