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Mountain Bike Skills
Tips to Stay Warm on Cold Rides
Pro mountain biker and Montana resident Sam Schultz tells you how to get comfortable on winter rides
ByBrian Fiske
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Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) is coming off a fantastic race season, earning the XC National Champ jersey and finishing fifteenth in the London Olympics. Those results have left the 26-year-old pumped for next year’s World Cup and national race series, and they also have him ready to ride through this winter. Yes, he admits that he heads south to warmer climes during the heart of winter, but he also says that his home in Missoula Montana is “too good of a place to leave before January.” We caught up with Schultz to get his best advice on dressing right for cold-weather rides.

Stay Cool. It sounds counterintuitive but if you get too hot, you sweat. Then your clothing gets wet (even breathable fabrics will be damp). And then you get cold. Really cold. “Even in 20-degree weather, slogging up a snowy hill can be downright hot,” say Schultz. “It’s crucial to shed a layer or unzip before you get hot.”

Add 1 in 10. This is Schultz’s rule of thumb: “I figure I add one long-sleeve layer for every 10-degree drop.” Experiment to find the rule that works best for you, but start by adding a thin base layer when temperatures drop below 65 degrees. Next add a long sleeve jersey, then a vest or a lightweight jacket on colder days. When it’s below freezing, consider a thermal long-sleeve base layer and a heavier cycling jacket.

To avoid overheating, Schultz suggests removing a layer before long climbs. (Tom Robertson)

Get a Cycling Cap. The right hat will keep your melon warm but also protect you from other elements, too. “I like wearing a cycling-specific brimmed winter cap under my helmet,” Schultz says, “because you can flip the brim down to block a little bit of extra mud and wind.”

Bring Gloves—and Emergency Mitts
. Don’t skimp on the winter gloves. Invest in a good pair that is warm, but still allows you to operate your shifters and brakes. Shultz also recommends carrying a pair of thicker “emergency” gloves. He keeps his in a pocket or in his pack. “They’re ridiculously big ski gloves that I think I'll never need,” he says, “but more often than not, I'll finish the ride with them on.”

Carry Chemical Warmers. Sometimes things can get colder than you expect, especially when it comes to your feet and hands. Schultz carries chemical hand-warmer packs (like those by Grabber, that he can slip between his shoes and booties, or put in his gloves if things get ugly. They’re cheap insurance—you can find hand-warmer packs online for less than $1, they weigh next to nothing, and take up very little room in a pack. “Just be sure to open them before your hands get too cold to rip into the packaging,” Schultz advises.

Watch the Thermometer. Take a look at the temperature before and after you ride, and note your comfort level during the ride. Your goal? To develop a custom answer to the “what should I wear?” question. “I have gloves that I know are perfect for me from 45 to 30 degrees, and a different pair for 20 to 30 degrees,” Schultz says. That makes pre-ride prep completely grab-and-go—and that means more time on the trail.

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I hate cold weather! It's a real pain for me. Most of the times I just end up looking like a little stuffed bear riding a bike. me
I use one of those cool t-shirts that keeps the perspiration away from my skin when riding my bike in cool weather, it keeps me warm enough. You can visit your and check them out yourself, I definitely don't regret getting mine.
Great tips, today I rode a descent on Monte Grappa and packed my ski gloves and wore my hiking socks. Lots of the gear used for other sports can be recycled over to biking.
good article for sure. lower temps. along with the wind chill factor can make it a VERY uncomfortable ride say 18 20 mph. and even lower speeds. Sooooo not unreasonable to begin layering @ say 60* depending on body type and age. i've seen skin on legs and arms "burnt" by both cycling and running when improperly clothed. kinda takes the fun out and is counterproductive for sure. oh and not all of us live above the Artic Circle.
Does anybody have a recommendation for some good winter gloves when the temps are in the 20s or lower? The tips of my fingers are the first to get cold. I'll usually buy an XXL pair and wear a thinner pair inside of it. That way i can take one off if it gets too warm.
I live in NW Kansas where winter temps (especially with the wind chill) are often below zero. I have had reasonable success keeping my hands warm in extreme cold using Sugoi's Subzero lobster. When temps drop into the teens I wear a pair of Mountain Hardwear power stretch gloves under the Sugoi gloves. For rides under two hours, these gloves work well into single digits (that is my experience). For temps like today (8 degrees with a wind chill value of minus 10) I will use chemical warmers too.
Yeah, I thought 65 was a little warm to be adding base layers. Maybe start doing that around 50 and do the 10 degree add from there.
Base layer for under 65 degrees? We wear shorts and a cool max T-shirt down to 50 degrees! I get a laugh out of this bs Bicycling puts out.