Winter in Boone is brutal. Snowy days, icy roads, below freezing windchill – who wants to go outside in that? Riding a bike outside complicates things. Since you are traveling faster on a bike than just walking, you have to take extra precautions to keep your hands and feet warm and your face protected from the harsher windchill. Despite this, mountain bike season is waiting for us every March, and excuses for not training during the winter won’t hold up on the start line. Many people ask, how do you maintain fitness and train during the winter to prep for these early spring races? The two biggest answers: proper layering and indoor trainer sessions.
Understanding how to layer properly is a key skill to have for year round biking. In the summer, you can get away with the basic jersey and bib short pairing. But you need more than just a kit when the winter rolls around. Always start with a good base layer – capilene or wool works well to keep warmth in while still being breathable. I stay away from cotton since this holds water and stays cold, which isn’t good if you anticipate sweating. Next, you can pair a short sleeve jersey with a long sleeve jersey on top, or opt for two long sleeves. I go with a vest over that, because it holds warmth in at my core without being bulky on my arms. To top it off, a cycling jacket is a good way to shield you from the wind. These jackets are like heavy duty jerseys. They are made from a heavier material that is thick enough to block the wind, but isn’t puffy enough to create drag. If it is extra windy or wet, I’ll wear a rain shield layer to defend against the wind chill even more. This outer layer is often thin, since it protects from wind and rain rather than adding warmth.
Now that your core is warm, you can focus on your legs and extremities. If you have thermal bib shorts, those are prime for keeping legs toasty. If not, you can wear fleece lined cycling tights over your regular bib shorts, with knee or leg warmers underneath if it is extra chilly. Keeping my hands and feet warm is always a struggle for me, but my lobster claw gloves have been lifesavers. These funny looking mitten hybrids have two large finger compartments, so your four fingers are kept warm in pairs. This is because your fingers stay warmer when they are next to each other, but mittens prevent cyclists from being able to use their fingers to shift gears or grab the brakes. These are a good compromise between gloves and mittens for dexterity and warmth. For your feet, wear nice warm socks, and cover your shoes with shoe-covers. These can be waterproof or just block the wind, and are like gloves for your shoes to trap warmth inside. Finally, I wear a wool hat to cover my ears under my helmet, and a neck gaiter to pull up over my chin and sometimes nose on cold descents. You can even fill up your water bottles with warm water so it doesn’t freeze during the ride.
These are just some examples of layering techniques you can use, but not an extensive list. However, when the cold temperatures drop to 20 or below, I find that even my best layering strategies don’t work. That’s when I turn to the other resource I have through Appalachian State: compu-trainers. An indoor trainer is like a treadmill for runners. The difference is that it suspends the wheel of your own bike, allowing you to add resistance and shift gears like normal, but you can hook up your own bike instead of using a stationary bike machine. Many of us have trainers in our homes that we can use, but the varsity gym has compu-trainers that we get access to at times, which brings indoor trainers to a whole new level. These machines hook up to a TV screen, and record our speed, power output, and heart rate as we ride. After entering our height and weight data, our on-screen avatars can ride and race with each other on a virtual platform, making indoor riding competitive and fun. We are lucky to have this as a resource, but cold training days make us appreciate those nice summer rides even more!