A Woman’s Winter Cycling Nemesis

The rainy dark season is upon us in Vancouver. We have several months of wet, cold rides ahead of us. The first memories of winter cycling that come to mind are times when I’m an hour or two from home and am so cold and miserable and hating life.

For me, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say most women, the absolute worst part of winter cycling is having cold hands and feet. A survey has shown that women are nine times more likely to have cold extremities than men. This is due to a number of factors including less circulation, thinner skin and less subcutaneous fat in those regions.

When your hand and feet are so cold that they hurt, you are not going to be comfortable cycling and not going to look forward to doing it again the following weekend. Although one solution is to avoid outdoor riding altogether, I do not recommend it. You will lose a lot of important bike handling skills and confidence by solely riding the trainer for several months.  By the time it dries up again you will have to start rebuilding these skills all over again, rather than building on those that you acquired the previous year.

It seems the best solution would be to find a way to keep your hands and feet as dry and warm as possible. I’d like to offer some of my thoughts on this.

Let’s start with the hands.

I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve gone through in gloves to come to these conclusions. The unfortunate part is that even with my tips you are still going to have to invest a fair bit yourself, as the solution is not cheap, it’s just something you need to put money into to be comfortable.

  1. First, you need to have several different weights of gloves for different types of weather. I have a thin long-finger pair that blocks wind but does not offer much in insulation for early fall and late spring. I would recommend something like these Gore Winderstopper gloves. I especially like how this model also has padding on the palms, which helps to make your hands even more comfortable, overall for those long rides. Next you need a heavy-duty pair for those super cold, wet, miserable days. I have tried super thick and insulated gloves, but once these get wet, they just make your hands even more cold. I have tried two layer gloves with fleece on the inside and a wind protective layer on the outside, but they don’t actually do much for your fingers. What I like the best is lobster claw gloves where your fingers are separated into just two different compartments so that they can warm each other. This design, paired with a windstopping waterproof shell and some sort of insulation is ideal. I have a version of these Pearl Izumi lobster claw’s and they work great!
  2. Second, there are several tricks of the trade that you can use in addition to finding the right glove. One is that on wet rides, bring a second pair of gloves with you to put on mid ride. It is shocking how warming dry clothing can be when you are soaked! Another trick you can try is using hand warmers. These can either be material like these cycling hand pogies or chemical like these Heat Factory warmers that can be purchased at camping or skiing supply stores. Just make sure you aren’t putting your weight on the chemical warmers (i.e. don’t have them underneath your palm) and I would also have a layer in between your skin and them, just to be safe.

Let’s move on to feet.

There are more options for keeping your feet dry. You have your socks, shoes, booties/shoe covers and tricks of the trade.

Starting at the first layer, socks, I’m going to cut straight to the chase and say get some wool cycling socks. I’ve been wearing Woolie Boolie’s for years and they keep your feet warm even when they are wet.

Moving on to cycling shoes. I haven’t actually tried this option, but I’ve heard that winter cycling shoes are great. They are less vented and more insulated. In lieu of this, I find putting some toe covers over my normal cycling shoes will help to close off some of the vents at least.

In my eyes, booties are probably the most important component of winter cycling, for the lower body at least. Unfortunately I’ve also spent lots of money on several different booties in trying to find ones that keep my feet dry. The conclusion that I’ve came to is that 95% of booties out there don’t actually keep your feet dry. Thirty-60 minutes in, you are going to have wet feet! The best bootie that myself or my spouse has tried is the Road Gore-Tex. This product is your best bet to stay warm and dry. Heck, Gore has a money-back guarantee if you don’t, so you can’t beat that! They are expensive (more like $110 in Canada), but trust me, don’t waste money trying other ones, just go for quality in the first place. I know I’ve plugged several Gore products now, (no I’m not sponsored by them, but maybe I should be?) but they specialize in keeping you warm and dry and are quite good at it! La Bicicletta carries lots of their products and have small and extra small sizes to fit women, and if they are out, they can order them in for you free of charge.

The Heat Factory warmers also work for keeping toes warm too. It may be a bit awkward to change socks mid ride, but this trick of the trade would work for feet too. Something that some cyclists will do instead, is wear plastic bags on their feet to keep out the wet and retain some heat.

So I hope that my experience in winter cycling pain, misery and wasted money leading to these tips will help you avoid some of that the next few months. Please comment if you have any other tips that have really worked for you. Be safe and be warm this winter!

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