Kit for training outdoors
At just 1.1°C, February has the lowest average minimum temperature of any month in the UK. This means kit selection is especially important for training on the roads and trails during this cold, short month.
Keeping your core body temperature at a steady 37°C has been shown to be optimal for cycling. When out on the bike in low environmental conditions, the first thing to ensure is you lose as little body heat as possible, hence the importance of a baselayer. Lots of baselayers exist from the traditional Helly Hansen through to the more comfortable and wicking merino wool options that are now a firm favourite.
The ideal February baselayer should be long sleeves, winter weight and wicking to ensure it keeps you warm without absorbing sweat. If it doesn’t wick the sweat away from your skin and the weather changes, or you have to stop for a puncture it could have the opposite effect you wanted and actually help cause a drop in body temperature.
Next, choose what to wear on your legs. Ideally, winter bib tights or an integrated tights and jersey option like the Castelli San Remo Thermosuit. If you are resorting to leg warmers and bib-shorts, don’t make the mistake of choosing summer or lightweight bib-shorts. They are designed to keep you cool and will mean your thighs and crotch get cold quickly, possibly inhibiting performance on the bike and certainly making your ride an uncomfortable experience for all the wrong reasons. Wearing the right jersey over your bib-tights and baselayer should finish off the large items of clothing you wear. A waterproof jersey like a Castelli Gabba or a Rapha Pro Team Softshell are a good place to start.
Now to the extremities. Nothing adds to the suffering of a winter ride like cold fingers and toes and once they get cold they are among the hardest parts of the body to warm back up while on a ride.
Starting with your feet, the first thing to do is to make sure that your shoes are winterised. Cycling shoes tend to be designed to keep your feet cool, and have some innovative features like holes under your toes to add airflow and areas of mesh to let even more air in. As winter comes, it is worth taping over the holes in the soles of your cycling shoes and making sure that you have decent winter overshoes like the Neoprene Endura Road II overshoes.
An area often overlooked is winter socks. Wearing proper winter cycling socks not only keeps your toes warmer and dryer than normal sport socks, but they also have specific cushioning patterns to keep your feet in good condition.
Your circulation and how fast you will be riding will affect the temperature of your fingers more than anything else. If it is particularly cold – sub zero or up to 5°C a good place to start is the Craft Siberian split finger gloves. These gloves, and any split finger options, are designed to allow the heat from your fingers to help warm each other and reduce the surface area to cool. Unlike full mittens which may be good for skiing, snowboarding and 2 year olds, having split finger gloves allows you the control on the hoods and brake levers when you need them.
The last two items are the helmet liner and neck warmer. When dressed, an individual loses most of their body heat from their head and neck and that is no different when out on a bike. A helmet liner and neck warmer ensure that your core body temperature can be maintained and that as much of your skin is covered as possible to reduce heat loss. The temptation when it is extremely cold is to pull your neck warmer up over your mouth. Try to avoid doing this as the condensation from your breath quickly saturates your neck warmer and that can then freeze leaving your neck warmer not doing its job. Depending on the number of ventilation holes in your helmet, it may also be worth considering a helmet cover to keep the cold air away from your head.
Once you have done a few hundred rides through the winter you will probably have a pretty good idea what works best for the type of ride you are doing and the weather. Until then it is worth keeping track of what kit you wore for different conditions and whether it was too much/too little or just right. It sounds a bit pedantic, but your enjoyment level and the quality of your training is so much better when you are able to maintain a consistent core body temperature that is worth the effort.